4 Steps to Begin WWI Research For A Country (Liberia)

This post will cover the four initial steps to research the participation of a country (non-U.S.) in WWI. At a recent talk about ancestors in the U.S. military, a very enthusiastic genealogist asked me a question: how could he research his Liberian WWI ancestor? Questions like this make me think, and make me want to learn more.

These first steps help you get oriented by learning more about the topic.

 

1. Google

Start with Google. Search for terms that combine your country name with “WWI” or “World War One”. You may get lucky and find your ancestor’s name, but more likely you will find context information.

Example results for Liberia were:

(Note: the date for Liberia’s declaration of war in on this page was incorrect)

 

2. Google Books

Use Google Books to learn about books that will be useful to your research. Some of the books may allow you to download them in entirety; others may provide snippets. For books that are available on Google Books, there are links to locate the book in WorldCat or to buy them. Remember that an unlikely book may contain material that will help you.

Look for information about relevant events. Uncovering dates and places is always helpful. Make a list of what you learned.

Example books for Liberia:

 

3. FamilySearch Wiki

Check out the materials on the FamilySearch Wiki for the country.

Use the FamilySearch Wiki entry for Liberia to learn as much as you can about Liberia and its records. This page also contains a link to go social. The link for Military Records is currently a space holder, and has no content.

 

4. Make a Timeline

Now that you have the basic facts, you can rearrange them in chronological order to create a timeline as the backdrop for what you find out about your own ancestor. If the date is unknown for a fact, then place the item where it makes sense, but do not record a date for it.

Some of the information from the Google search and Google Books:

  • In 1912 six black U.S. Army officers came to Liberia to train and command the Liberian Frontier Force
  • Daniel Edward Howard was the President of Liberia from 1912 to 1920
  • ¾ of Liberia’s trade was with Germany in early 1914
  • German trade ended with the war
  • German submarine blockade in WWI reduced to almost nothing all trade between Liberia and Britain, France and the United States
  • Prior to the declaration of war ,Liberia had broken off diplomatic relations with Germany
  • Liberia was pressured by the U.S. to declare war on Germany
  • Liberia declared war against Germany on 4 August 1917
  • Liberia was an Entente Belligerent
  • There were 400 in the active military including militia, volunteers, police
  • When Liberia joined the Allies, the property of German nationals was liquidated and the money used to compensate for the loss of revenue.
  • A German submarine shelled Monrovia in June 1918
  • Liberia sent troops to France during WWI (date unknown)
  • Liberian troops in WWI did not see combat
  • Liberia received war relief funds (Liberty Loan)The U.S. Government advanced funds to the Republic of Liberia during the peace negotiations after WWI.  The amount was $26,000 (in three payments) and $9,610.46 accrued interest ($35,610.46)

Liberia is going to be a tough country to research. It may be worth contacting regional archives, and schools in the area for other research ideas.

Researching Maryland WWII Ancestors

Perhaps you have seen the War Memorial in Baltimore.

Did you know that the War Memorial in Baltimore serves as a repository for approximately 70,000 discharge papers of the Maryland veterans who served during World War II.

Discharge papers are a great starting place for researching your WWII ancestors. These papers give the dates and branch of ancestors’ service, as well as where they fought, and the medals they earned.

Veterans and their families can order the discharge papers. Check out the page with War Memorial Miscellaneous Information for the link to download the order form. The section of the page is shown below.

 

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Researching Maryland WWI Ancestors

In this blog, our books and talks, you may have seen the New York Service Abstracts of WWI Military Service in my examples. Have you looked for what your state has to offer? As I come across more of these resources, I plan to post information about them in this blog. This post describes a useful starting place for those who are researching Maryland WWI service members.

To locate an abstract of your Maryland WWI ancestor, consult the two-volume book set, Maryland in the World War, 1917-1919; Military and Naval Service Records. Vol. I-II. Baltimore, MD, USA: Twentieth Century Press, 1933.

 

These volumes contain abstracts of the service of Maryland WWI service members, but the beginning of the book contains valuable information about Maryland in WWI and a list of abbreviations.

You can use WorldCat to search for these books at a local library, or you can find a digitized copy of the books and the records on the web.

Ancestry.com has created a database from these volumes, Maryland Military Men, 1917-1919. (The other related data collections may also be useful in your research.)

Use your own Ancestry.com account, or access it from a public library, a Family History Center or at NARA.

If you do not have access to Ancestry, or you have an interest in the additional information in the volumes, you can view them online at Hathi Trust.

Maryland in the world war, 1917-1919, Volume I A-J

Maryland in the world war, 1917-1919, Volume II J-Z

You can scroll through these online document to find pages of interest and download individual pages without logging in.  However, you need to login as a Hathi Trust partner to download the whole document. Look on the left of the browser window for the links to download the page.

 

There is a possibility that the Maryland’s World War I Centennial Commission will host these books on their website in future. If they do, I will update this post.

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5 Things Learned from an NPRC Archivist

If an archivist ever has time to chat, take advantage of it! They know so much that any information will either enhance what you know or inform you of something you did not know.

  1. No matter what you have read about destroyed records, always ask an archivist. Some records were able to be restored.
  2. Navy and Marine Corps files from WWI and WWII should be undamaged.
  3. Even if you are the next-of-kin, once a military file moves into archival status (discharge date of 1954 or prior), there is a fee to obtain it. You can always view the file in person at the NPRC, and photograph or copy it yourself.
  4. The burial case files may contain a lot of genealogically significant data. In WWI, bodies of fallen soldiers were relocated. After the war, each family was surveyed about whether or not they wanted the body of their soldier returned to the U.S. There were also Gold Star mother trips sponsored by the government to allow mothers and wives to visit the grave of their fallen soldier in Europe.
  5. You can request your own military records in person at the NPRC and they will be mailed to you, free of charge. (Submit form SF-180.)

The NPRC recommended contacting them six weeks before your visit. Time is needed to check the holdings, and if you need filmstrips you have to make an appointment to reserve a machine.

Here’s a link to information about Official Military Personnel Files, but remember that there are other non-OMPF holdings.

Two Days at the NPRC

The National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) is an imposing facility located in St. Louis, MO.  This summer I spent two days researching the 51st Pioneer Infantry at the NPRC. This post describes the planning and visit to the facility; a subsequent post will discuss the specific records I researched during my visit.

The NPRC the central repository of personnel-related records for both the military and civil services of the U.S. Government. Always remember that their priority is to serve current veterans. Everyone you meet at the facility and in the research room is incredibly knowledgeable and helpful.

I visited the Archival Research Room to view Morning Reports and Rosters for the 51st Pioneer Infantry Regiment in WWI.

Planning the trip to the NPRC began more than six weeks before my visit. The research staff recommends planning this far in advance so that they can verify they have the records you seek and so that you can reserve a filmstrip reader.

If you choose to contact the NPRC about your visit by email, they request that you include your postal address and telephone number so that they may contact you in case of additional questions.

When you arrive at the NPRC, you will go through a security checkpoint. Government-issued photo ID is required. Do yourself a favor, and clear out your computer bag or everything you do not need, or use an alternate bag. There are items that you may forget are in your bag, like scissors, that are not allowed into the building.

My NARA researcher card had expired, so I had to view the PowerPoint orientation again. NPRC issues its own researcher cards. NPRC will accept NARA researcher cards, but other NARA facilities will not accept NPRC researcher cards.

Any paper that you wish to take into the research room has to be inspected and stamped by the staff. Bring only a minimal amount of paper. If possible, have the required information on files of the computer that you will bring in with you.

The Archivist walked me through the research room, and the process of getting to the equipment and filmstrips I needed.

The research room also had computers with access to Ancestry.com and Fold3.

If the records you need to view are on a filmstrip, and you want to make a copy, you have two choices. You can use a digital camera, but you have to realize that there will be a reflection on the screen. The other choice is use the printer connected to the filmstrip reader. Each copy that you take costs $0.40, which is collected when you are ready to leave. When you are prepared to depart, you bring all your paper to the research desk and your copies are weighed. You pay the fee at the cashier’s window with cash or credit card. Any papers that you remove from the room are inspected and locked in a document bag. The document bag is unlocked during the final inspection before you leave the building.

 

Archival vs. Federal Records

62 years after a service member separates from the service by discharge, retirement or death in service, the Federal records become Archival records. Archival records are open to the public. Federal records have restricted access (veteran or next-of-kin), but can be requested through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. There may be an opening of records of Persons of Exceptional Prominence (PEP) to the public before this time.

What genealogists need to keep in mind is that while s/he may be the next-of-kin and appears to be entitled to a free copy of the records, once the records pass to archival status fee applies to getting the records. However, these records are free to view at the research room.

Information about Archival holdings can be found here.

 

 

 

Family History Outing: The National World War I Museum and Memorial (Part II)

When you walk into the Museum, you cross over a glass floor to enter the exhibits. Below your feet is a field of poppies; above you the tower through the glass ceiling. You then walk through the chronologically arranged galleries, experiencing trenches and a bomb crater.

The artifacts include weapons, vehicles, flags, personal effects and uniforms. The walls are filled with data that helps put the conflict in perspective.

There are activities for families, including a family visitor guide and interactive activities like creating your own propaganda poster using their images, words and colors.

There are rooms for audio reflection, where you can listen to voices, music, poetry and prose of the Great War.

Below the Museum is the Edward Jones Research Center. Through its windows, you can get another view of the poppy field. While you are there, you can chat with an Archivist. The Archives contain books that may help in your research. Some states, and even counties, have compiled books with abstracts of their WWI soldiers.

Undoubtedly you will be exploring the Museum for a while, so you will be glad to know that there is a place to eat. Among the traditional café fare at the Over There Café, you can enjoy Trench Stew, Army Goulash or Chipped Beef. You might consider a sampler platter. (GF stands for Gluten Free.)

 

There is also a Museum Store where you can shop tax free.

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