What WWII Military Ancestors Were Reading

The average American soldier in WWII had an 11th grade education. With a lack of recreation, and a lot of waiting, soldiers needed books. There was an effort by the Victory Book Campaign to furnish soldiers with donated books. These books ended up being heavy and the 18 million books raised were not sufficient.

So, the Council of Books in Wartime went to work to print Armed Services Editions (ASEs). They were light-weight, miniature books designed to fit in uniform pockets. The titles ranged from literature, classics, history, contemporary fiction, humor to career guides. Book contents were reformatted, and printed on lighter magazine pages. For efficiency, the books were printed two titles at a time on the same magazine paper, one on top of the other (“two-up”), and then cut into separate books.



Soldiers read these books constantly, and credited them for putting them in touch with their own humanity among the horrors of war. Others read history to understand the conflict in which they found themselves. Some books entertained, some books educated. Books were read in transit, while waiting, and recuperating in hospitals. While the First Division waited for a break in the bad weather before D-Day, the soldiers read. It is said that seriously wounded soldiers on Omaha Beach on D-Day were seen propped against the cliffs, reading ASEs as they waited for rescue.

The printing of ASEs continued after the war’s end, for those soldiers serving in the post-war occupation. The final ASEs were printed in September 1947.

An estimated 100 million books in Europe had been destroyed by burning and bombing. The ASEs numbered over 123 million copies of 1,322 titles were printed.

The Library of Congress has a complete set of the 1322 ASE books. There are other large, but incomplete collections.

For a short story of the ASEs, with a list of the ASEs by author listed by author, BOOKS IN ACTION THE ARMED SERVICES EDITIONS.

You can learn more about the subject at Molly Guptill Manning’s website and book, “When Books Went to War.”

One of  the interesting books printed in the format of an ASE was “Returning to Civilian Life”. The interior pages were printed differently than the other ASEs.



One topic struck me as valuable to us, as genealogists: Record Your Certificate.



Some of these books are still around. One place you can look for them is ebay. It would be remarkable if, in addition to the stories within their pages, they could tell the stories of where they had been and who had been reading them.






Researching Missouri WWI Ancestors

As you may know from my lectures and book, it is important to find your WWI ancestor’s military organization. An online way to find out about your Missouri WWI Ancestors is to search the Missouri Digital Heritage website.


When you are ready to search, Click on “Search the Soldier’s Records Database”, Scroll down to the search boxes or click here.

There are records from many conflicts, from the War of 1812 to WWI. You can leave the selection at All.

Be sure to enter the name as: Last Name, First Name

PVT Acie Sparkman was from Missouri, he was with Ambulance Company 40 at Camp Wadsworth, SC, then served with the 51st Pioneer Infantry Co. L. He died overseas. I entered:

Sparkman, Acie

And selected “All Service Records”

There was only one record returned.

Click on “View Details”.

Researching Indiana WWI Ancestors

As you may know from my lectures and book, it is important to find your WWI ancestor’s military organization. An online way to find out about your Indiana WWI Ancestors is to check the Indiana United States Veterans of the Great War I.

It is worth reading the home page about Indiana in the Great War. (Beware of the links on the right side of the page; they take you to other websites.) The links on the left are to WWI topics, which include information gathered from oral interviews conducted with Indiana WWI veterans.

In addition to searching for the veteran’s service summary as described below, remember to search the website for your ancestor. There is a search box on the left menu, but I had better luck using Google. I searched for the ancestor name and used the site specifier, for example:

“Ernest Franklin Hess” site:www.wwvets.com

When you are ready to search for your Indiana WWI veteran, click on the search button on the home page, or go here.

You will need to use both a Last Name and a First Name for a search. I was not able to use a wildcard for the first name.

Searching for John Smith returned surnames that are Smith and begin with Smith

Clicking on the first result gave me a service summary.

I searched for a different name in the database:  McMahon, James. All three of the detailed results showed: “Listed in the Indiana War Memorials records having served in WWI”, which does not provide much help to a researcher.

The sources used to compile the database can be found here.



Researching Connecticut WWI Ancestors

Researching Connecticut WWI Ancestors

Connecticut is a special place, filled with beautiful scenery and gorgeous fall colors. My years in Connecticut were spent studying and researching for my PhD. So, when I learned of some great resources for WWI research in Connecticut, I had to post them.

The Connecticut State Library has an introductory page describing their holdings in the state archives.


As you probably know, finding a summary for your WWI Veteran’s service is the key to unlocking more records about his service.

The Internet Archive offers three volumes of Service records: Connecticut men and women in the armed forces of the United States during World War, 1917-1920 These books are downloadable in a variety of electronic formats. There is an index in Volume 3.

The Homepage for the Questionnaires filled out by WWI veterans or their families is here.

These records are also available, indexed on Ancestry.com  Connecticut, Military Questionnaires, 1919-1920. To use this database, Connecticut residents can sign up for a free account at Ancestry.com, using the link.

The Internet Archive also has a downloadable History of Hamden men in the World War.

Connecticut in WWI can be found here. You can add your WWI story to their website, and subscribe to their newsletter.

Connecticut history in WWI can be found here. This website contains links to books, places, documents and websites.

Good luck researching your WWI Ancestors in Connecticut, and let me know how you do.

Researching Virginia WWI Ancestors

As you may know from my lectures and book, it is important to find your WWI ancestor’s military organization. An online way to find out about your Virginia WWI Ancestors is to check the WWI questionnaires posted at the Library of Virginia.

For this example, I searched for a record for SGT Earle Davis Gregory. He was the only Medal of Honor winner in WWI from Virginia.

WWI Library of Virginia Search Results

Click on the name to find out more about the record.

WWI Library of Virginia Search Results

A window pops up with links to look at or download the survey pages

This record is his personal survey.

While searching, I found this record with information about the soldier’s service, an ancestor, and his mother’s maiden name.

Virginia’s WWI and WWII Centennial Commission has resources that may help  you learn more about Virginia in the World Wars. On this website you can find WWI Profiles of Honor Stories.

Be sure to check out the resources on the WWI Centennial Commission Website for Virginia.




The Edward Jones Research Center

The Edward Jones Research Center is the archives of the WWI Museum and Memorial, located at the Museum’s lowest level.

This Research Center holds some resources that may help with your research.

For example, there are 23 volumes of “Official Roster of Ohio Soldiers, Sailors and Marines”. Their holdings include volumes from several other states and even counties that published books listing all the men who served in the Great War. In these books is an entry for each service member, listing an abstract of his service. The entries contain the same data that is in the NY Service Abstracts.

Since the most of the personnel files were burned in the National Personnel Records Center, these books would be invaluable for researchers who do not know their ancestors’ military organization.

You can perform an online search of the collections at the World War I Museum and Memorial website

Select “Begin Your Search” and enter your keyword. In this example, I entered: 51st Pioneer Infantry.

The search returned items relating to the Pioneer Infantry, with over three thousand results. While it is great to know that there are many items about the Pioneers, my search terms needed to be more specific.

I decided to use quotes to be more specific: “51st Pioneer Infantry”, and received no results.

Next, I searched for the term: 51st Infantry

The results included the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) 51st Brigade and Col. Moses N. Thisted’s book, “Pershing’s Pioneers”.

My best tip: Be sure to contact the archivists before your trip to see what else might be available, or what suggestions they might have.

You will probably find a copy of Researching Your U.S. WWI Army Ancestors on the shelves.