Researching Soldiers who died during World War I

By all means, search the ABMC Burials and Memorials to see if the soldier rests in Europe. But, you may not find his name is in the database, and there may be more to the story.

Individual Combat units were responsible for burying the deceased soldiers and marking the grave. Then the Graves Registration Unit was responsible for moving the deceased to U.S. cemetery graves. The 51st Pioneer Infantry History tells of GRU work.

But, even if the deceased soldier was buried overseas, his remains may have been returned to the U.S. in 1920 or 1921. The decision whether to leave a soldier at an overseas cemetery or bring him home was made by the next of kin. In October of 1919, the War Department contacted the next-of-kin of every deceased soldiers, and each was given the option to bury them in American military cemeteries in Europe, or have them shipped home for burial in a military or private cemetery. 46,000 of the soldiers’ remains were returned to the United States. It took over $30 million and two years to return the remains of 46,000 soldiers. 30,000 soldiers were buried in the cemeteries in Europe. The government also paid the travel expenses pilgrimages for Gold Star mothers, and widows, to visit these graves.

The Burial Files and Graves Registration records are part of the Records of the Office of the Quartermaster General (Record Group 92). You can find the Individual Burial Files at the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) in St. Louis, MO. These are also called the “Cemeterial Files” or “293 Files” and contain: Correspondence, Reports, Telegrams, Applications, and Other Papers Relating to Burials of Service Personnel. Check out The Sick and the Dead, Veterans Administration Claim Files and World War I Burial Files by Archivist Daria Labinsky.

There were many similarities between the Americans and the Australian soldiers, who fought so far from their homeland. Australia would not pay for mothers to visit the graves of their sons, as it was a dangerous and expensive proposition.

Let’s see what we can do to locate the final resting place of these fallen soldiers:

Search the American Battle Monuments Commision (ABMC) for an overseas grave.

If the soldier is not in the ABMC database, then it is worth searching in the United States for the soldier’s grave.

Searching the U.S. Army Transport Service records on would confirm that the soldier’s body was returned to the U.S. These records contain the soldier’s serial number and the soldier’s military organization. If you do not have a subscription to, remember that you may be able to  access in may be available in your local library, or at a nearby Family History Center.

Even if you do not have access to, you can still try to locate the grave.

First, search in National Gravesite Locator to see if the soldier was buried in a military cemetery.

If the soldier cannot be found in a military cemetery, try Findagrave.

Many of the fallen soldiers are documented in the three volumes of the Soldiers of the Great War:

Vol 1 Alabama – Maryland

Vol 2 Massachusetts – Ohio

Vol 3 Oklahoma – Wyoming  Volume 3 also contains an index by volume, by state and by first letter of the last name. The index to Vol 1 Begins on page 499, and the index to Vol 2 Begins on page 501.

The photos in the book are not in alphabetic order, and not every soldier has a picture.

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 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.




“The Summer of 1918 (in 2017)”

This summer I spent a lot of time in 1918. It was a time when our nation had entered a war of global conflict, an ocean away. It was a time when U.S. men began being drafted into military service, training and traveling. It was when men from the U.S. took up arms in defense of civilization.

The United States had a small army and had to ramp up quickly to gather the needed troops. Private organizations became part of the war effort. People on the home front geared up to support the war by buying war bonds, wrapping bandages and conserving food. The U.S. entered the war with its own advanced technology, bringing telephone equipment and signal corps operators to manage it.

To do this, I immersed myself in some of the record sets from that year, books published during that time (or just after), books written later about the time, traveling to a museum about the time and even viewing a solar eclipse.

The record sets were Morning Reports and Rosters at the National Personnel Records Center, and the U.S. Army Transport Service lists that are available at NARA II at College Park and are on The museum was the WWI Museum in Kansas City, MO.

In upcoming posts, I will be sharing stories about the visits, the records sets, and the books that made this “The Summer of 1918” for me.

WWI in the Passenger Lists of the U.S. Army Transport Service (Part II)

To France and Back: All of the 51st Pioneer Infantry

In part 1 of this series, you learned how to locate an individual in the U.S. Army Transport records on In these records, you may find family members or foreign personnel that were transported by the Army. These are from the Records of the Office of the Quartermaster General, 1774-1985, Record Group 92, held at NARA in College Park. In this post, you will learn how to find records for a specific military organization.

In a previous post , I wrote about Joseph McMahon’s trip to France and back with the 51st Pioneer Infantry. But the whole 51st Pioneer Infantry did not travel together in either direction. From the History of the Regiment, I knew that Company A traveled to France later than the other companies. Using the U.S., Army Transport Service, Passenger Lists, 1910-1939 database at, I was able to piece together more pieces of the story.

With these records, you can gather details for the backdrop of the story about your ancestor. We will start with a narrative to demonstrate how to include the information in a story, then show how you can do it.


Getting to France

On the morning of 26 June 1918, troops began embarkation on the S. S. Kroonland at Pier #5 In Hoboken, N.J. They started at 10:00 A.M. and finished at 1:30 P.M. Most of the 51st Pioneer Infantry were among them. The 3245 troops on board the ship sailed for Brest, France, at 3:30 P.M.

Company A traveled later, on 9 August 1918. The boarding of 537 troops on S. S. Rochambeau began at 6:10 A.M. at Pier No. 57 in New York, NY, and finished at 9:10 A.M. The S.S. Rochambeau was a French Transatlantic ocean liner, sailing regularly between Bordeaux and New York City. The ship sailed at 2:05 P.M. Among the other troops traveling on the Rochambeau that trip was a detachment of cooking instructors from the Quarter Masters Corp.



Coming Home from France

Part of the 51st Pioneer Infantry sailed from St. Nazaire, France, on the Wilhelmina on 23 July 1919, arriving in Hoboken, N.J. on 3 July 1919. They traveled to Camp Mills for discharge. Headquarter, Headquarters Company, Supply Company, Ordnance and Medical Detachments, and Companies A, B, C, D, E, and F of the 51st Pioneer Infantry traveled on that ship. There were 4595 people on that trip.

Companies G, H, I, K, L, M and the Medical Detachment sailed from Brest, France, on the U.S.S. Mongolia on 25 June 1919 arrived in Boston, MA, on 6 July 1919. They would travel to Camp Devens, MA. Established in 1917, Camp Devens served as a demobilization center, so presumably these companies of the 51st Pioneer Infantry were discharged from there. Note the dazzle camouflage paint scheme.


Naval History and Heritage Command NH 105722 USS Mongolia


How To Do It

It is your choice to follow the steps that I used to locate the records for the 51st Pioneer Infantry, or jump right in and find  records for your ancestor’s military organization.

The lists of the outgoing and incoming passengers are in the U.S., Army Transport Service, Passenger Lists, 1910-1939.  From the database page, you can search using a variety of fields, or browse starting with the List Type (Outgoing or Incoming).



For the return, I set the Arrival Year field: 1919

And the Keyword field: 51st Pioneer Infantry



The 51st Pioneer Infantry sailed from St. Nazaire. Some sailed on the Wilhelmina on 23 July 1919, arriving in Hoboken, N.J. on 3 July 1919. Others sailed on the Mongolia on 25 June 1919 and arrived in Boston, MA, on 6 July 1919.



Next, I tried a different search. Rather than using the keyword, I set the Military Unit to: 51st Pioneer Infantry.



This provided information about the ships carrying members of the 51st Pioneer Infantry.



This includes people traveling home separate from their military organization, such as this soldier who had special discharge.



Use the back arrows, or image number field to look near the beginning of the list of passengers for this trip to find the Recapitulation of Passengers form. This lists a summary of the trip and the passengers’ military organizations. It may cover several page, with the first page typically showing the embarkation information.



From the Kroonland Outgoing Recapitulation of Passengers:


From the Mongolia Incoming Recapitulation of Passengers:







WWI in the Passenger Lists of the U.S. Army Transport Service (Part I)

In my lectures, I recommend searching for’s military records from the Military Records Landing Page.



When you search from the regular search page, the results are from the most popular 10% of all their databases. Searching from the Military Landing Page, I came across records from: U.S., Army Transport Service, Passenger Lists, 1910-1939. The record in this database give you the name of the person traveling on U.S. Army Transport plus the military organization, the military serial number and whom to notify in case of emergency and his/her relationship to the passenger. The people who would be notified were wives, mothers, father, grandmothers, cousins and friends and their addresses were listed in the record.

This is another possible path to find the military organization and service number of your WWI ancestor! When your ancestor has a common name, you can use the contact information and address to verify you have the correct person in the record.

In the records, you may find family members or foreign personnel that were transported by the Army. These are from the Records of the Office of the Quartermaster General, 1774-1985, Record Group 92, held at NARA in College Park.


Searching the Database

It is always a good idea to read the information about the specific database to learn if there is a reason you cannot locate an individual. When you search an individual database on, that information is available on its search page. Reading all that is the hardest thing to do when the empty search boxes beckon you, but at least you know where to find the information if you need it.

From the database page, you can search using a variety of fields, or browse starting with the List Type (Outgoing or Incoming).



From this page for one individual database page, you can search or browse through the collection. You can narrow down your search to one database, and alter your search terms to find your ancestor’s record.

In addition to a name and dates, there are useful fields to search this database.



Searching for my specific soldier’s name yielded multiple results, but using his military service number tuned right in to his record. This documented his return from France on the S. S. Wilhemina. I checked the box for “Exact” and only one record was returned.



The actual record is below.



Finding his way over to France proved a little more challenging. I had to uncheck the exact box for his service number.

One thing to try  is to use a space after a name beginning with “Mc” (or O’, Mac or Van), but that did not help. It was clear his name had been misrecorded or misindexed.

Since I knew it, I added the ship’s name, and added his military organization in the Keyword field: “51st Pioneer Infantry”.



This proved successful.



His name was indexed correctly; it was misspelled in the original record.



Always remember to select and copy the source citation information.



Reading through these records is interesting. There are notations about soldiers who were transferred between units, hospitalilzed, and those who were A.W.O.L. (Absent With Out Leave) before boarding the ship to Europe. The experience of training, then going off to war had to be overwhelming. For some immigrants, like my Grandfather, it must have seemed surreal to head back to the continent they had left behind a few, or many, years ago.

These records are a great resource for building a timeline of your WWI ancestor’s service. They are invaluable for connecting that ancestor to a family member and a place.

The next post will cover finding information about a specific military organization traveling in this set of  records.