NARA Record Retrieval: Interview with Deidre Erin Denton of Twisted Twigs on Gnarled Branches

Twisted Twigs on Gnarled Branches Webpage

Twisted Twigs On Gnarled Branches Genealogy has been changing the way researchers receive documents held by the National Archives. It is a NARA Record Retrieval Service. They perform access to records held at Archive 1 (Washington D.C.), Archive 2 (College Park, Maryland), the National Archives in St. Louis, Missouri, and the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC). Since NARA and the NPRC have been working to restore many of the Army or Air Force service record veteran’s military records that were “lost” in the 1973 Fire, Twisted Twigs can help you find out if your ancestor’s record is among them.

We recently had a chance to ask the Owner of Twisted Twigs Genealogy National Archives Record Retrieval Services, Deidre Erin Denton, about how NARA records can help your genealogical research and why a data retrieval service may be a good choice to access these records.

 

Why should genealogists consider using the National Archives?

The National Archives is perceived to be mainly a source of broad historical government information rather than containing the more personal kind of information usually sought by genealogists. However, the history of our country is made up of the history of our people – the records held at NARA were created by and for those people, and can hold an incredible amount of personal information that’s often overlooked. It also holds records that can flesh out the story of our ancestors in addition to the dry facts of dates and places that are the bedrock of family history research. To truly understand the stories of our ancestors, we also need to look at the broader world in which they lived. NARA holds a fantastic amount of information that can help to do that.

 

When does it make sense for a genealogist to hire a data retrieval service at NARA locations?

The most satisfying ideal would be for everyone to have the ability to do their own hands-on work in the Archives. However, that’s not always possible; when someone has a limited budget for research and records just the costs of a trip to the Archive can cut into that budget drastically. Each Archive facility has different holdings, so factoring in multiple destinations to obtain complete sets of records puts it out of reach for many people. Additionally, navigating the vast collections at the Archive can be overwhelming for someone unfamiliar with them. This is where professional help can be invaluable.

The type of professional help available for NARA records is usually either a traditional research firm or a record retrieval firm. The two services are often conflated, but in reality, each primarily performs a very different type of service with just a bit of overlap. A research firm is typically more expensive and can be a good fit for someone who needs extensive research help. Research firms usually include additional services as well, such as organizing all the information into a polished narrative package for you. By contrast, retrieval services focus on copying specific records based on information you provide; expect to pay considerably less for this service, but don’t expect them to perform extensive in-depth research for you.

Hiring a professional should be considered when you need a way to get records that will push your own research further along and allow you to obtain documents that aren’t otherwise easily available to you. Hire a retrieval service when you generally know what kind of information you want, you have solid research information to begin the search, and you want to get the maximum record value for the money you spend. A professional retriever can cut straight to the most valuable records and usually obtain them faster and with greater accuracy. Great ones can also suggest other records of interest based on their experience in the Archives and help you sort out incorrect information as well.

 

How do you recommend that someone chooses a data retrieval service?

Find an established company that specializes in the type of records you seek and works regularly in the repository where the records are held; they’ll have the best success rate at locating records because they already know the ‘tips and tricks’ of the collections.  Solicit recommendations from a variety of people, including other professionals. Remember that no company will satisfy every client because in genealogy research each client has different needs and different expectations. Don’t stop at happy or unhappy – ask for details on why a person thinks a company is good or bad. If they are unhappy solely because a company provided records that proved a treasured family legend was false, that’s a company you still want to consider hiring. Finally,  look for a company which will provide everything you need without excess fees for services that don’t benefit or interest you.

 

What is the most exciting find you have made at the National Archives?

So many it’s difficult to pick one.  It’s really a privilege to handle all these original records. A favorite truly exciting find is an original Walt Disney cel drawing tucked into a unit history folder and forgotten for decades. It was created as a ‘mascot’ for the 56th Signal Battalion. As soon as I pulled it out, the archivists allowed me to photograph it then whisked it away to be placed in the preservation vault due to its value. It was not something I ever expected to see in a military unit history file.

 

You have great genealogy memes on Facebook. Where do you get your ideas?

They come straight from real life experience. I inherited a both a love of family history research and a wicked sense of humor from my family. I’ve been doing research since I was very young, so I’ve seen all the bizarre kinds of things that can happen when you look for ancestors. Sooner or later every genealogist will run across similar situations; sometimes all you can do is either laugh or cry, and I’d rather laugh. It’s great to have such a lot of people in the Twisted Twigs community who both understand the problems and appreciate the jokes. I love sharing my passion for genealogy with them!

 

You can find out more about the records and service offered by Twigs On Gnarled Branches Genealogy on their website Twisted Twigs On Gnarled Branches Genealogy. While there, you can read “Testimonials & Kudos” from satisfied customers at https://twistedtwigsgenealogy.com/kudos. You can also check out the blog on the website, including “Happy New Years! Time to Tally Up Your Family Tree for 2019“.

Twisted Twigs posts, memes and advertisements of current specials can be found on their Facebook page: Twisted Twigs On Gnarled Branches Genealogy.

They can also be found on Twitter and Instagram.

Twisted Twigs is currently having a Shutdown Sale with special offers on Pre-1917 Pensions and 20th century OMPF files. It will end the day the archive reopens. The Twisted Twigs Swag Shop has all kinds of wearable funny genealogical goodies is always open.

 

Deidre Erin Denton is a well-seasoned genealogist who has worked with clients since 2005, and who specializes in National Archives record retrieval in Washington DC, College Park, MD, and in St. Louis, MO. She believes at all researchers should have affordable access to NARA records. Twisted Twigs started offering NARA record retrieval services in the summer of 2015 and record retrieval services at The National Personnel Records Center in Saint Louis (WWI/WWII/Korean War military records/ Personnel Files) in June 2016. As of July 2018, Twisted Twigs has retrieved over 2300 military pensions and 3500+ service records in 42 months.

NARA’s History Hub

Have you used the History Hub at the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)?

Who better to ask about NARA Records than NARA itself!

The History Hub is a place on the web where you can visit and ask questions in different communities at NARA. Do you have a question about finding military records or want to learn more about a topic? Then one of the related communities might be a place to look for information that has been posted, or post a question of your own.

To view content and ask questions, you will need to register for a free account.

If you want to be able to post questions and make the most of the History Hub, you will need to register for an account. Select Register in the upper right corner of the webpage. The first step is to provide an email address.

After you enter your email address, and select Confirm address, you get a message in your browser.


If you do not see an email from the History Hub soon after the request, be sure to check your email spam folder. Sometimes emails can be automatically marked as spam.

Follow the directions to confirm your email address and fill in a short registration. You are led to pick a username and a strong password for your account. Be sure to read the hints about what characters need to be in the password.

There are different communities, each with its own manager. You can search for information about a topic, or ask a question. Inside the community, you can find Featured Content.

So, do you have questions about a topic you have been researching? Do you wonder if NARA has any records related to the topic? This is the place where you can ask. A NARA staff member will answer your questions. Other researchers may also share their insights about the topic, too.

For example, I was interested to know which records NARA had about Base Hospital 37 during WWI. I had an answer in a day, telling me what records were available and where they could be found. There were two records groups with information about this Base Hospital, 120 and 112, and the reply included information about which boxes to access. My next step would be to email the archivist and get further guidance about their availability.

When you make a post, it will be reviewed by the moderators. You will receive an email letting you know when your comment or question has been approved and is visible to the community. You will also receive an email when someone replies to your post.

From your profile, you can add a photo or select to view your content. Selecting Your Content shows the posts you have made.

Another great place to post a request for help is the “Researchers Help” Community.


When you view a post, you have options to follow, bookmark, share or like the post.

So, get onto the History Hub and see what answers and resources await you!

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 Ancestry.com 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 Ancestry.com, remember that you may be able to  access Ancestry.com in may be available in your local library, or at a nearby Family History Center.

Even if you do not have access to Ancestry.com, 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 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.

 

 

 

“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 Ancestry.com. 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.