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.

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 Ancestry.com. 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 Ancestry.com, 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:

 

 

 

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

In my lectures, I recommend searching for Ancestry.com’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 Ancestry.com, 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.

 

 

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NARA Records for the U.S. National Homes for Disabled Soldiers (RG15)

Have you been watching the recordings of the NARA Virtual Conferences on YouTube?

The Best National Archives Records Genealogists Aren’t Using presentation discussed Record Group (RG) 15, which is the records of the U.S. National Homes for Disabled Soldiers.

From the presentation, I learned that the files for the permanent residents have been retained, and are available from one specific branch of NARA. Some sample folders for temporary residents had also been retained.

Albert H. Tingue had been a temporary resident at the U.S. National Homes for Disabled Soldiers Home in Bath, NY, but he was not a permanent resident. I decided to contact NARA and check what records about him might be available in RG 15.

Here is the timeline of the request and the interactions for those considering contacting NARA about these records.

 

Preliminary

The first step was to go to the webpage for the Conference Session Schedule with Videos and Handouts.

Veterans Home Case Files were discussed on Day 1 in Session 2. The contact information for the NARA branch that holds the case files for your ancestor’s Veterans Home can be found in Handout 3 of 3.

From the handout, I learned that the National Archives at New York City holds the records for the Bath Home.

 

2/11/2017

I sent the first message with my request.

Dear Archivist,

The 2016 Virtual Genealogy Fair had a presentation about the records in RG 15 for the U.S. National Homes for Disabled Soldiers.

Do you have a case file from the Bath branch of the U.S.National Homes for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers for:
Albert H Tingue

Please see the attached for his Bath registry entry from Ancestry.com.

Is there an online finding aid with an index for these files? I looked for access to a searchable index, but did not find one at:

Sample Case Files of Members, 1878–1933
Veterans Administration. National Homes Service. Bath Branch (Bath,New York). https://catalog.archives.gov/id/5821998

Sample Case Files of Veterans Temporarily at the Branch,1880–1912
Veterans Administration. National Homes Service. Bath Branch (Bath,New York). https://catalog.archives.gov/id/5822001

Thank you,
M. M. McMahon

The Bath registry entry from Ancestry.com was attached to the e-mail request.

 

2/11/2017

I received an automated response from the National Archives in New York City acknowledging my request.

2/17/2017

The Archivist sent an e-mail acknowledging my request.

NARA does have an index for the Sample Case Files of Members, but there was no entry for Tingue.

They do not have an index for the Sample Case Files of Veterans Temporarily at the Branch. The files are a single box, stored offsite, so the Archivist requested that the box be delivered to the New York office. She informed me that when the box arrived, she would search it for a file about Albert Tingue.

2/17/2017

I sent the Archivist an e-mail thanking her.

3 / 8 / 2017

The Archivist sent an e-mail with the results of her search of the box of Sample Case Files of Veterans Temporarily at the Branch. Unfortunately, it is a very small sample that contains a few files with names beginning with “A” or “B”. There was no file for Albert Tingue.

3 / 8 / 2017

I sent an e-mail thanking The Archivist for her efforts.

 

Less than a month after my initial request, an Archivist had searched an index for this ancestor, then had ordered and examined a box held offsite. If she had located a file, she would have informed me of the copying fees. Although NARA did not have retain any records for Albert H. Tingue in RG 15, it proved an interesting effort to learn more about this Record Group.

You can read more about the homes in the NARA Prolog article “Genealogy Notes: The National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers.”

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NARA II, College Park Visit – Day 3

We returned to NARA several days later to view the boxes in RG120 that held records from the 51st Pioneer Infantry.

In this part of the record set, the documents were arranged by company.

 

NARA WWI - 08

 

There were twelve boxes in all. (Company B was on the desk.)

 

NARA WWI - 09

 

One of the interesting things was the correspondence books. Before computer indexing, people had to know how to locate items in their records. I have used index books for land and probate records. (See the tutorials.)

 

NARA WWI - 10

 

There was my Grandfather’s name as his records were transferred from the IV Corp vocational school in Mayen Germany.

 

NARA WWI - 11

 

 

 

 

There was an earlier letter acknowledging the transfer of their records. Joseph McMahon was detached to the IV Corps Vocational school at Mayen Germany, on 31 Mar 1919.

 

NARA WWI - 13

 

Fourteen Jewish soldiers from Company B requested leave to attend the Jewish Festival in Coblenz on 14 Apr 1919. The 51st Pioneer Infantry Entertainment Officer asked the YMCA to furnish a concert model guitar to Company B; they were planning to have a show ready by the first of April, possibly after the recovery of a cast member from an accident.

Much of the 51st Pioneer Infantry Headquarters’ correspondence dealt with promotions, demotions (some voluntary), transfers, requests for leave and cancellations of Liberty Bonds. The correspondence included stations before Camp Wadsworth, including Camp Meade and Lemoyne, PA (as the 10th NY Infantry).

The Summary Sheets for the Courts Martial of the 51st Pioneer Infantry were also in this record group. There was an index by last name to help locate the sheets to learn the details of the charges and the findings. Punishment might be fines, forfeiture of pay, or hard labor.

At some time in the future, I will head back to digitize all the folders in RG165 for the 51st Pioneer Infantry, and to read more about the 51st Pioneer Infantry in RG120.