Researching Texas WWI Ancestors

Learning the military organization for your ancestor who served in WWI is important. With that information, you can find out what your ancestor did including duties, travels and battles. For

An important fact to know about your ancestor who served in WWI is the military organization. With that information, you can find out what your ancestor did including duties, travels and battles.

For Texas WWI ancestors, you can access Texas, World War I Records, 1917-1920 here.

 

This collection includes service cards and other military records

For an example, I entered just a surname. This type of search is good to find other family members who served.

The search results are below.

Click on the camera for the result to view the record.

This database also contains applications for the Victory Medal that all WWI veterans were entitled to wear.

A comprehensive list of the Texas State Library & Archives WWI Resources can be found here.

This list included links to the material that is online.

The history of the 359th Infantry can be found here

This is a remarkable resource. It contains an index for the names of those who served, complete with county. Follow the link to photos and internment records (if available).

Interview with Historian and Author Alexander F. Barnes

Recently, I had a chance to ask WWI Historian Alexander F. Barnes about his latest book, “Forgotten Soldiers of World War I: America’s Immigrant Doughboys” written with Peter Belmonte. In it, he discusses the impact our immigrant ancestors made by fighting in WWI.

 

1) What inspired you to write this book?  

In 2014 I wrote a book called “To Hell with the Kaiser: America Prepares for War 1916-1918” in which I described how the American Army was organized, trained, and deployed to fight in France. I spent a lot of time researching each of the thirty-two main training camps and a lot of the smaller specialty camps. It was an eye-opening experience as I learned about the methods used to raise the Army and exactly how the conscription process was designed. There was so much to tell about this story that it ultimately took two volumes to contain all of the information Along with the story of the camps and draft boards, I found I needed to tell the story of the conscription of African-American and foreign-born soldiers as well as the impact of Spanish Flu on the training soldiers and units. When all was said and done, the books were published and almost all of the comments and letters I received were about the chapter on the foreign-born soldiers. It turned out that darn near everybody had a foreign-born or immigrant Doughboy in their family tree.  In the chapter, I had included my wife’s grandfather (born in Italy and serving in the Depot Brigade at Camp Upton) and my daughter-in-law’s great-grandfather (born in Ireland and serving in the 80th Division) and everywhere I went I heard similar stories.  I work as the Command Historian for the Virginia National Guard and one of the officers in the Headquarters brought me into his office to show me a picture of his grandfather from Norway who served as a machine gunner in the 89th Division.  I quickly realized that this was a story that deserved much more than a chapter. I had met Pete Belmonte electronically when he helped me and another writer, Kevin Born, when we were working on our book about the US Military’s Desert uniforms, patches and insignia. Pete had served in the Air Force during Desert Storm and he shared images of some of his uniform patches for our book. I also knew of Pete as being the author of a fantastic book about the Meuse-Argonne that was published by Schiffer Publishing, the same outfit that publishes my books. So I sent Pete a message and asked him if he would be interested in teaming up to do a book on the foreign-born immigrants in the American Army in WWI.  After he agreed, we sent a letter to the publisher and a received a contract to do it.

 

2) What about these soldiers was “forgotten”?

That’s a great question. The forgotten aspect of these soldiers is the very fact of their service. During my presentations about WWI for the Virginia National Guard and for the Virginia WWI Commission I always include a bar-chart slide that contains my self-invented scale of “Unknownness.”  I start out with the 153 Virginians that served as the MP Company in the Rainbow Division, then move to the 400 “Hello Girls” telephone operators in the AEF, and then to 230,000 Doughboys of the US Third Army who served in the occupation of Germany after WWI, and then the 367,000 African-Americans who served in the Army and then the final bar is for the 800,000 foreign-born men and women who served.  The point I try to make is that over the last few years books have been written and well received about all of the other previously little-known soldiers. And that all together, their total doesn’t equal the total number of foreign-born soldiers. Equally importantly, there were foreign-born soldiers included in all of those other “unknown” groups.

The final statistical report for the American forces in WWI estimate that at least 20% of all of the soldiers were born in another country. You would think that 20% of a force of 4 million men would earn some significant notice and yet, except for anecdotal references, these soldiers remain fairly invisible. One exception to that is the diary of Alvin York. York’s diary includes numerous references to the struggles and triumphs of the foreign-born soldiers in his unit. So if America’s most famous Doughboy could see that there was a story that needed to be told, who were we to ignore it?

 

3) What was the most surprising discovery you made while researching this book?

There were many things that surprised me. I don’t know what surprised Pete the most because he had already been walking this path by researching Italian-Americans in the Army in WWI but for me it was the numbers of men and, in some cases, women who were of foreign birth and originating from countries you don’t usually think of. Everybody could probably guess that there would be a lot of Italians, Irish, Poles, Scandinavians, and Germans because those have always been significant number of immigrants from those countries. But I never expect to find so many Greek, Dutch, Latin American, Canadian, Indian, Albanian, Armenian, and even Australian men serving in the Army. Perhaps the single most telling statistic we found was that of the 609 men and women from the Rochester, New York, area that died from all causes during the war, 56 had been born in Italy- a total of 12 percent. There were many others also foreign-born who died but to find 12 percent for one group (and of that number, 41 were killed in combat) was just eye-opening.

 

4) How were enemy aliens treated in the U.S. military? Why were some discharged while others served?

Now that is a complex topic. The honest answer is that the response by the US military and its unit leaders was mixed and situationally-dependent. National Guard units in Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota and the Dakotas were representative of their local populations and therefore contained large numbers of German-born men and sons of German-born men. The 32nd Division was even nicknamed the “Gemuchlicheit Boys” (Fun-loving boys) because of this fact. When it came time to select units to serve in the American Occupation of the German Rhineland after the war, the 32nd was chosen to be one of the lead units, possibly due to the fact that so many of the men were able to speak German.

Men from the Austro-Hungarian Empire were also drafted and while many of these were not trusted and so ended up being discharged, enough remained in the ranks to serve well. Well enough in fact that the Army was organizing a Slavic Legion for service overseas when the war ended.

What makes this a hard topic to get a handle on is the fact that parts of the Ottoman and the Austro-Hungarian empires were so little known to the average American Draft board that often large numbers of men were lumped together: an Armenian might be considered Greek by one draft board and a Turk by another. Similarly, men from Albania or Bulgaria might be lumped together with Greeks, Macedonians, or Turks.  Ultimately, it was the luck of the cards and some men who wished to serve in the US Army were discharged and others, desperately wanting to be anywhere other than in the US Army, were kept. The overwhelming job of building a four million man Army in 17 months was bound to cause a lot of mistakes and, as usual, when mistakes are made in a military organization, it’s the guy on the bottom of the ladder that pays for it.

 

5) What is your next project?

We have another Barnes and Belmonte project we are putting the finishing touches on, also for Schiffer Publishing. We have written “Play Ball! America’s Doughboys and the National Pastime.” It is evenly split in telling the story of the Major League ball players who served in the Army during the war and the baseball-crazy non-professional ballplaying Doughboys who played everywhere they stopped for the evening.  Some of America’s greatest Major Leaguers served in the Army and Navy, some paying the ultimate price for their service. The regular Doughboys indulged their love for the game by playing right behind the front lines. It’s a great story that uses mainly primary sources and a number of never-before published photographs.

 

Alexander Barnes was born in Niagara Falls, New York, and grew up in an Air Force family. He enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1974 and then joined the Army National Guard in 1977, retiring as a Virginia Army National Guard chief warrant officer in 2004. He retired from US Army CASCOM at Fort Lee in July 2015 after 30 years of service as an Army Civilian.  He has a master’s degree in Anthropology and authored “In a Strange Land: The American Occupation of Germany 1918-1923,” “Let’s Go! The History of 29th Infantry Division,” and “To Hell with the Kaiser: America Prepares for War,” a two-volume set describing America’s entry into WWI.    His latest book, co-authored with Pete Belmonte, is “Forgotten Soldiers of WWI: America’s Immigrant Doughboys has just been released.  He is currently serving as the Command Historian for the Virginia National Guard.

“Forgotten Soldiers of World War I: America’s Immigrant Doughboys” is available from Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, and other bookstores as well as online stores.

Genealogy at the Movies

There are many movies about families, and while they naturally put us in mind of genealogy, there are some movies where genealogists, or genealogy plays a major role.

Recently, I watched “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”. In that movie, James Bond posed as a genealogist to infiltrate the lair of Ernst Stavro Blofeld, the head of SPECTRE. Blofield had been communicating with a London College of Arms’ genealogist Sir Hilary Bray in an attempt to establish his claim to the title of ‘Comte Balthazar de Bleuchamp’. James Bond poses as a knowledgeable and irresistible genealogist, with beautiful ladies more interested in seeing his genealogy book that we usually experience. Although there are many camps about who is the best Bond, this one starred George Lazenby as Bond.

“Murder on The Orient Express” always makes me think of genealogy. The connections between the passengers definitely needed a family tree as well as a chart of the Friends, Associates and Neighbors (FAN) Club. The connections to the child and the family were intertwined to the plot. Even people who connected to the family after the event became entwined with the plot.
The Star Wars movies are the ultimate genealogical movies. They encompass a truly large FAN Club, of a multitude of beings. For those family members who do not yet know they are interested in genealogy, teach them about family trees by sketching out Luke and Leia’s genealogy. Perhaps they will want to know how their own genealogy compares.

“Who Do You Think You Are?” is back

Season 9 of “Who Do You Think You Are?” is here! The episodes are airing Monday night on TLC.

Last Monday had two strong episodes with Jon Cryer and Laverne Cox. Discussions with genealogists and interpretation of DNA results were a part of both episodes.

If you would like to stop by and comment during (or after) the episode you can stop by our Facebook page: A Week of Genealogy Facebook Page

Full episodes from this season and Season 8 can be viewed online at:
https://www.tlc.com/tv-shows/who-do-you-think-you-are/full-episodes/courteney-cox
Scroll down to find the links to the other episodes.

 

Family Trees: Syncing, GEDCOM and Backups

Electronic family trees are a terrific way to capture what you learn about your ancestors. They can help you organize and share what you have found. Once organized, you can analyze what you know and what you need to find.

At a recent class, there were a lot of great questions about family trees. Thinking about family trees, a blog post might help to sort out some of those answers.

While there is a lot to consider about putting a tree online or keeping a family tree on your own computer, there are definitely reasons to do both!

 

Should I backup my online tree?
There is an expectation that an online tree will be backed up by the hosting website. But what if that website gets sold to another company? or undergoes a cyber attack and has a loss of data? or decides that it no longer wants to host family trees?

It is always a good idea to backup your online tree. If you have it on your personal computer, you can still use the tree during a time when you are not connected to the Internet. You also have access to your tree if one of the situations in the above paragraph occurs.

Syncing (synchronizing) the trees online and on a home computer can be thought of backing up the tree.

 

GEDCOMs
You can certainly download a tree from Ancestry.com or FindMyPast.com , and the format will

GEDCOM is an acronym for Genealogical Data Communications (but I have seen it referred to as Genealogical Electronic Data Communications).

Think of this as the most basic, stripped down form of your tree. It includes data about the individuals including sources, and linkages between individuals. In fact, it is a text file that follows the rules of a format that all family tree programs understand. The extension for this type of files is .ged

Imagine you wanted to transfer text from one fancy word processing program to another, but they don’t open each others file format. So, you might decide to save your document as a plain text file, that can be opened by another word processor. Of course, that simple text file would not have all the images you inserted and detailed formating that you might have done in your original.

 

Sync
To synchronize, or sync, means to make your online tree and the one on your computer match.

This comes in handy when you are attaching people, facts and documents to an online tree. That way you can get those additional people, facts and documents into the tree on your computer.

If you have the same tree online and on your computer, you can consider that a backup.

But, some people like me use the online tree to collect data, while the one on my computer has a lot more information, especially about living people. Just be aware whether or not the family tree program on your computer allows you to choose to upload or download your tree from the Internet.

 

Downloading GEDCOMs
For many of your online trees, you have the ability to download a GEDCOM that contains all the people and facts from the tree. Remember, GEDCOMs do not have all the media attached, so you will not get the pictures and documents downloaded.
Note: When there is one tree for everyone on the website, a GEDCOM cannot be downloaded.

Ancestry.com and FindMyPast.com Family Tree -> View all trees next to each of your trees are three buttons: Settings, Export, Delete. You will Export your tree.

 

How-to Information
After the class, one of the attendees and I sat down to look for videos to show how to do all these tasks. Since you know I use Google quite a bit, you will not be surprised to learn that I searched for the following terms:

  • download GEDCOM from ancestry
  • rootsmagic sync with ancestry
  • rootsmagic sync with familysearch

then selected the link to show results in the Video category.

There were how-to videos for all the family tree programs.

 

Good luck and let me know how you do!

 

Rootstech 2018 Videos and Handouts

Rootstech 2018 is over and if you did not make it, you can still view some of the videos and all of the handouts at the link below. It is great that Rootstech lets us all be a part of it.

Videos can be viewed here.

The handouts for the sessions can be viewed and downloaded here.