Researching Alabama WWI Ancestors

WWI service summaries are incredibly useful when researching our military ancestors. For Alabama, we have two choices to access these online: The Alabama Department of Archives and History and FamilySearch.

For the centennial of WWI, the Alabama Department of Archives and History conducted a crowdsourcing effort to transcribe the records of Alabamians who served in the military during WWI. These records can be browsed by county here.

Click on a county to view the list of WWI service cards in alphabetical order.

From the page for the county results, you can enter a name in the Search box, and click on the Search button, to see that name in all the counties in Alabama. (Also note the checkbox for Alabama Active Military Service Reports if you are searching for more recent military ancestors.)

Below is a list of all the Smith results for all counties.

There is a separate series for members of the 167th Infantry Regiment. Enter the name in the Search box and click on the Search Button.

This is a summary of service transcribed from the original personnel records that may have been burned at the NPRC. Remember, even though the files may have burned, the data compiled in them still exists. Read our blog post Where Do I Find Out About My Ancestor’s Military Service? The OMPF!.

As promised, there is one other resource for the Alabama service summaries. FamilySearch has them online and indexed. It was a little easier to search on this website, but you do have to sign up for a free account to use it.

Search the Alabama, World War I Service Cards, 1917-1919 here. The birth date might be helpful to enter.

Searching for Frank B Williams brought me to these search results. When you see the camera icon on its own that means you can view an image on the FamilySearch website.

The first result was the WWI soldier who I was researching.

Thank you to John Milam for bringing the research question to me that resulted in this post.

Researching Washington WWI Ancestors

As you may know from my lectures and book, it is important to find your WWI ancestor’s military organization to unlock learning about his military service. An online way to find out about your Washington WWI Ancestors is to search the Washington State Archives – Digital Archives website.

If you have Washington ancestors, check out all the online collections. In the Search by Name box, look at the dropdown menu for Collections dropdown menu on the left.

You can certainly search from the homepage, but I wanted to narrow down my search to military records. To narrow in on military records, I clicked on Search in the menubar across the top of the webpage.

From the dropdown menus on the left side of the webpage:
Record Series: select Military Records
County: To search all counties in the whole state leave set to “–Select a County—”
Title: Select “Veterans Affairs, Department of World War I”

In the search box, enter your ancestor’s name. Note that the first box is for last name (surname). You can certainly enter the whole name of your ancestor, but you might consider entering just a last name in the search boxes to find all the family members. One of the neat features is that you can select a checkbox for Soundex so that the search will return names that sound like the name you entered in the search box. This helps you locate records if the last name has been misspelled or misindexed.

The good news is that an image exists for this record, so we click the result and inspect it and see if it is for the correct person.

You are given the option to download a pdf of the record. Although it is doubtful you would ever need a certified copy of this record, you can order one for $6.

The pdf file contains the Service Statement (Summary) Card.

A list of the Authorized Abbreviations for these cards is found here.

I decided to do another search, this time I made a broader search. The only thing I selected from the dropdown menus on the left was Military Records.

From the dropdown menus on the left side of the webpage:
Record Series: select Military Records
County: To search all counties in the whole state leave set to “–Select a County—”
Title: To search all military records, select “—Select a Title—”

The search returned additional records, but they were not for this soldier.

Another idea for researching your Washington ancestors is through the keywords. From the homepage, take a look at the dropdown menu for collections in the Search by Keyword box.

Good luck searching for your Washington WWI ancestors!

Researching Tennessee WWI Ancestors

More than 130,000 Tennesseans served in WWI. If you are researching one of them, then check out the extensive collection of online WWI resources from the Tennessee State Archives. This archive contains items ranging from the compiled service records that are such an important starting place for WWI research, to a very special and personal collection of digitized items shared by descendants. They are hosted by the Online Computer Library Center (OCLC), which is a global library cooperative.

The compiled service records of the WWI soldiers and sailors from Tennessee can be found in the Record of Ex-Soldiers in World War I. You can search for a specific service member from this webpage. Since the records are stored by county, you also have the option to browse them.

On this webpage you will also find links to Gold Star records from Tennessee, the “Over Here, Over There” collection and Alvin York’s record. The Gold Star records should definitely be checked if you are researching someone a Tennessean who died in service. To check the comprehensive list of all Tennesseans who died in WWI, you can email TLSA and they will perform a lookup in the complete listing of the dead in the Court of Honor in the War Memorial Building in Nashville.

To search the records, enter the search term in the search box. Sometimes, I start by searching using just a surname. That way I can avoid missing entries because of spelling errors, or find other family members.

The results will have a list of the counties that have the results. Clicking on one will bring to the results for the whole county.

Use the arrows in the upper right corner of the pdf page that is displayed so that you can expand the view. In the expanded view, you will see the search term highlighted and you can download the page. From this view, you can use the arrows to move forward to the next result.

The Tennessee State Library & Archives launched an exciting project for the WWI Centennial Project called “Over Here, Over There: Tennesseans in the First World War”. Archivists digitally copied and advised individuals on how to preserve their World War I era manuscripts, artifacts, and photographs. The digitized copies of the items then become part of a virtual exhibit commemorating the centenary of the war and its impact on Tennessee.

When searching the database, it is incredibly helpful to know in which county your ancestor lived. Another idea would be to check out the lists that were created by county that are here. Scroll down to the alphabetic listing of counties.

In this example, we are searching Knox County for the surname Turner.

Using the page number listed in the column on the right will help in navigating the correct page from the search results. Using the Age or Date of Birth column can help narrow down to the correct ancestor when multiple soldiers have similar names.

You can learn more about the collection here.

You can browse the items or search this outstanding collection here.

While you are researching your Tennessee service member, consider checking Tennessee World War I Veterans’ Questionnaires. Although these Questionnaires are not digitized, they are indexed by the service member’s name. The county may or may not be listed. Although the 4,453 questionnaires that were collected represent less than 5% of the approximately 100,000 Tennesseans who served in World War I, the service member you are researching might be one of them!

If you find a survey from your ancestor, follow the directions here to order a copy of it.

Tennessee TVSL

Where Do I Find Out About My Ancestor’s Military Service? The OMPF!

(This is Part 1 of the blog post. Part 2 appears on the Twisted Twigs for Genealogy Blog.)

So many people ask me in person, or post in Facebook groups: “Where do I go to find more about my ancestor’s military service?”. The short answer is that the records you need are at branches of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), but how you get access to them can make a difference.

Undoubtedly you have seen the military records offered on Ancestry or Fold3. These may be rosters, muster rolls or ship’s manifests that show where and when an ancestor was associated with a military organization. You might find summaries of a ancestor’s service, which reveal a few more details, like the various ranks he held and when he served overseas. In a few cases, you might find other reports if your ancestor was a downed airmen or was one of the engineers in WWI who wrote an officer experience reports.

As much as we treasure these bits of information, these records are little more than tick marks to put on a timeline of your ancestor’s military life; they really are only the tip of the iceberg. Rather than being a destination, any record we find in online databases we should consider merely our ticket to learning  so much more.

For each WWI, WWII or Korean War service member, there is an Official Military Records File (OMPF). The OMPF contains not just the context but the details of all aspects of an ancestor’s time in the service. It includes the schools, commendations, hospitalization, transfers, transportation and all the details of a military life. Every part of an active duty military life is copied over and incorporated into one file.

The OMPF contains an actual book summarizing your ancestor’s time in the military, a Service Record. The Service Record contains 24 to 28 pages full of information such as immunizations he received, what schools he attended, awards and commendations he received, enlistment information, beneficiary information, records of courts martial (if applicable) , comments about his character and efficiency rating.

In the OMPF, there is also a Report of Separation which is a summary of the whole time an ancestor was in service. There are reports of physical exams prior to discharge (or retirement), medical and dental records including when he visited the dispensary (doctor’s office). The Report of Medical History includes health history about his family. Other highlights of the OMPF are Commissioning documents (for officers), special orders for transfers or promotions, and records of leave that was taken, and the address where he went. If the service member had been a military cadet, there would be an application, birth certificate, school transcripts, letters of recommendation.

There may be a complication in finding these files, but the records that were used to build them still exist!

Were all the OMPFs burned in the 1973 fire in St. Louis?


No Navy or Marine Corps OMPFs were burned.

Of the 80% of the Army and Air Force OMPFs that were burned, some files are being restored. It is always worth checking with NARA in case your ancestor’s file is one of those.

If the OMPF is truly unavailable, then a researcher has to consult the original records that were used to build the OMPF. These are the records that are held in a variety of NARA record groups that include information about all the service members of an organization. The researcher then needs to pull out information that either names the ancestor or applies to the ancestor’s service.  In future posts, we will cover the record sets at NARA locations that are most useful to researchers learning about their ancestor’s military service history.

Researcher gather the material

Please head over to the Twisted Twigs Blog for the second part of this post. It contains information about your options to get an OMPF, or a reconstructed OMPF.

7th Generation Detroit Family Historian and NARA Records Retrieval Expert, Deidre Erin Denton of Twisted Twigs Genealogy and Margaret McMahon, author of “Researching Your U.S. WWI Army Ancestors, have teamed up for a series of blog posts to show you the path to researching the military records for WWI, WWII and the Korean War at NARA. Because of your connection to your ancestor, you are the best teller of his story, and with these records you can write and share a very personal military history.

Family History Outing: U.S. Army Transportation Museum, Fort Eustis, VA

The U.S. Army Transportation Museum tells the story of the Army’s Transportation Corps, whose unofficial motto is “Nothing Happens Until Something Moves”. The Museum focuses on fielded and experimental equipment in: Aircraft, Rail, Vehicle, Watercraft Equipment.

Camp Eustis was established in 1918 as a training center for railway coast artillery. It became a Fort in 1923.

The Museum has a main building, a railroad pavilion, a vehicle pavilion, a marine park and an aviation pavilion.

Although the U.S. Transportation began in 1942 during WWII, the Army has needed to move troops, weapons and supplies since its beginning in the Revolutionary War. In the main building of the Museum, there is an exhibit gallery for every phase of the Army’s history. The exhibits have been put together carefully, paying attention to providing the details of an accurate representation.

Of course, I spent a lot of time in the WWI gallery. The Mexican Expeditions are also included in this gallery. There were vehicles from WWI, a mule with a pack and a model showing how the U.S. Army Transport Service berthed soldiers and transported supplies.

Army Transport Service (Sea)

In the 1950s, fueled by the Cold War, the Army saw a time of incredibly creativity in the invention of novel technology. So much about these novel technologies inspired science fiction movies. The Army’s Aerocycle single person helicopter is a novel alternative to a jet pack; the soldier stands above the rotor blades. Among the prototypes in the Aviation Pavilion are a Vertical Take Off and Landing (VTOL) aircraft that was tested in 1958; the Cybernetic Walking Machine; the Air Car; and the Airgeep. The Airgeep could travel at speeds up to 70 m.p.h. and fly up to several thousands of feet in the air. The Air Car flew 10-12” off the ground, and was capable of speeds up to 38 m.p.h. It looks like the inspiration for Lady Penelope’s car in the “Thunderbirds” Supermarionation series. The Cybernetic Walker was an ancestor of the ATATs in “Star Wars”.

The Air Car

The full-sized artifacts in the pavilions show you so much more than the pictures in the museum ever could.

Although I found no mention of the Pioneer Infantry Regiments in the Museum, I did find one at the Mariner’s Museum.

This would be an interesting place to get children interested in their ancestors who served in the U.S. Army. They would be able to walk through a gallery filled with the vehicles, uniforms and other sights that their ancestors would have seen during their time in service. It could foster an interest in technology of the different eras and supplement what students learn in U.S. history classes. While the Museum is certainly filled with terrific life-sized artifacts, but it is not as interactive as the U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center.

I always recommend checking out a museum on a military installation. No matter how small, the artifacts give an insight into the history of the installation and the community around it.

The Museum asks for a $4 donation from each adult visiting.

Information about the Museum can be found here.

Family History Outing: The Mariner’s Museum, Newport News, VA

In the history of the U.S. Navy, at the heart of its modern heritage is the U.S.S. Monitor. The “Duel of the Ironclads” was fought in Hampton Roads on 8 March 1862. The C.S.S. Virginia, built from the burned remains of the U.S.S. Merrimac, faced the U.S.S. Monitor. The result was a draw.

The U.S.S. Monitor Center at the Mariner’s Museum holds stories of the battle, the sinking of the Monitor, locating the Monitor in modern times, its exploration and preservation. These stories are all presented in engaging detail.

On New Year’s Eve of 1862, the U.S.S. Monitor sunk at an unknown location as a result of the forces of nature. It was located until 1973 off the Outer Banks, NC. In 1977, a dive brought up the red light that was the last thing seen by the U.S.S. Rhode Island who had rescued most of the crew of the Iron Clad.

Between 1998 and 2002 there were dives to explore the U.S.S. Monitor, culminating in raising of artifacts including the rotating turret. 

The Museum has a recreation of the turret as it was found, upside down. There is also a replica of the turret showing how its Dahlgren guns were positioned. You can even touch a (treated) part of the iron plating of Monitor, and see some of the other artifacts that were raised and have been conserved.

The full-size replica of the U.S.S. Monitor allows you to walk on its deck and view its outside.

You can learn how the C.S.S. Virginia was built from the Merrimac and walk through a recreation of the upper deck. The Museum includes history of the building of the Monitor, including a model of the cross section of its armor belt that encircled it.

The Museum also tells the story of the men who were part of both Iron Clads. One surprising reminder for this former professor of the U.S. Naval Academy was that the first Captain of the C.S.S. Virginia had been the first Superintendent.

My tour was made much more enjoyable with an Iron Clad enthusiast whose studies of this topic began in 1st grade when he read Patrick O’Brien’s excellent book, “Duel of the Iron Clads”.

There are exhibits with artifacts from historical ships, ship models, the America’s Cup and a small craft center.

The biggest surprise was the terrific WWI exhibit. “Answering America’s Call: Newport News in WWI” fills one gallery of the Museum. I learned that four camps supported the port at Newport News: Camp Stuart, Camp Morrison, Camp Alexander and Camp Hill. I learned more about what life was like for the Doughboys as they prepared to go overseas. Although my Grandfather departed from Hoboken, NJ, the process of boarding would have been the same.

As I scanned the display cabinets filled with pictures, uniforms, letters and ephemera, I kept an eye out for anything about my special area of interest, the Pioneer Infantry Regiments. Imagine my surprise and delight to find the Pioneer Infantry Regiments represented in this maritime museum! SGT Weldon Shaw was from Newport News and served in the 63rd Pioneer Infantry Regiment at Camp Dix, NJ.

As I scanned the display cabinets filled with pictures, uniforms, letters and ephemera, I kept an eye out for anything about my special area of interest, the Pioneer Infantry Regiments. Imagine my surprise and delight to find the Pioneer Infantry Regiments represented in this maritime museum! SGT Weldon Shaw was from Newport News and served in the 63rd Pioneer Infantry Regiment at Camp Dix, NJ.

We also recommend the Mariner’s Park Café. The hot sandwiches are made to order, reasonably priced and served promptly in the Ward Room setting.

With a $1 admission fee, this Museum is a bargain. You can optionally purchase a ticket for a 3D movie.

Learn more about the Mariner’s Museum.

The conservation webcams can be found here.

You can read about their WWI artifacts in their blog

You can learn more about Newport News in World War I here.