Camp Doughboy 2018: After Action Report

The 3rd annual Camp Doughboy WWI History Weekend at Governors Island National Monument was held on 15-16 September 2018. This was the biggest free public WWI exhibition in the U.S. this year, and was attended by 10.000 visitors.

The weather was sunny and warm both days.

My mission was to man a table where people could ask how they could learn about their WWI ancestors. On that table I displayed an informative poster, the WWI scrapbook of my Grandfather that I created (rather than inherited) and WWI Victory medals. I was also assigned to give lectures about how to find out about WWI ancestors.

Corporal Kevin Fitzpatrick led us all through the events of the weekend.

There were almost a hundred reeanactors present. Each and every reeanactor was impeccably outfitted, and had a story (or more) to tell about the Great War. Being able to see the authentic details of their wardrobe and equipment and to watch them perform their duties brought us back a century in time. Just to mention only a few of all those in attendance: the Harlem Hellfighters, a female contract surgeon, a WW1 Salvation Army Lassie, Imperial Germans and authentic Army cooks. Some visitors arrived in vintage clothing, and posed with the reenactors.

The audiences at my lectures learned about a methodology for researching their own WWI ancestors, the records and archives available, as well as the story of where fallen soldiers might be buried. They were quick with great questions.

Some visitors brought treasures with them. A gentleman brought his ancestor’s dogtags. His ancestor was from the South, but assigned to the Coastal Artillery in New Jersey. Another family brought the “History of Company C of the 320 Machine Gun Battalion.” Others brought pictures of their dashing soldiers in uniform. Many brought stories of ancestors who served in WWI for the U.S. and other counties.

Two descendants of soldiers from the 51st Pioneer Infantry Regiment held a mini-reunion.

Dr. Libby O’Connell of the WWI Centennial Committee for New York City addressed the gathering. She reminded us about the upcoming centennial and significance of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive.

The period music was lively and added to the ambiance.

The vintage trucks were a special highlight. When they were not driving, they were on static display. It seemed everyone who came took a picture of them.

A major shout out goes to the authentic cooks of the Army Rolling Field Kitchen who created delicious authentic Army dishes using WWI Army recipes. The fresh doughnuts created by the WW1 Salvation Army Lassie in France were fabulous.

Thanks to everyone who stopped by to ask questions, learn and chat. More blog posts providing follow-up information will follow.

Camp Doughboy will return to Governors Island in 2019.

7 Ways to Research WWI Veterans in Your Community


Seventy First Regiment Leaves for Camp of N.Y. Division.(NARA RG165-WW-288C-067)

Congratulations on taking the first step of wanting to learn more!

Ryan Hegg of the WWI Centennial Commission for New York City asked me if I believed that the WWI Generation was really the Greatest Generation. What a thought provoking question! Ryan makes a great case. WWI was a defining point in our Country’s history as a participant on the world stage. Theirs was a generation who decided to go overseas to fight the Great War for Civilization. They experienced the Great Depression.

Students have a number of resources to find WWI veterans who were  residents in their communities. The ideas below start with those that take least effort to those that require more advanced skills. (For those who do not know if they had ancestors who served in WWI, a future blog post will cover that topic.)

  1. Locate a WWI Memorial in your city or town. There may be a statue in a park or a plaque in a public building. You can contact your city or town office to ask if such a memorial exists. When you locate the memorial, you can take pictures of it and copy the names that you find. If you want to learn more about those individuals try some of the other steps.
  2. Ask at a local cemetery about WWI veterans’ graves. The tombstones for service members who died during the war or later should show the branch of the military, the war, and their military organization. The cemetery office should be able to help you locate the graves of WWI veterans.
  3. Go to your local library and ask to speak to the research librarian. The library may hold special books telling about local men and women who served in WWI. There many also be files of materials donated by local researchers, which may be called vertical files. They may have fold local newspapers or files of newspaper clippings.
  4. Contact the local chapter of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW). Each Post is unique and has different polices pertaining to its community service efforts. You can visit VFW’s Find-A-Post feature here to locate a VFW Post and its contact information. Ask to speak with the Commander or Quartermaster.
  5. If there is a local historical society, genealogical society, or historical museum in your area, call or send an email. I have found WWI collections in unlikely locations, such as the Laws Railroad Museum and the Holland Land Office Museum
  6. Research local newspapers of the time. You can check the Library of Congress Chronicling America website to find out what newspapers existed at the time, and see if any of them have been digitized. Many community newspapers printed articles about the men and women who served. Search for WWI and your community name. 
  7. Head back to your library and find out what databases are available. Your local library may have access to Ancestry.com, Fold3.com and ProQuest and other Historical Newspapers. Librarians should be able to help you search for more about a specific WWI Veteran using his or her name.

Beyond these steps, much of the research involves looking for material about a military organization in which the veteran served. There are several posts on this blog about learning more about WWI Veterans.

Good luck!

Researching North Carolina 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 North Carolina WWI ancestors, you can access North Carolina, World War I Service Cards, 1917-1919

https://www.familysearch.org/search/collection/2568864

You will need to sign up for a free account with FamilySearch.org to be able to search and view results. FamilySearch is a resource that will be useful for you, as it contains many records online and indexes to records.

At FamilySearch you can search for records, or browse through the records. Try searching for your ancestor’s name.

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.

In this card you can find out the military organization, and information about overseas service, wounds, grades and discharge. If the ancestor died in service, the card will have a red tint and give information about when, where and how the ancestor died.

From here you can download and print the record.

The North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources is chronicling the experience of NC in WWI. You can read about the traveling exhibit and other resources on this page.

You can read about the digital collection here.

The State Archives of North Carolina have World War I Papers.

You might want to look for your ancestor’s name or military organization in the finding aids Private Collections of the State Archives of North Carolina. These items may not be online.

 

3 Ways to Find WWI Officer Experience Reports on Fold3

This week I have been working with an interesting record set, the WWI Officer Experience Reports-AEF on Fold3. These records are reports from officers about engineering activities in the AEF. Although there are names in these records, their usefulness goes beyond individual names because they hold information about the military organizations. The names are those of the officers filing the reports to the Chief Engineer of their Army, but the activities are those of the whole military organization to which they were attached.

If you had a WWI Ancestor who served with engineers in the U.S. Army, you might want to check out these records.

The reports are individual accounts of the activities of the engineering officers. It is interesting to read the approach each officer took to telling his story. Some accounts are written in first person, some in third person and there are even poems. Comparing the different accounts of the same event is also interesting. One example is the 816th Pioneer Infantry experience on the trip to France. The Regiment traveled on three ships; one of which had engine trouble and fell out of the convoy. The reports differ on which day the engine trouble began, and how it was remedied. One report gave an officer’s impressions of sub-watching duty in a crow’s nest with a group of sea-sick men.

Most accounts discuss the work done by the engineers, and the officers give examples of the contributions of their men and how proud they were. A few officers express disappointment at arriving in France just before the cessation of hostilities. Then, there are personal accounts like the Lieutenants who hitched a ride to the front with some performers and ended up at a village between the lines. The WWI – Officer Experience Reports can be found here.

 

1) Search by name and/or keyword

When we try a new database it is natural to search for a name or a keyword. For best results, enter your engineering soldier’s name with his military organization.

2. Browse the records.

After you have searched for names, you may find that a better way to go through the records is to browse them. Next to the search box is a “Browse” button. You can also browse the records here.

When browsing these records:
Category = WWI
Publication = WWI Officer Experience Reports – AEF
Unit, select your ancestor’s unit from the list
Name, select names from the list within the unit

When you select a name, you will find that officer’s experience report. The reports may be typed or handwritten. You may find that there the officer made duplicates of the reports.

3. Combine browsing and searching

Browse to the military unit and search the subset of records by entering keywords and selecting the keyword option from the drop down menu. In the example below, with the 806th Pioneer Infantry Regiment records selected, I entered the keywords: 806 pioneer headquarters and selected keyword search from the dropdown menu.

The results of the example search are shown below.

No matter how you get to the records, click on the thumbnail of a page to see a larger image of the page and interact with it. You can read the page online, download it, bookmark it on Fold3 (when signed into an account) and save it to an individual on a family tree at Ancestry.com (when signed in). You can also use the arrows on that appear at the bottom of the page to move forward or backward through the pages of the record set.

For those who share my interest in the Pioneer Infantry, you will find that there are reports from the 59th, 806th, and 813th Pioneer Infantry Regiments.

The value of personal accounts cannot be overstated. By committing these stories to writing, the officers are able to share what they did and saw and felt. These reports bridge the century between both of you, so you can spend time to hear the stories they tell.

 

 

Family History Outing: WWI at the Holland Land Office Museum

In addition to the displays of Holland Land Office material, discussed in the Family History Outing: The Holland Land Office Museum blog post, there was another exhibit of interest to me. The HLOM has an exhibit “Over There to Over Here: 100 Years Later, Genesee County in the Great War,” which is featured on their website.

The Museum is home to artifacts from the Great War. Soldiers’ equipment, uniforms and other WWI memorabilia are on display. There are artistically decorated helmets, and sheet music. Every item is clearly labeled, and the exhibit has been put together with great care and thought. In the displays, WWI history moves beyond the descriptions and illustrations in books to real objects. For me, seeing a soldier’s pick, that had been over than back over here, brought to mind equipment used by the Pioneer Infantry Regiment.

The exhibit includes a book where the names of Genessee County residents who served in WWI have been collected. Some were residents before the war, while other veterans settled in Genessee County after the Great War.

 

It is always important to check the holdings of all the museums and archives in your ancestor’s local area. For example, Executive Director Duffy told a story about one visitor who was surprised to find several items, including a dogtag and discharge papers, for a relative he did not even know was a soldier in WWI.

The Museum also display items from the military service of Genesee County residents in other wars. Even though we did not have Genesse County ancestors, we enjoyed this part of our visit to the Holland Land Office Museum. So, if you find yourself near Batavia, NY, think about stopping in.

To learn more, visit the Holland Land Office Museum website.

 

Researching Your Wisconsin WWI Ancestors

When you are researching Wisconsin WWI soldiers, you can use the Wisconsin Veterans Museum’s World War I Database at the Wisconsin Veteran’s Museum website.

 

 

You can search by Name, City, County, Unit, or Branch, or any combination. Wildcard characters do not appear to be supported, but entering parts of the last name did return some results. For example, entering “Back” in the last name field returned last names like “Backes”, but also names like “Alaback” that have the “back” somewhere in the last name. Be sure to  remember to try alternate spellings of the names.

Usually I search for members of the 51st Pioneer Infantry, using the terms: 51st Pioneer. The database returned two members.

 

 

Click on the Request Info link to request or share information about the veteran with the Museum.

 

This database has enough flexibility to help research whole families, and whole cities or towns.