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.

 

 

 

Family History Outing: The National World War I Museum and Memorial (Part II)

When you walk into the Museum, you cross over a glass floor to enter the exhibits. Below your feet is a field of poppies; above you the tower through the glass ceiling. You then walk through the chronologically arranged galleries, experiencing trenches and a bomb crater.

The artifacts include weapons, vehicles, flags, personal effects and uniforms. The walls are filled with data that helps put the conflict in perspective.

There are activities for families, including a family visitor guide and interactive activities like creating your own propaganda poster using their images, words and colors.

There are rooms for audio reflection, where you can listen to voices, music, poetry and prose of the Great War.

Below the Museum is the Edward Jones Research Center. Through its windows, you can get another view of the poppy field. While you are there, you can chat with an Archivist. The Archives contain books that may help in your research. Some states, and even counties, have compiled books with abstracts of their WWI soldiers.

Undoubtedly you will be exploring the Museum for a while, so you will be glad to know that there is a place to eat. Among the traditional café fare at the Over There Café, you can enjoy Trench Stew, Army Goulash or Chipped Beef. You might consider a sampler platter. (GF stands for Gluten Free.)

 

There is also a Museum Store where you can shop tax free.

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Family History Outing: The National World War I Museum and Memorial (Part I)

Dedicated in 1921 with five WWI leaders present, the Liberty Memorial Tower, Assyrian Sphinxes, Exhibit and Memorial Halls were completed in 1926.

The newer part of the Museum sits below, and was completed in 2006.

Read the Visitor Guide for the details of the Interior and Exterior. Symbolism is embedded in the architecture of the Museum.

The Liberty Memory tower is 217 feet tall. Courage, Honor, Patriotism, and Sacrifice are the 40-foot Guardian Spirits on the Memorial. Ride the small elevator, and take a few steps for a 360-degree view of Kansas City, MO. Given that this part of the Museum is already on a hill, the view is terrific.

Both Assyrian Sphinxes cover their eyes. The east-facing Sphinx, Memory, faces the battlefields of France, and its eyes are covered from the horror that is war. The west-facing Sphinx, Future, hides from the unknown in what is to come.

Be sure to walk around the Museum on the paths to see more parts of the memorial.

Best bet: Tickets are always issued for two days, and they are half-priced on Wednesday.
Another opportunity: Visit the close by Money Museum at the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, which opens a half hour before the WWI Museum. If you take the survey at the end of the exhibits, one of the prizes if a ticket for half-priced tickets at the WWI Museum.
Museum Trivia: Museum personnel shared that the Sunday before the full eclipse was the second busiest day in the museum’s history. Only the opening day surpassed it.

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“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.

World War I Dawn Patrol

While in the High Desert of California, I had a chance to catch up with an old friend, Steven Rainey from Ridgecrest, California. He has been involved in WWI reenactments for twenty years. Steven Rainey is shown here as an Army Air Corps Captain rank, working on the Flight Line as a Flight Safety Officer.

 

 

One of the reenactments Steven attends is the WWI Dawn Patrol Rendezvous held every two years at the Wright Patterson Air Force Base, in Dayton, OH. The Dawn Patrol is an early morning reconnaissance mission intended to gather intelligence about the movements and positions of enemy troops. Capturing the spirit of those missions, the event features reenactors and vintage aircraft and cars.

Steven was featured on the Fall 2009 cover of the USAF Museum Friends Journal.

 

 

The camera used to take the picture was an authentic period Kodak Panorama (17 Model).

The WWI Dawn Patrol Rendezvous at the National Museum of the Air Force is held every two years. The next one is planned for 2018, which is during the centennial of U.S. troops in Europe.  The event promises vintage original and reproduction WWI aircraft, radio-controlled models, era automobiles, period reenactors, educational activities and a collector’s show

Steven recommends the event as a great amount of fun, with lots to see and do.

 

 

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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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