Flags waved in the November winds, uniforms were pressed and cleaned, music played, and locals gathered to honor our veterans this week. It’s good to pause and pay respect to those who kept us safe, freely enjoying our day to day lives.
As family historians, we frequently think of those who have gone before us. As you remember the veterans in your own family look for ways to remember and honor them. Because this year recognizes World War I Centennial, I thought we could look at ways to research our WWI ancestors and the families that supported them.
In my own family I have a great uncle Eddy who grew up as a farm boy on the Dakota plains but was drafted and served in an Engineering corp in France during the World War I. I never knew him or any relatives who did. So, in order to find his story, I needed to go back to source information to create a timeline and information about him. I was fortunate enough to have inherited the following items:
· Large military picture showing his corp when he was at Fort Dodge
· A Picture of him in his uniform.
· Arm patch from his uniform.
· A letter to his brother-in-law.
While these items will add color to my story about him, they don’t necessarily provide me with any clear facts…except for the address on the envelop of the letter. I turned to the following resources for more information:
Census Records –look in Ancestry.org or FamilySearch.org or your local library.
These helped me to establish where he was prior to WWI as well as after. Remember to look at Federal and State Census Records. This was especially important because his mother had died shortly after his birth and the children were “farmed out” to various relatives across South Dakota, North Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
WWI Draft Card Registrations –found Ancestry and FamilySearch or NARA WWI Centennial
The information on the draft card provides you with details such as address, US citizen, employer, main contact as well as physical description. Where else can you get the hair and eye color of an ancestor prior to colored prints!
Interment Information for Veterans – found at Ancestry in U.S., Department of Veterans Affairs BIRLS Death File, 1850-2010
If your veteran was buried in a National Cemetery you can find the following information: rank and branch of service, veteran service dates, date of birth, date of death, date of interment and burial location with name of cemetery and address.
I’m including this example of the type of books that may exist regarding divisions in WWI. My ancestor is listed in this book because Co F 313 Engineers were part of the 88th Division. When you can find histories like this, they help you share more information about your ancestor’s experience.
U.S., Army Transport Service, Passenger Lists, 1910-1939
This information is from Ancestry.com. It details the trip to Europe and the return home. It’s an interesting piece history to include for your ancestor. In addition to sailing dates, it includes the name of the soldier, their number, their rank, regiments & company, the next of kin contact, relationship, and their address.
I was fortunate that the envelope for the letter Eddy had written contained his ranks and corps and location in France. With this information, I could research the history of his company and since I learned his service dates, I could incorporate this with his information.
Here’s the letter as written spelling and grammar included. In addition to his company information, it provides his location and talks a bit about the work that continued after the official end date of Nov 11, 1918. This letter is dated May 7, 1919.
From your brother-in-law
Pvt. 1C1 Ed B.
C0 F 313 Engineers
Wen May 7, 1919
Start exploring online resources to learn more about your ancestor’s company and what people left at home experienced. Here are a few to get you started.
There are global resources for those that have ancestors in Britain or elsewhere. More information is available with this Centennial year. Thanks for taking the time to think about your World War I ancestor. Sharing their story keeps their memory alive and helps us to “never forget”.
“Honor to the soldier and sailor everywhere, who bravely bears his country's cause. Honor, also, to the citizen who cares for his brother in the field and serves, as he best can, the same cause.”
― Abraham Lincoln
With a lifelong passion for genealogy and history, the author enjoys the opportunity to share genealogy tidbits, inspiring others to research and write their family story.