March 24, 2017

Gripping Firsthand Account of Pearl Harbor: Honoring WWII Ancestors

Arizona during the attack. Wikimedia Commons image; click to view.

The bombing of Pearl Harbor unfolds from the horrified notes in deck logs of ships in this short video narrative. Learn more about these and other resources for researching WWII ancestors at Pearl Harbor.

Today is the 75th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and we pause to remember those who suffered in that attack. In honor of them, we share these unique resources for understanding what they went through that day.

Pearl Harbor Eyewitness Accounts

the National Archives (US) unfolds the terrifying action of the day from the point-of-view of sailors on ships at Pearl Harbor as they made ongoing entries in deck log books.

5 Ways to Learn about Pearl Harbor and Your WWII Ancestors There

Ship deck logs. According to this article in a National Archives magazine, deck logs of those ships docked at Pearl Harbor are part of the Records of the Bureau of Naval Personnel, Record Group 24, located at the College Park, Maryland facility in the Modern Military Branch. Click here to learn more about WWII-era deck logs at the National Archives, and here to learn more about naval deck logs and submarine deck logs in general.

nara-wwii-brochureNational Archives guide. A new free guide can help you trace a person’s participation in World War II. The guide is “Finding Information on Personal Participation in World War II.” You’ll learn more about individual personnel files, military unit and ship records, merchant marine files, Army enlistment records, casualty records, and more.

Pearl Harbor casualty list. This free database lists all who died that day as a result of the attack. The dead and wounded included not only those who were on ships in the harbor, but civilians in Honolulu and military personnel in nearby locations.

National Archives programs. The National Archives is commemorating the 75th anniversary with programs and exhibits at the National Archives Museum in Washington, DC, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum in Hyde Park, NY, and the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum in College Station, TX. A series of book talks about Pearl Harbor’s history will be free and open to the public. We’ve listed the books below if you want to check them out.

Books. The authors of these acclaimed books are all speaking at The National Archives during the commemoration. Can’t get there to listen? Read them instead:

Everyone Brave is Forgiven cover imageOne more book we must recommend: Chris Cleave’s stunning novel Everyone Brave is Forgiven. As you follow the stories of its unlikely heroes through their unlikely wartime romance, you’ll feel like you were there. You will feel your heart pumping while reading about the ducking attacks on the island of Malta or imaging yourself driving through bombed-out London neighborhoods as fighter planes droned above you. We featured this book recently in the Genealogy Gems Book Club; listen to an interview clip with the author in the free Genealogy Gems podcast episode 195.

Find more fantastic books that family historians {heart} with the Genealogy Gems Book Club. Click here to see what else we recommend.

genealogy book club family history reading

Do You Need these WWII Documents at The National Archives [UK]?

Recently I heard about a slew of WWII documents at The National Archives [U.K.], some newly available online. Look closely at the descriptions: they have holdings of records of non-British forces, too!

Battle of Britain WWII documents at National Archives UK

Battle of Britain air observer. Wikipedia Commons image. Click to view.

Recently The National Archives [UK] promoted some of the WWII documents in its vaults, in commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain. Below are resources and collections they’ve highlighted.

The National Archives’ guide to researching WWII. This is an overview to researching British government and military records of WWII.

Guide to Royal Air Force Service Records. Use this overview to see what records are available at The National Archives, and learn about related records that have been digitized and indexed at Findmypast.

Royal Air Force combat reports. These are “official reports which pilots or air gunners filed after they had encountered enemy aircraft on operational flights,” says a description on the site. “The reports cover action seen by the squadrons, wings and groups serving with Fighter Command, Bomber Command, Coastal Command and the Fleet Air Arm. Now held at The National Archives in series AIR 50, they include Commonwealth, United States Army Air Force and Allied units based in the United Kingdom during the Second World War.”

Royal Air Force operations record books for squadrons. “Most of them date from the Second World War but there are some from the 1920s and 1930s and a few from the First World War,” says the site. “The ORBs, in series AIR 27, were created to provide a complete record of a unit from the time of its formation. Each book includes an accurate record of operations carried out by the unit. This online collection also includes some operations record books for dominion and Allied Air Force squadrons under British Command.” Part of the series is viewable online.

More Exciting WWII Resources from Genealogy Gems:

10 Maps for Family History at David Rumsey Map Collection

The Ghost Army of WWII Author Interview in the free Genealogy Gems podcast episode 182

The Bombing of London in WWII: Interactive Map of The Blitz

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Find Your Family History in World War II: WWII Yearbooks

Many of us are interested in learning about our relatives’ World War II military service. One important–but little-known–resource may be a military yearbook.

WWII yearbooks

Several years ago, my husband was given several mementos of his grandfather’s service in World War II. Among them was his 1942 yearbook of the 302nd Engineer’s Battalion at Fort Jackson, S.C.

WWII yearbook coverI had never seen anything like this. Its opening pages state, “This is a pictorial record of military engineers preparing for war. As such, it will be cherished by this command in the years to come.” Pages are filled with photos of military exercises, particularly building and blowing things up. There are pages with a brief history of the battalion, group photos with individual names by company, the unit fight song, and behind-the-scenes photographs of inspection, off-hours entertainment, eating and a mock battle.

“All branches of the [U.S.] military generate yearbooks, and have done so since before World War II,” writes military historian and genealogist Eric Johnson in a 2014 issue of Ohio Genealogy News (45:3, pages 20-21, quoted here with permission). “Types of yearbooks include: training centers (boot camps), service schools, academies (U.S. and private), ROTC summer camps, senior officers’ schools, overseas deployments to a war zone or for a naval cruise to foreign ports.”

Eric says the first step to locating WWII yearbooks relevant to an ancestor’s service is to learn the “dates of service, when and where a person attended boot camp and service schools, and where a person was stationed (land or sea).” You can learn this from their military discharge papers or (beginning in 1950) their DD Form 214.

Three places to look online for WWII yearbooks are:

1. Google. A search for “302nd Engineer Battalion” brings up several websites, organizations and lists that may point me to a yearbook and teach me more of the battalion’s history and activities.

2. WorldCat, an enormous multi-library card catalog, with the name of a battalion or regiment and the phrase “military yearbook.” If you don’t find anything, search the unit name a little differently or more broadly. If you find a yearbook at a library, see if you can borrow it through interlibrary loan or (more likely) get copies from its pages.

3. eBay. This huge online auction site specializes in rare items like military yearbooks. Set up an eBay alert so if the yearbook is posted in the future, you’ll find out about it. Learn more about eBay alerts in the free Genealogy Gems Podcast Episode 140.

Here are five more tips from Eric:

1. Look for military yearbooks in local, private and genealogy libraries, or from other veterans who served with an ancestor.

2. Military associations and reunion committees may have produced yearbooks, and they will likely know what yearbooks exist and perhaps where to find copies. Many of these have good websites.

3. Before purchasing a yearbook sight unseen (these can be pricy), compare a yearbook’s date to your ancestor’s service record. Make sure your ancestor was actually in that unit, boot camp, etc. during that time.

4. Check to see if your relative served on multiple ships or in more than one regiment, base, or posts. You may be looking for multiple yearbooks!

5. It’s possible you won’t find a relevant yearbook or cruise book. While searching, look for histories, living veterans or other resources to help you understand your relative’s military service experience.

More WWII Resources

The Bombing of London in WWII: Interactive Map of The Blitz

Find Your WWII Ancestors with These Military Gems

WWII Ghost Army Marches into Genealogy Gems Podcast

Here at Genealogy Gems, we {heart} veterans and honor their service. Veterans Day in the U.S. is coming up. How can you honor the veterans in your family or community? #CountdownToVeteransDay How many days until Veterans Day?

We Dig These Gems! New Genealogy Records Online

We dig these gemsHere’s our weekly list of new genealogy records online. Do any collections below relate to your family history? Please share with your genealogy buddies or with societies that might be interested! New this week are records for free people of color in Louisiana, Alabamans in the Civil War, British POWs from WWII (and allies), and deaths in Pennsylvania.

AFRICAN AMERICANS IN LOUISIANA. Louisiana State University recently launched a free “comprehensive digital collection,” Free People of Color in Louisiana, about “people of African descent who…were born free or escaped the bonds of slavery before it was abolished in 1865.” Included are a “four-volume ‘Register of free persons of color entitled to remain in the state’ (1840-1864), four different collections of emancipation records, which often include testimony regarding why the enslaved person was deserving of freedom and provide other information about the enslaved person and slave owner, and an extensive collection of indenture records (1809-1843) in which at least one participant…was a free person of color.”

ALABAMA CIVIL WAR SOLDIERS. This new index at Ancestry comes from a card file kept for many years by the Alabama Department of Archives and History regarding every person they found who served in (or was exempted from) the military during the Civil War. According to the collection description, “You might find birth, death, and military information (which sometimes includes portions of letters written during or after the war, information on which battles the soldier was engaged in, wounds, imprisonment, and other items). There are some women (laundresses and other occupations) in this database as well.”

BRITISH-DUTCH-AMERICAN-AUSTRALIAN WWII PRISONERS OF WAR. Findmypast subscribers now have access to a million “records of some of the most infamous POW camps of World War II….The records cover the period 1939-1945 and contain the names, ranks and locations of Prisoners of War, along with the length of time spent in camps, the number of survivors, details of escapees and the nationalities of prisoners. Britons represent the largest number in the collection, followed by Dutch, Americans and Australians. In addition to this type of data, the collection comprises 360,000 images, including pages from personal diaries and photographs.” These can be searched amongst the larger collection of Findmypast POW records.

PENNSYLVANIA DEATHS. Ancestry’s collection of Pennsylvania death certificates has recently been updated with additional indexed images. It now spans 1906-1963. Interestingly, “Records of stillbirths were required to be filed as both a birth and death record, so you may find records of stillborn children in this collection.”

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We Dig These Gems! New Genealogy Records Online

We dig these gemsHere’s our weekly list of new genealogy records online. It’s PACKED with European military records from WWII back to the War of 1812. Do any collections below relate to your family history? Please share with your genealogy buddies or with societies that might be interested!

BRITISH POWs IN JAPAN. Over 56,000 records pertaining to the 37,583 British and Commonwealth soldiers released from Japanese captivity in 1945 are now available on Forces War Records. ‘This collection…lists the soldiers, along with the occasional civilian, who endured these conditions. Prisoners were only obliged to provide their name, rank and number so the amount of military information is limited, however the records do include the date of capture, the camp in which they were held and the date of liberation, be that through release, escape or death.”

BRITISH JEWS IN WWI. Findmypast’s new British Jewry Book of Honour 1914-1920 “contains nearly 57,000 color images and transcripts of [an original] two-volume book published in 1922 to record and honor” contributions of more than 50,000 Jews to the British and colonial forces during World War I. “It describes Jewish enlistment, casualties, military honors, Jewish units and the work of Jewish hospitals and other Jewish institutions and agencies. Importantly, it contains alphabetical lists of those killed in action, those who were awarded military honors and the nominal rolls of Jews who served, listed by service and by regiment.”

BRITISH WAR OF 1812. The British Army Casualty Index War of 1812 now at Findmypast “contains the details of over 12,000 soldiers in the British Army who died, deserted, or were imprisoned during the War of 1812 (or the Anglo American War)….Each record consists of a transcript of the original source material that will reveal the soldiers name, birth place, former occupation, rank, regiment or unit, place or action, company officer, company number, removal date and manner of removal – this may include information on how a soldier died or whether he deserted or was a prisoner of war.”

SCOTTISH CHURCH RECORDS. A new Findmypast collection, Scottish Covenanters 1679-1688 contains over 81,000 records of The Covenanters, a “Scottish Presbyterian movement that played an important part in the history of Scotland, England and Ireland, during the 17th century….The records list the individuals who signed the Covenant…[and] a transcript created using sources held by The National Archives and the National Library of Scotland…[with] the Covenanter’s name, county, a description (often their occupation or relatives) and place.”

WWII in EUROPE. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission has launched a new online database of British, Irish, and Commonwealth WWII casualties. It will now be possible for the first time “to see the original records of all 1.7 million individuals the Commission commemorates.” According to a press release, “The digitized records cover British, Irish and Commonwealth casualties from the Second World War, together with records for most other nationals commemorated at CWGC sites: this includes the records for German soldiers.”

We love seeing all these new genealogy records online every week! The trick is to get the word out about them. Will you help us by sharing this post with others?

WWII Ghost Army Marches into Genealogy Gems Podcast Episode 182

GGP 182An incredible tale of deception during World War II. Inspiring research and storytelling techniques. Learn about the Ghost Army–and the creation of its PBS documentary–in the new, free Genealogy Gems Podcast episode 182.

In the summer of 1944, a handpicked group of young GIs landed in France to conduct a secret mission. They were to create an elaborate façade of military might for an audience, the German army. These men had one goal: to fool the enemy into believing they were an American army thousands strong, and draw their attention away from the actual fighting troops.

Ghost Army book clubIn this podcast episode, we celebrate the Twenty-third Headquarters Special Troops–known as the Ghost Army–with my special guest Rick Beyer, author of the book The Ghost Army of World War II: How One Top-Secret Unit Deceived the Enemy with Inflatable Tanks, Sound Effects, and Other Audacious Fakery and director and screenplay author of the acclaimed documentary film Ghost Army, which premiered on PBS.

Rick joins us for a riveting conversation. He explains the three divisions of the Ghost Army, and how they fulfilled their duties with courage and creativity. Then he takes us behind the scenes of the book to explore research strategies and in particular, effective interviewing techniques. Finally he talks to us about putting it all together: storytelling, the integration of all the art, photos and documents, and fantastic catchy chapter titles that make you want to read.

This is a must-hear episode whether you love history, mystery, military stories, family history writing advice or just listening in on a great conversation! Thank you for sharing this episode with others who will enjoy it!

Genealogy Gems Book Club Genealogy Family HistoryIf you love author interviews, check out the Genealogy Gems Book Club. We regularly interview writers of best-selling fiction and nonfiction titles that catch the interest of family history lovers.

WWII Military Records Free at Fold3 Thru May 15

John Morton WWIIIn commemoration of the 70th anniversary of Victory in Europe (VE) Day on May 8, Fold3 is offering free access to its World War II collection.

This is a great opportunity to reach in and grab those WWII military records you may not have had subscription access to! Both my grandfathers served in World War, and so did one of my husband’s grandfathers, John Morton (pictured here).

According to a Fold3 blog post, “The WWII Collection, currently with over 72 million records, has a diverse array of resources to mine, whether you’re interested in historical aspects of the war or are searching for specific individuals who fought in it.” Popular databases in this collection include:

New and updated Fold3 datasets include:

To learn more about VE Day, search for “VE Day” on Fold3 to find thousands of documents and photos about it.

how to start a genealogy blogWant to look back a little further in time? Read our blog post on 5 Ways to Discover Your Family History in World War I.

 

Action-Packed WWII Maps Helped Homefront Families Follow the War

Canada at War by Stanley Turner, 1944. Online at the David Rumsey Map Collection. Click on image for full citation and to access image.

Canada at War by Stanley Turner, 1944. Online at the David Rumsey Map Collection. Click on image for full citation and to access image.

During World War II, millions of people anxiously followed the progress of battles and troop movements that affected their loved ones. Artists and map-makers stepped up to provide colorful, action-packed maps.

Toronto artist Stanley Turner was one of these. He created a series of maps between 1942 and 1945 that were printed and licensed as promotional giveaways to businesses in Canada and the U.S. Today you can find Turner’s maps digitized at the David Rumsey Map Collection.

Stanley wasn’t the only one making these beautiful maps. Read about Richard Eddes Harrison and the big changes in popular cartography during the war in my blog post, “World War II: A Revolution in Map-Making.”

Fast-forward 60 years in time, and the latest revolution in map-making and information-sharing is where? On Google Earth! Google Earth is packed with topography, but also shows us man-made features like roads and bridges, geographic boundaries, historical maps and photographs and so much more. These help us understand things like movements of our ancestors–whether they were troops in World War II or settlers in distant places.

Historic_Maps_VideoWant to learn more about using Google Earth for genealogy (or the Google Earth Pro version that was just released FREE to the public)? Become a Genealogy Gems Premium member. You’ll have access to video classes like these:

  • Time Travel with Google Earth
  • 5 Ways to Enhance Your Research with Old Maps (this class’ retail value alone is $39.95)

Premium Membership is a bargain at only $29.95 for an entire year’s access, plus right now you get the free bonus ebook Lisa Louise Cooke’s 84 Best Tips, Tricks & Tools from Family Tree Magazine. Click here to learn more about Premium Membership.

Preserving the Memories of Combat Veterans

American soliders in the Korean War. Fighting with the 2nd Inf. Div. north of the Chongchon River, Sfc. Major Cleveland, weapons squad leader, points out Communist-led North Korean position to his machine gun crew. November 20,1950. Pfc. James Cox. Wikimedia Commons Image.

American soliders in the Korean War. Fighting with the 2nd Inf. Div. north of the Chongchon River, Sfc. Major Cleveland, weapons squad leader, points out Communist-led North Korean position to his machine gun crew. November 20,1950. Pfc. James Cox. Wikimedia Commons Image.

If your family has a history of military service, you want to better understand the experience of war, or you want to help preserve someone’s memories of combat, you should check out Witness to War.

Witness to War aims to capture “the ‘foxhole view of combat as seen by the soldiers who experienced it.” They do oral history interviews with combat veterans, then preserve and share them through their website. They have already posted a lot of video interviews that are searchable by subject or name.

Their collection of photos, mostly snapshots taken by soldiers,  is sobering and powerful. There are a lot of battlefield and other very stark images.

Do you know anyone whose memories should be included in this site? They are currently interviewing soldiers in the Atlanta and Washington, D.C. areas. All content they collect will be donated to the (US) Library of Congress Veterans History Project.