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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