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

World War II Era Yearbooks

From Eric, a Genealogy Gems Podcast listener:

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 cover

I 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.

5 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

Veterans Day

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?

Free Genealogy Records from Around the World: Newly Online!

Free genealogy records, newly available online, may be able to take you around your ancestor’s world! This week’s record destinations include Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Bolivia, Canada, Chile, Dominican Republic, France, Italy, Netherlands, Nicaragua, Russia, and South Africa.

Civil registration records–key genealogical resources–from several countries are among the free new family history records online in recent days and weeks. But you’ll also find probate records, church records, military personnel records, and even a digital archive meant to preserve ancient aboriginal languages. Which might mention your ancestors?

Argentina

Over 100,000 indexed names have been added to FamilySearch’s free collection, Argentina, Entre Ríos, Catholic Church Records, 1764-1983. According to a collection description, it includes “baptisms, confirmations, marriages and burials for cities in the province of Entre Ríos.”

Australia

An exciting new Australian website houses a digital archive of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander language materials. It includes texts, audio, video, and ebooks about Australia’s First Nations languages. The hope of the site is to be a digital repository for gathering, preserving, and sharing materials that in effect preserve these languages and revitalize their use. The site managers will continue to work with partners to bring more content to the site. Click here to read more about the site’s launch, and click here to access it directly.

Belgium

Two free Belgian civil registration collections at FamilySearch.org have been updated:

Both of these collections are comprised of civil registration of births, marriages, and deaths from the Belgium National Archives, as well as marriage proclamations, marriage supplements, and some original indexes. Additional images will be added as they become available.

Brazil

Several free Brazilian genealogy records collections have been updated at FamilySearch.org. Among them are the following:

Bolivia

Over 300,000 indexed names have been added to FamilySearch.org’s enormous free collection of Bolivia Catholic Church Records, 1566-1996. The collection hosts over 1.5 million digitized images of Catholic Church records created by parishes in Bolivia. “These records include: baptisms, confirmations, marriages, pre-marriage investigations, deaths, indexes and other records. Some of these records have been indexed and are searchable as part of this collection. Additional indexed records will be published as they become available.”

Canada

Library and Archives Canada continues to update its free Personnel Records of the First World War database. So far, the database includes “digitized files for many individuals of the Canadian Expeditionary Force and the Royal Newfoundland Regiment and Newfoundland Forestry Corps (courtesy of the Rooms Provincial Archives).”

Newly digitized CEF files are added to the references every two weeks, states the collection’s landing page. To date, over 461,000 of an expected 640,000 files have been added. “Library and Archives Canada is digitizing the service files systematically, from box 1 to box 10686, which roughly corresponds to alphabetical order,” explains a blog post. “Please note that over the years, the content of some boxes has had to be moved and, you might find that the file you want, with a surname that is supposed to have been digitized, is now located in another box that has not yet been digitized.”

Chile

FamilySearch.org has updated its free collection, Chile Civil Registration, 1885-1903. These include “births, marriages, and deaths for various localities in Chile from 1885 to 1903. For a complete list of all the provincias and comunas included in this collection, see the Provinces of Chile – Civil Registration coverage table. Only records from a few localities have been indexed. More records and images will be added as they become available.” Need help reading these? FamilySearch suggests using this Spanish Genealogical Word List, which also links to other translation tools.

Dominican Republic

Over 175,00 indexed names have been added to FamilySearch’s free collection, Dominican Republic Civil Registration, 1801-2010. Spanning over 200 years, the collection includes images of births, marriages, and deaths as well as some divorces and indexes. “Some of these records have been indexed and are searchable as part of this collection,” states the collection description. “Additional images and indexed records will be published as they become available. These records were obtained from public access sources in the Dominican Republic.”

France

FamilySearch has updated its collection of indexed Catholic parish record images for Coutances et d’Avranche Diocese, 1533-1894. Baptisms, marriages, and burials are all included. “Parishes within this diocese are within the boundaries of the department of Manche,” states a collection description. “French commission for Informatics and Liberties (CNIL) does not allow publication of sensitive data below 150 years.”

Italy

FamilySearch continues to publish more Italian civil registration records! These are some of the latest:

Netherlands

Just shy of a million records have been added recently to FamilySearch’s free collection, Netherlands, Archival Indexes, Miscellaneous Records. “Archives around the Netherlands have contributed indexes which cover many record sources, such as civil registration, church records, emigration lists, military registers, and land and tax records,” says the collection description. “These records cover events like birth, marriage, death, burial, emigration and immigration, military enrollment and more. These indexes were originally collected, combined and published by OpenArchives.”

Nicaragua

There are now over two century’s worth of records in the free FamilySearch collection, Nicaragua Civil Registration, 1809-2013. It includes “births, marriages, deaths, and other records created by civil registration offices in various departments of Nicaragua.” Civil registration in Nicaragua didn’t begin until 1879, and it appears that most records in this collection date from that year or later.

Paraguay

Nearly 125,000 browse-only images have been added to FamilySearch.org’s free collection, Paraguay Miscellaneous Records, 1509-1977. According to the site, “These records include two complete collections: Sección Nueva Encuadernación (Rebinding Section) and Sección Propiedades y Testamentos (Properties and Wills Section). Copies of the original records are housed at the Archivo Nacional in Asunción, Paraguay. The “Propiedades y Testamentos” section can give a brief look at the personal wealth of clerics, economic bases of resident foreigners in Paraguay, or the fortunes of a given family over a period of time.”

Russia

FamilySearch.org has updated its free collection, Russia, Samara Church Books, 1779-1923.  It includes “images and partial index to records of births and baptisms, marriages, deaths and burials performed by priests of the Russian Orthodox Church in the province of Samara. These records were acquired from the state archive in that province.” Another brief statement in the collection description illustrates the incremental and ongoing nature of record additions to FamilySearch: “Currently this collection is 4% complete. Additional records will be added as they are completed.”

South Africa

Over 40,000 indexed records have been added to the free FamilySearch.org collection, South Africa, Transvaal, Probate Records from the Master of the Supreme Court, 1869-1958. The records are described simply as “probate records from the Master of the Supreme Court, Transvaal, South Africa. Original records are located in the Transvaal Archives Depot, Pretoria, Republic of South Africa.

Spotlight on probate records

court record research wills probate records genealogyProbate records detailed the final settling of our ancestors’ financial assets. They often contain rich genealogical information and interesting insights into a person’s life. They are among the many records you might find at courthouses and government archives. More U.S. probate records are coming online (click here to learn more), but even if you have to visit a courthouse yourself or hire someone to do it for you, it’s often worth it. Click here to read why.

Thanks for sharing this post with those who will want to know about these free genealogy records online!

Your Adventures are the Family History of Your Descendants

Family History isn’t just about looking at the past – it’s also celebrating and preserving the present for generations to come. Your adventures today are the family history of your descendants tomorrow!

road trip video adventures family history

(Full disclosure: This post contains affiliate links and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links. I appreciate you using these links because that compensation helps make the Genealogy Gems blog possible. Thank you!)

The mammoth RootsTech family history conference in Salt Lake City was a true family affair for me this year. I’ve been speaking at the conference since its launch in 2011, but this was the first year that my husband Bill and daughter Hannah joined the Genealogy Gems team at our exhibit booth. Running the booth is a huge undertaking, and Hannah captured the heart of it with her GoPro camera in this stunning 1 minute video:

What fascinates me about this video is how she captured so much and was able to share it in such a quick and entertaining way. The GoPro did the time-lapse and photography legwork, but our favorite video creation app, (and sponsor of The Genealogy Gems Podcast) Animoto, turned it into something special, and shareable.

It’s Nice, but Sometimes Difficult, to Share

Shareable! Ah, my mind wanders back to the closet in the spare bedroom of my Grandma’s house. As a kid, I would open that door and see boxes of super 8 home movies and envelopes of photographs stacked on her cedar chest. In her youth, she meticulously assembled scrapbooks. But as the years passed and she got busy raising a family and working as a maternity nurse, her passion for documenting her family’s life turned into a pile of media and good intentions.

Fast forward to today: sharing thoughtfully assembled photos and videos can still be a challenge. Do you have “stacks” of videos and photos on your smart phone or computer waiting for some TLC? Finding the time is as much of a challenge today as it was in my Grandma’s day. And that’s where Animoto makes a monumental difference. This powerful web and mobile app not only dramatically reduces the time it takes to assemble a video; it also eliminates major roadblocks like:

  • Not possessing technical know-how,
  • Struggling with creativity and design elements,
  • Time-consuming massaging of transitions to fit the music,
  • and finding the right music that doesn’t infringe on someone else’s copyright.

The Road to RootsTech

I flew out to Salt Lake City for meetings just prior to the RootsTech conference. Bill and Hannah loaded up the booth into a trailer and drove the 2400 miles round trip. Here’s how Hannah described the trip:

When I was young, Dad and I travelled with my softball team often, but it’s a rare occurrence these days. On the start of my drive with my dad from Dallas to Salt Lake City, I thought to myself “if I’m going to record footage and images of our experience at Rootstech, then I should document how we got there!” Stories of major events always gets told, but life is a journey and that story deserves telling too.

Knowing that I planned on creating a video actually encouraged us to have fun, and Dad and I made an effort to find interesting stops along the way like the iconic Cadillac Ranch along Route 66. The end result was a spectacular father-daughter travel adventure, and a video that preserves the fun forever. Check it out:

Here are some of Hannah’s tips for easily creating a professional quality video of the history you are making today:

  • When working on your computer, create a folder dedicated to your project. That way you can just copy the images and videos into it and leave the original archived. When working on mobile, I organize my media into an Album in my iPhone’s Photos.
  • I love that you can just drag and drop your photos and video clips directly into Animoto and rearrange them to suit your story. The beauty of working on your mobile device is that images and video already appear chronologically making that process even easier.
  • Animoto makes it easy by offering up music that is suited to the video style you choose. But you can exert your creativity by selecting new different song from their music library. In your project, click Change Song > Browse Full Library, and then check the boxes for the type of music you have in mind such as the event, mood, or whether you want instrumental or vocal music.

Get Started Creating Your First Video

Whether you want to create an animated slideshow video of your Grandfather’s World War II Naval years or document this year’s father-daughter road trip, Animoto makes it super quick and easy. Simply start by signing up for a free Animoto account  here and click the Create button. Learn more about creating your videos here on our resource page.

(Disclaimer: When I fell in love with Animoto, I welcomed them as a sponsor of The Genealogy Gems Podcast. However, any opinions expressed about this product, or any other, are my own.)

German Census Records DO Exist

For a long time, German census records were thought not to exist. But they do! A leading German genealogy expert tells us how they’ve been discovered and catalogued—and where you can learn about German census records that may mention your family.

Thanks to James M. Beidler for contributing this guest article. Read more below about him and the free classes he’ll be teaching in the Genealogy Gems booth at RootsTech 2018 in a few short weeks.

German Census Records

German census records DO exist

One of the truisms of researching ancestors in America is that the U.S. Census is a set of records that virtually every genealogist needs to use.

From its once-a-decade regularity to its easy accessibility, and the high percentage of survival to the present day, the U.S. Census helps researchers put together family groups across the centuries.

On the other hand, the thing that’s most distinctive about German census records is that for many years they were thought not to even exist.

For Exhibit A, look at this quote from a book published just a few years ago: “Most of the censuses that were taken have survived in purely statistical form, often with little information about individuals. There are relatively few censuses that are useful to genealogists.”

The book from which the above statement was taken is The Family Tree German Genealogy Guide. And the author of that book is … uh, well … me!

In my defense, this had been said by many specialists in German genealogy. The roots of this statement came from the honest assessment that Germany, which was a constellation of small states until the late 1700s and not a unified nation until 1871 when the Second German Empire was inaugurated, had few truly national records as a result of this history of disunity.

As with many situations in genealogy, we all can be victims of our own assumptions. The assumption here was that because it sounded right that Germany’s fractured, nonlinear history had produced so few other national records, those census records didn’t exist.

A few census records from northern German states (see below) had been microfilmed by the Family History Library, but for all intents and purposes, a greater understanding of the “lost” German census records had to wait for a project spearheaded by Roger P. Minert, the Brigham Young University professor who is one of the German genealogy world’s true scholars.

Finding lost and scattered German census records

It can be said that Brigham Young University professor Roger Minert “wrote the book” on the German census. That’s because he literally did: German Census Records, 1816-1916: The When, Where, and How of a Valuable Genealogical Resource. A sample page is shown below.

Minert had a team help him get the project rolling by writing to archivists in Germany before he took a six-month sabbatical in Europe. During this time, he scoured repositories for samples of their German census holdings (To some extent, Minert’s project had echoes of an earlier work led by Raymond S. Wright III that produced Ancestors in German Archives: A Guide to Family History Sources).

What resulted from Minert’s project was the census book and a wealth of previously unknown information about German censuses.

While a few censuses date to the 18th century in the German states (some are called Burgerbücher, German for “citizen books”), Minert found that the initiation of customs unions during the German Confederation period beginning after Napoleon in 1815 was when many areas of Germany began censuses.

The customs unions (the German word is Zollverein) needed a fair way to distribute income and expenses among member states, and population was that way. But to distribute by population, a census was needed to keep count, and most every German state began to take a census by 1834.

Until 1867, the type of information collected from one German state to another varied considerably. Many named just the head of the household, while others provided everyone’s names. Some include information about religion, occupation and homeownership.

The year 1867 was a teeter-totter point Minert calls it “for all practical purposes the first national census.” Prussia—by then the dominant German state and whose king would become the emperor just a few years hence—spearheaded the census effort.

After the founding of the Second German Empire, a census was taken every five years (1875 – 1916, the last census being delayed by World War I). While there was some variance in data from one census to another, they all included the following data points:

  • names of each individual,
  • gender,
  • birth (year and, later, specific dates),
  • marital status,
  • religion,
  • occupation,
  • citizenship,
  • and permanent place of residence (if different from where they were found in the census).

While some of these censuses are found in regional archives within today’s German states, in many cases the census rolls were kept locally and only statistics were forwarded to more central locations.

Interestingly, there has been a lack of awareness even among German archivists that their repositories have these types of records! Minert says in his book that in three incidences, archivists told him their holdings included no census records, only to be proved wrong in short order.

Minert’s book goes through the old German Empire state by state and analyzes where researchers are likely to find censuses. For each state, there is also a chart on the pre-Empire censuses and what information they included.

Researchers wishing to access these records will often need to contact local archives. If you’ve uncovered a village of origin for an immigrant, you could contact them directly by searching for a website for the town, then emailing to ask (politely but firmly) whether the archives has census records.

FamilySearch has placed online German census records for Mecklenburg-Schwerin (18671890 and 1900; the one shown below is from 1867).

The Danish National Archives has some census records online for Schleswig-Holstein (much of the area was Danish until they lost a war with Prussia in 1864).

Other Census-Like Lists

In addition to these censuses, many areas of Germany have survivals of tax lists that serve as a record substitute with some data points that are similar to censuses. The lists generally show the name of the taxpayer and the amount of tax paid.

In some cases, versions of the lists that include the basis for the tax (usually the value of an interest in real or personal property) have survived. The lists may also include notes about emigration. Here’s a sample tax record from Steinwenden Pfalz.

Some of these tax lists are available in the Family History Library system.

The best “clearinghouse” that reports the holdings of various repositories in Germany is Wright’s Ancestors in German Archives. As with the census records, the best way to contact local archives directly would be to search for a website for the town. E-mail to ask whether such lists are kept in a local archive.

In my personal research, tax records have proved crucial. For example, they confirmed the emigration of my ancestor Johannes Dinius in the Palatine town of Steinwenden. These records showed the family had left the area a few months before Dinius’ 1765 arrival in America.

James M Beidler is the author of The Family Tree German Genealogy Guide and Trace Your German Roots Online

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links and Genealogy Gems will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links (at no additional cost to you). Thank you for supporting Genealogy Gems

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