Military ephemera outside of photographs are abundant and located at many research libraries and other facilities across the United States. Familiarizing yourself with historical collections and the finding aids online at many places can make all the difference in conducting a successful search for a military ancestor.
Military Minutes contributor Michael Strauss shares his recommendations for military ephemera sources to find genealogy treasures.
The Library of Congress
The Library of Congress was created to serve the Congress of the United States. As explained last month in Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast Episode #161, it serves as the national library of the United States. The library has millions of individual entries of photographs, film, letters, journals, diaries, and other primary material of interest to genealogists.
One research room also located in the James Madison building and open weekdays has more than 17 million books, maps, films, manuscripts, and photographs. The Prints and Photograph Division is located in the James Madison building and open weekdays and Saturdays from 8:30 AM to 5 PM. This room has in their custody more than 50,000 manuscripts available to the public. Searches in the online collection and finding aids can be found online at https://www.loc.gov/rr/mss/.
United States Army Heritage & Education Center
Another excellent source of other military ephemera located outside of Washington, DC can be found as part of the United States Army Heritage and Education Center. It is located in Carlisle, PA and has an online search catalog for manuscripts, journals, diaries, and letters covering multiple war periods. The center has an online finding aid catalog to aid researchers to find materials in their collections available at http://usawc.libguides.com/graduates_others.
Many historical societies and genealogical societies offer material that isn’t available anywhere else. Additionally, local State Archives and Libraries should be searched for ephemera in their own collections. Here are a few great resources for finding outside materials online:
Archive Grid This database of entries include more than 5 million records of archival materials, not only supplying the name of the repository, but the scope of the collections searched. Their material online can be searched at https://beta.worldcat.org/archivegrid.
FamilySearch This is the organization of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and formally part of the Genealogy Society of Utah. It is home to millions of genealogy records that are all available for free. Searches can be done online at http://www.familysearch.org.
Hathi Trust This is a collaborative effort of repositories and libraries that have digitized their books and manuscripts online. Begin searching at http://www.hathitrust.org.
World Cat The world’s largest library catalog of listings from tens of thousands of libraries located in multiple counties around the world. Visit http://www.worldcat.org.
NUCMC Also listed as the National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections. It is affiliated with the Library of Congress and promotes the access to the heritage of the United States. Searches can be done online: http://www.loc.gov/coll/nucmc.
Here are some examples of military ephemera treasures I’ve found:
Above left: Lt. Washington Brua- Courtesy of the Lebanon County Historical Society in Lebanon, PA. Above right: Pvt. John H. Waltz- Courtesy of the United States Army Heritage and Education Center in Carlisle, PA. Images supplied by Michael Strauss.
Pennsylvania Civil War Muster Rolls, 1860-1869 (Ancestry.com). Entry includes 2 pages; just the left side is shown here.
Any family historian knows that a little genealogical kindness goes a long way! We as researchers wouldn’t be able to discover these treasures if it weren’t for others sharing their finds and resources. Take a moment to share this article with anyone who may be searching for military ancestors and you just might make someone’s day!
Author: Michael Strauss, AG
Michael Strauss, AG is the principal owner ofGenealogy Research Networkand an Accredited Genealogist since 1995. He is a native of Pennsylvania and a resident of Utah and has been an avid genealogist for more than 30 years. Strauss holds a BA in History and is a United States Coast Guard veteran.
Thousands of Sanborn Fire Insurance maps and a national Civil War burial database are among new genealogy records online. Also: newspapers in Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, and Pennsylvania; vital records for Idaho, Utah, and Washington; Catholic parish records for the Archdiocese of Boston; Maine cemetery plans; New Hampshire Civil War records and New York passenger arrivals.
Breaking news! The Library of Congress has put online nearly 25,000 additional Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps–and more are coming! Over the next three years, more will be added monthly until all 50 states are covered from the 1880s through the 1960s.
Sanborn maps show detailed information about neighborhoods, buildings, roads and more for thousands of towns in the U.S. and beyond. A sizable collection of pre-1900 Sanborn maps are already online at the Library of Congress (use the above link). Watch the short video below to learn more about them. The full-length class is available to Genealogy Gems Premium Members.
Civil War burials. Ancestry.com’s new database, U.S., Civil War Roll of Honor, 1861-1865, lists over 203,000 deceased Civil War soldiers interred in U.S. cemeteries. “Records in this database are organized first by volume and then by burial place,” says the collection description. Entries “may contain the name of soldier, age, death date, burial place, cemetery, rank and regiment.”
Newspapers. We’ve noticed the following new digital newspaper content online recently:
Florida, Illinois, Pennsylvania: Newspapers.com recently added or updated newspaper content for the following newspapers (with coverage shown): Chicago Tribune (1849-2016), Fort Lauderdale News (1911-1991), South Florida Sun Sentinel (1981-2017) and the Morning Call [Allentown, PA] (1895-2017). (With a Newspapers.com Basic subscription, you can see issues through 1922; a Publisher Extra subscription is required to access issues from 1923 onward.)
Hawaii: Newspaper content has been recently added to the Papakilo Database, an online archive of The Office of Hawaiian Affairs. The collection currently contains nearly 12,000 issues from 48 different publications, with a total of 379,918 articles. Coverage spans from 1834 to 1980.
Louisiana: A New Orleans feminist newspaper is now available online at Tulane University’s digital library. An online description says: “Distaff was the first and only feminist newspaper published in New Orleans….Distaff served as a forum for women’s voices in politics, activism, and the arts….A preview issue was published in 1973 and the newspaper continued to be published until 1982. There was a hiatus in publication from 1976-1978.”
Maine cemetery plans. “Many Maine cemeteries have plans originally created courtesy of the Works Progress Administration, which reside at the Maine State Archives,” states a recent post at Emily’s Genealogy Blog at the Bangor Daily News website. The post advises us that all of them–nearly 550–are now viewable online at DigitalMaine.com (search for WPA cemetery plans). “These plans are great for locating veterans; some graves are coded by the war of service,” advises the post. “With such an item in hand one could also visit the appropriate town clerk and locate a civilian’s burial as well, I should think.” Thanks for that tip, Emily!
Massachusetts Catholic church records. The New England Historic Genealogical Society (AmericanAncestors.org) has added 13 new volumes to its browse-only collection, Massachusetts Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston Records, 1789-1900. “This addition, drawn from the collections of St. James the Greater in modern-day Chinatown, includes the largest volume we’ve scanned yet–1,035 pages,” says an NEHGS announcement. The collection description states that an index is being created and will be available to site members in the future.
New Hampshire Civil War records. The free site FamilySearch.org has added about 25,000 indexed names to its collection of New Hampshire, Civil War Service and Pension Records, 1861-1866. The collection contains an “index and images of Civil War enlistment papers, muster in and out rolls of New Hampshire Regiments and pension records acquired from the New Hampshire state archives.”
New York passenger lists. FamilySearch.org has added nearly 1.2 million indexed names to the database, New York Book Indexes to Passenger Lists, 1906-1942. According to the collection description, names are taken from “books of indexes to passenger manifests for the port of New York. The indexes are grouped by shipping line and arranged chronologically by date of arrival.”
Utah birth certificates. Nearly 33,000 names have been added to an existing FamilySearch database, Utah, Birth Certificates, 1903-1914. “This collection consists of an index and images to birth certificates acquired from the Utah State Archives,” says the site. “The records are arranged by year, county, and month within a numerical arrangement by box and folder number. Many of these volumes have indexes at the beginning or end.”
Sanborn maps are a rich resource for genealogy–but they’re just one kind of map that can lead to genealogical gems! Lisa Louise Cooke teaches tons of strategies for using maps to chart your family history in her Genealogy Gems Premium video series. Discover these for yourself with a Genealogy Gems Premium website membership.
Thanks for sharing this great news on Sanborn maps and more with your genealogy friends!
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We begin this YouTube journey with the historical footage of the funeral procession of Hiram Cronk. Cronk was the last known surviving veteran of the War of 1812 when he died in 1905, at the age of 105. The clip found on YouTube shows row after row of marching men passing by on the screen. A YouTube comment identifies them as “Civil War veterans in their 60s [and] Mexican-American War veterans in their 80s.” Another comment identifies the last group of marching soldiers as re-enactors wearing War of 1812 soldier’s uniforms.
In fact, YouTube offers us many opportunities to see the faces and actions of earlier generations of soldiers. Have you seen the famous footage of the storming of the beaches at Normandy? It’s on YouTube!
After sharing our last post, The Faces of U.S. Military Veterans through the Centuries, I received a comment from Stephen, a Genealogy Gems reader. Stephen’s father served in the U.S. Army during WWII and was in the Aleutian Islands. That caught my eye because my father-in-law also served in the Aleutian Islands. It was a challenging landscape in which to serve, which is evident in the YouTube video I found online.
Aleutian Islands WWII Campaign: Combat runs over Kiska, Alaska
There are other military history gems found on YouTube you may never have expected to see. This next video is a collection of early combat photos beginning in 1863 with the U.S. Civil War. The creator of this video gave some background on combat photography. He said:
“The first war photography took place in the Mexican-American War by an anonymous photographer, but it wasn’t until the American Civil War that the first combat photos were taken…The limitations posed by the time and complexity it took to take a photo in the mid-to-late 1800’s made it difficult to obtain images during battles, but a few of naval actions did emerge. There was also not a tradition of journalists and artists putting their lives on the line for an image. The overall amount of combat photography before World War I was small, but a few images did emerge from a few courageous and pioneering people. By the time of World War I, governments saw the value in having large numbers of photographers to document conflicts for propaganda purposes and improved camera technology allowed combat photographers to routinely capture most iconic images of many conflicts.”
The free Genealogy Gems Podcast episode 180 has been published! Click here to enjoy an episode about big names, like Ancestry and Google and FamilySearch. And big numbers, like the possible price tag for Ancestry at auction, AND small numbers, like the small price of a new handheld computer.
In this episode, we’re also talking about researching on road trip tips, an important online Civil War database, a leading Canadian digital archive and EXCLUSIVE tips for using FamilySearch’s free digitized book collection, which now tops 200,000 titles. Because we’ve gotten so much demand for it, we’re also sharing tips for backing up your data at Ancestry–not just your tree but your sources and DNA, too.
This month we also feature a meaty excerpt from our interview with Nathan Dylan Goodwin, author of The Lost Ancestor (The Forensic Genealogist). (Premium subscribers can catch the full interview in Premium episode 124, to be published soon.) He tells us how he got started. We talk about the plot and characters and the challenges of creating genealogical mysteries with dangerous consequences for the present and more!
Mixed in with all this news and how-tos is an assorted cast of listeners-with-questions and an inspiring story about long-lost siblings reunited by radio. Enjoy!
Recently Tom wrote in with a question about a Civil War veterans database:
“I’ve been a listener of your podcast for quite a long time. Great job.
“We have a grass-roots group trying to locate and document Civil War Veterans buried in Washington state. Is there a good website where I can enter a name and unit identification and get results of the person’s [Civil War] service? I’m having a really hard time finding US Navy sailors.”
It sounds like Tom is conducting a very worthwhile project! (We added the link above to the website for the project, in case you’re interested.) An excellent resource–still in progress for sailors with only about 20% of them–is The Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System (CWSS).
The site describes its resources as a “database containing information about the men who served in the Union and Confederate armies during the Civil War. Other information on the site includes histories of Union and Confederate regiments, links to descriptions of significant battles, and selected lists of prisoner-of-war records and cemetery records, which will be amended over time.”
This is an excellent resource for soldiers. As far as sailors go: “The Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System currently contains the records of approximately 18,000 African American sailors, though additional records will be added in the future. The information in the Sailors Database is derived from enlistment records and the quarterly muster rolls of Navy vessels. Approximately half of the sailors entered the service at the Navy’s established points of enlistment. For these men and women, enlistment records serve as the primary sources of information. The Howard University research team used muster rolls to fill in missing data or to correct apparent misinformation recorded at the time of enlistment. Information about the remainder of the enlistees was derived directly from these muster rolls. When research uncovered inconsistencies in the data (such as conflicting reports of an individual’s age at the time of enlistment) the most frequently recorded response was used.”
“Descendants of Civil War sailors will find biographical details regarding age, place of birth, and occupation that may help supplement or clarify details from such other sources of genealogical information as birth, death, and census records. Moreover, information about any individual sailor’s enlistment and service is necessary for determining the presence or absence of their pension records at the National Archives.” Click here to read an article from the National Archives about African-American servicemen in the Navy in the Civil War. I covered the Civil War Soldiers and Sailors database in the free Genealogy Gems Podcast Episode 149. Be sure to check out the show notes page (click the link I’ve provided.) There you’ll find the information written out for you and the links I discuss in the episode.
If a Navy ancestor isn’t among those already listed, my first instinct is always to turn to Google searches first. I ran a search in Google Books for free (fully digitized) books meeting the criteria “civil war” “sailors” and there are some resources there as well. Here’s a link to the search results. One example is the book shown here to the left: Manchester Men, which appears to be a published list of those who served from Manchester, N.H. (click on the book cover to read it in Google Books). Learn more about Google searching for “niche” topics like this in the fully-revised and updated 2nd edition of my book, The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox.