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Groundwork Laid for the Battle of the Somme: December 6-8, 1915

December 1, 2017 by | 18 Comments

On December 6-8, 1915, the Allies met in France for the Second Chantilly Conference, which would lay the groundwork for World War I’s Battle of the Somme, a 4 ½-month-long battle in France that would prove to be one of the war’s bloodiest.

Fold3 Image - One British artillery dump from initial bombardment at Battle of the Somme
At the Second Chantilly Conference, held in early December 1915, the Allies agreed to coordinate simultaneous offensives to exhaust German resources and manpower. As part of this, the British and French agreed to a joint French-led offensive on the Somme River for the summer of 1916. But the Germans attacked the French at Verdun in February, forcing the British to shoulder the bulk of the planned Somme offensive, which developed the subsidiary purpose of relieving pressure on the French at Verdun.

The Somme offensive, stretching along a front 25 miles long, began with artillery barrages on June 24 that lasted a week. The plan was to so overwhelm the Germans with the bombardment that the infantry would have a relatively easy time. However, the bombardment was largely ineffective, which meant that when the infantry climbed out of the trenches on July 1 and crossed into No Man’s Land, they were cut down by German machine guns and artillery. It was the single bloodiest day in British army history, with nearly 60,000 British casualties, a third of them killed.

While there was some success in breaking though the German front line along the southern part of the front on that first day of the battle, there was no real progress along the majority of the line. The Battle of the Somme would last for 4 ½ months, with periods of renewed fighting. One of the most notable of these was the Battle of Flers-Courcelette, the first time tanks were used in battle.

By the time the Battle of the Somme finally ended in November with inconclusive results, both sides had sustained high casualties, with more than a million total killed, wounded, captured, or missing, making it one of the bloodiest battles of the war.

Do you have family members who fought in the Battle of the Somme? Tell us about them! Or learn more about the battle and the men who fought in it on Fold3. You can even find entire books about the battle in Fold3’s Military Books collection, including titles such as Sir Douglas Haig’s Great Push or The Somme, as well as some unit-specific titles that discuss the battle, including The 13th Battalion Royal Highlanders of Canada or Experiences of the IV. German Corps in the Battle of the Somme during July 1916—and more!

Virginia Half Pay Pension Application Files

November 15, 2017 by | 17 Comments

Fold3 Image - Example of pension certificate
Do you have ancestors from Virginia who served as officers in the Revolutionary War? Come look for them in Fold3’s collection of Virginia Half Pay Pension Application Files!

During and after the Revolutionary War, in addition to the pensions offered by the federal government, states also typically offered their own pensions to soldiers and sailors who served in the war. Virginia was one of these, and in 1779 it authorized half-pay pensions for army and naval officers who served through the end of the war in Virginian units within the state’s borders or in the Continental Army.

However, after the war, a significant number of pension claims made by Virginia officers were rejected by the Virginia State Auditor. Many of these officers had served in territory northwest of the Ohio River that had not become part of Virginia until 1784. After years of court battles, the state courts ruled that the officers’ claims were valid and that they were entitled to pensions.

However, Virginia argued that the state was financially unable to satisfy the claims due to the cession of the northwest frontier territory, and it sought to have the federal government assume responsibility for the pensions, since the government had promised to reimburse Virginia for certain costs related to the northwest frontier. In an act of 5 July 1832, the federal government took on the responsibility of reimbursing Virginia for half-pay pensions paid to officers of the Virginia State Navy and certain units of the Virginia Line that had served in the Continental Army or in the northwest frontier.

The earliest records in this collection date to 1778, but most are from 1830 to 1875. The majority address Virginia half-pay pensions from the Revolutionary War, but a few pertain to pension claims under other Revolutionary War pension acts or claims from the Mexican, Indian, and Civil Wars.

Most of the 279 veterans whose records appear in this collection also have pension files in the Revolutionary War Pensions collection on Fold3, and the files in the two collections are often closely related. However, the files in this collection differ from the Revolutionary War Pensions in that the documents gathered in these files originally concerned applications for pension arrearages that had been submitted by the heirs of deceased pensioners and thus were handled by the Treasury Department’s Office of the Third Auditor rather than by the Bureau of Pensions.

On Fold3, the records are divided first by Army or Navy service, then by surname in alphabetical order. Files can range in length from less than 10 pages to more than 100 and may include military documents, pension applications, sworn statements, powers of attorney, correspondence, wills, pension certificates, payment vouchers, and other records.

If an individual’s file is more than 10 pages long, the documents may be arranged with “selected records” first, followed by “nonselected records.” “Selected records” are those deemed to have the most significant genealogical information, with “nonselected records” encompassing all the others.

Have you found ancestors in the Virginia Half Pay Pension Application Files? Tell us about them! Or get started browsing the collection here.

The First USS Laffey Sinks at Guadalcanal: November 13, 1942

November 1, 2017 by | 74 Comments

On 13 November 1942, the first USS Laffey (DD-459) was sunk by the Japanese during a night battle during the early stages of the naval battle of Guadalcanal, less than a year after being commissioned.

Fold3 Image - USS Laffey (DD-459)The USS Laffey—a Benson Class destroyer—was commissioned on 31 March 1942 and commanded by Lt. Comdr. William E. Hank. The Laffey was sent to the South Pacific to join in the naval operations around the strategically significant island of Guadalcanal, which Allied land forces were fighting to take from the Japanese.

In mid-September, the Laffey took part in rescue operations when the USS Wasp—an aircraft carrier involved in escorting troop transports to Guadalcanal—was sunk by a Japanese submarine. A month later, on 11–12 October, the Laffey and the rest of her cruiser group fought in the Battle of Cape Esperance, in which American ships successfully turned back a Japanese bombardment group that was headed to Guadalcanal.

A month after that, mid-November, saw the naval battle of Guadalcanal, in which Allied (mainly American) naval forces tried to prevent the Japanese from landing reinforcements on the island. To do this, American ships were deployed to stop the Japanese bombardment force that was coming to attack the island’s American-held airfield in preparation for the landings.

The Laffey was part of the task force sent to stop the Japanese, and in the early morning of 13 November, the Americans spotted the Japanese ships. However, because it was dark, and because of communications problems, theFold3 Image - Distribution of Japanese forces during First Naval Battle of Guadalcanal Americans were unaware that they were practically surrounded by the Japanese. A chaotic, close-quarters battle ensued, and just before 2 a.m. the Laffey was struck in the fantail by a torpedo. Combined with other damage she sustained, the Laffey was put out of action. The order to abandon ship was given, but soon her magazines exploded and she swiftly sank, with a loss of 59 officers and men (including Lt. Comdr. Hank) and 116 wounded.

Despite inflicting heavy damage on the Americans during the fight, including sinking the Laffey and other ships, the Japanese bombardment group decided to withdraw. Over the next few days, American naval forces would meet the Japanese in additional fights and would ultimately prevent the Japanese from delivering most of their planned troops and supplies to Guadalcanal.

For the bravery of her crew, the Laffey was awarded a Presidential Unit Citation, and the USS Hank was named after the Laffey’s commander. A second—more famous—destroyer named the USS Laffey (DD-724) would be commissioned just over a year later, in February 1944.

Do you know anyone who served on the USS Laffey? Tell us about them! Or discover more about the ship on Fold3.

Free* Access to the Native American Collection

November 1, 2017 by | 5 Comments

82 - Broken Arm, Ogalalla Sioux
Do you have Native American ancestry? Or are you interested in Native American history? Then explore Fold3’s Native American Collection for free November 1-15.

Titles in this collection include:

  • Ratified Indian Treaties (1722-1869): Ratified treaties that occurred between the United States government and American Indian tribes. Also included are presidential proclamations, correspondence, and treaty negotiation expenses.
  • Indian Census Rolls (1885-1940): Census rolls submitted annually by agents or superintendents of Indian reservations as required by an 1884 Act of Congress. Only persons who maintained a formal affiliation with a tribe under Federal supervision are listed on these census rolls.
  • Dawes Packets: Applications between 1896 and 1914 from members of the Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Seminole tribes to establish eligibility for an allotment of land in return for abolishing their tribal governments and recognizing Federal law.
  • Dawes Enrollment Cards (1898-1914): Enrollment cards, also referred to as “census cards,” prepared by the staff of the Commission to the Five Civilized Tribes, commonly known as the Dawes Commission. The cards record information provided by applications submitted by members of the same family group or household and include notations of the actions taken.
  • Eastern Cherokee Applications (1906-1909): Applications submitted for shares of the money that was appropriated for the Eastern Cherokee Indians by Congress on June 30, 1906.
  • Iroquois Indian tribe, 1914

  • Enrollment of Eastern Cherokee by Guion Miller (1908-1910): The Guion Miller Roll is perhaps the most important source for Cherokee genealogical research. There are an estimated 90,000 individual applicants from throughout North America included within this publication.
  • Cherokee Indian Agency, TN (1801-1835): The records of the agent of Indian Affairs in Tennessee, including correspondence, agency letter books, fiscal records, records of the Agent for the Department of War in Tennessee, records of the Agent for Cherokee Removal, and miscellaneous records.
  • Rinehart Photos – Native Americans (1898): Photographs of over 100 Native Americans taken by Frank A. Rinehart, a commercial photographer in Omaha, Nebraska. Rinehart was commissioned to photograph the 1898 Indian Congress, part of the Trans-Mississippi International Exposition.

Have you found an ancestor in Fold3’s Native American collection? Tell us about it! Or get started exploring the Native American Collection here.

*Access to the records in the featured collections will be free until Nov 15, 2017 at 11:59 p.m. MT. Free access requires registration for a free Fold3 account. After the free access period ends, you will only be able to view the records in the featured collections using a paid Fold3 membership.

Canada, Certificates of Military Instruction

October 27, 2017 by | 5 Comments

Fold3 Image - Short course, first class certificate, 1879
Come look for your Canadian ancestors in our collection “Canada, Certificates of Military Instruction,” which includes records from 1867 to 1932.

In 1864, a Militia General Order announced the establishment of Schools of Military Instruction in Toronto and Quebec. These schools were intended to help company- and battalion-level militia officers and candidates for a militia commission learn about their military duties, as well as about drills, discipline, and other skills. After the creation of these schools, it became a requirement that candidates for militia commissions attend one of the Schools of Military Instruction and receive a certificate before they could receive a commission. A candidate was not allowed to stay at the school longer than 3 months.

There were initially two types of certificates: First Class and Second Class. First Class Certificates were for battalion-level officers. The certificate certified that the man was able to drill and handle a battalion in the field and was familiar with other aspects of running a battalion. Second Class Certificates were for company-level officers and showed that the man was able to—among other skills—command a company at battalion drills, as well as drill a company at company drills.

Schools of Gunnery for militia were also established in Quebec and Kingston in 1871. These schools, open to all ranks, had both “short courses” (3 months) and—for the top students selected by the school’s commandant—”long courses” (an additional 12 months). These schools had their own certificate system; for example, the short course had 4 certificates: First and Second Class for officers, and Third and Fourth Class for non-commissioned officers (NCOs) and other ranks.

This short and long course system was extended to the infantry, cavalry, and mounted infantry schools beginning in 1883. Among the certificates offered at these schools were certificates for short, long, and special courses, with such certificates typically designated as either Grade A or B (A for officers and B for NCOs and other ranks) and either first class (battalion level) or second class (company level)—though the certificates varied over the years in format and classification scheme.

Information you can find in the certificates in this collection typically includes the man’s name, rank, and residence; the certificate type and date; and the name and location of the school.

Included in this collection on Fold3 are:

  • Artillery and Gunnery Certificates, 1869-1905
  • Certificates from All Schools, 1884-1932
  • Registers of Artillery Certificates, 1895-1900
  • Registers of Certificates (Non-Commissioned Officers), 1905-1912
  • Registers of Certificates (Officers), 1895-1916
  • Registers of Certificates of Qualification, 1884-1906
  • Returns of Men Granted Certificates, 1899-1905

Get started searching or browsing the Canada, Certificates of Military Instruction on Fold3!

Find: Halloween UFO Sightings from Project Blue Book

October 12, 2017 by | 9 Comments

Fold3 Image - 11883955
On Halloween night, 1957, around 8:30 p.m., a man in Massapequa Park, New York, saw an extremely bright object in the sky traveling very fast. A former pilot and FBI agent, he didn’t think it could be a meteor because the object moved on a “flat trajectory, which appeared to parallel the horizon throughout its sweep.” When the man reported this sighting to the Air Force, he knew nothing might come of it, but, as he stated, he wanted to “toss it in now, for what it may be worth, on the off-chance that it might just happen to tie in with someone else’s observation.” Upon analysis, the Air Force deemed the UFO to in fact have been a meteor.

Between 1952 and 1969, the U.S. Air Force conducted a study into UFO sightings, known as Project Blue Book. This followed two other UFO-related government projects, the first of which began in 1947. The goals of Project Blue Book were to scientifically analyze UFO data and to determine if UFOs were a national security threat.

During the life of the project, more than 12,000 reported UFO sightings were collected and analyzed, with most of the “UFOs” being explained away as known aircraft or naturally occurring phenomenon, such as the meteor in Massapequa Park. The project was ended in 1969, when it was concluded that there was nothing anomalous or dangerous about the reported UFOs and that there was no evidence that any of the UFOs were in fact extraterrestrial.

Now, nearly 50 years later, you can read the Project Blue Book UFO Investigations on Fold3. Was the Massapequa Park sighting really a meteor, or was that explanation just a government cover up? Decide for yourself!

With Halloween coming up, we’ve collected a few of Project Blue Book’s best UFO sightings that occurred on Halloween. Take a look below!

  • Williston, Florida, 1955: A policeman spots multiple round objects in loose formation in the night sky, making no noise but emitting a light so bright it hurt his eyes. Multiple other witnesses made similar reports. The official explanation? An aircraft refueling operation.
  • South Charleston, Ohio, 1964: A freelance photographer submits a photo of multiple UFOs near a tree. He claims that “the strange objects on the film [were] not visible to my eyes [and] no sounds were heard at the time.” The official explanation? The mostly likely cause of the UFOs in the photo was “a lightbulb and reflector taken at multiple exposures.”
  • West Hyattsville, Maryland, 1966: A 15-year-old boy submits a Polaroid photo of “grayish solid object with 2 red lights and 2 blue lights” in the night sky. He declares, “This is no prank!” The official explanation? There was considered to be insufficient data for evaluation and the photo was deemed of insufficient clarity.
  • Logansville, Ohio, 1953: A farmer sees “a round saucer-like object with a glow like a million electric lightbulbs travel with terrific speed from east to west, then veer south and disappear.” The official explanation? A meteor, with the turn regarded as an illusion.

Get started searching or browsing the Project Blue Book UFO Investigations on Fold3. You can even try searching for your city or state to find out if any UFOs were spotted in your area. Access to the Project Blue Book UFO Investigations is free with registration.

Death of Robert E. Lee: October 12, 1870

October 1, 2017 by | Comments Off on Death of Robert E. Lee: October 12, 1870

On October 12, 1870, former Confederate general Robert E. Lee died at his home in Lexington, Virginia, at age 63, after suffering a stroke two weeks prior.

Fold3 Image - Map of Appomattox Court HouseFollowing his surrender to Union general Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House in April 1865, Lee—who had been commander of the Army of Northern Virginia and then General in Chief of all Confederate armies—traveled to Richmond, Virginia, where his family was living. Now jobless and without an income, Lee briefly considered turning to farming but instead accepted the presidency of Washington College in Lexington, Virginia—a position he would hold until his death five years later.

Washington College (today’s Washington and Lee University)—at the time a private white, all-male school—had been damaged during the war and had fewer than 50 students when Lee became its president in the fall of 1865. During Lee’s tenure, the student body grew to several hundred students, and Lee favored adding modern, practical courses to the curriculum in addition to the traditional courses in the classics.

In the years following the Civil War, Lee largely stayed out of the public eye and avoided postwar politics. Despite being indicted, Lee was never tried for treason, due mainly to the intercession of Ulysses S. Grant on his behalf. However, although he submitted the necessary documents, Lee was never returned to U.S. citizenship during his lifetime; instead, Congress would posthumously restore his citizenship in 1975.

Fold3 Image - Page 1 (of 67) of Robert E. Lee's Civil War service recordIn his final years, Lee’s health declined due to cardiovascular disease, but he remained active with the college. In the early spring of 1870, the college faculty and Lee’s doctors recommended he travel further south for his health. This trip—in which he visited Southern states such as North Carolina, Georgia, and Florida—became what many historians call Lee’s “farewell tour.”

Although his health was poor, Lee remained president of Washington College when it resumed classes in the fall of 1870. However, on September 28, following a church meeting, Lee suffered what was most likely a stroke after returning home that evening. Lee remained largely incapacitated for two weeks following his stroke and developed pneumonia, finally passing away on the morning of October 12 at the age of 63. He was interred at the Washington College chapel.

If you’re interested in learning more about Robert E. Lee, you can find more documents and images relating to his life and career on Fold3.