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Japan Surrenders: September 2, 1945

September 1, 2014 by | 49 Comments

The Formal Surrender of JapanOn September 2, 1945, Japan signed the Instrument of Surrender, officially ending World War II.

Despite the fact that Japan’s defeat seemed imminent all that summer, it wasn’t until after atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki—at nearly the same time that the Soviets declared war on Japan and attacked Manchuria—that Japan saw surrender as a possibility. Even then, there was still wide support in Japanese political and military circles for the war to continue, and it took the emperor himself speaking in favor of surrender for Japan to finally capitulate on August 14.

The surrender ceremony took place a few weeks later, on the morning of September 2, in Tokyo Bay on board the USS Missouri. Allied officials and members of the press arrived on the ship between 7 and 8 that morning, with General Douglas MacArthur, the newly appointed Supreme Commander of Allied Powers, arriving at 8:43 and the Japanese delegation boarding at 8:56. The ceremony began at 9:02, and MacArthur gave a brief speech in which he remarked, “It is my earnest hope, and indeed the hope of all mankind, that from this solemn occasion a better world shall emerge out of the blood and carnage of the past.”

Admiral Chester Nimitz signing the Japanese Surrender DocAfter MacArthur finished, the Japanese delegates signed the unconditional surrender. They were followed by MacArthur, who signed on behalf of the Allies, and Admiral Chester Nimitz, who signed for the United States. China, Britain, the USSR, Australia, Canada, France, the Netherlands, and New Zealand also signed the documents. By 9:22, everyone had signed, and MacArthur concluded the ceremony with another short speech. After he had spoken, 450 U.S. navy planes and hundreds more army planes flew in formation over the Missouri. The ceremony ended at 9:25, a brief 23 minutes long.

Although the war was over, it was still some months before the Allies had accepted the surrender of all the widespread Japanese garrisons. And some Japanese units in remote areas continued to fight after the surrender until they heard the news (which for a few men was years or even decades later). MacArthur headed the American occupation of Japan until 1951, and U.S. troops remained in the country until the following year, 1952.

Learn more about Japan’s surrender or other WWII topics in Fold3’s WWII collection.

150th Anniversary (1864–2014) This Month in the Civil War: Sherman Takes Atlanta

September 1, 2014 by | 49 Comments

Civil War Collection 150th Anniversary

In May 1864, Union general William T. Sherman began his invasion of Georgia, going up against Confederate general Joseph Johnston in a series of battles and skirmishes throughout early and mid-summer. But in July, President Jefferson Davis, unhappy with Johnston’s tactics, replaced him with the more aggressive John Bell Hood.

Sherman’s and Hood’s men clashed time and again in July and August. Sherman, unwilling to attempt a head-on assault of Atlanta, decided instead to cut off the city’s last remaining railroad supply line, which his men successfully did despite Confederate opposition.

General William ShermanWhen Hood was informed of the rail line’s destruction, he ordered the evacuation of his men from Atlanta on September 1. Before they left, they destroyed ammunition stores, locomotives, and anything else the Federals would find useful. The Federals took the city the next day. Sherman’s troops would remain in Atlanta for another two months, before leaving in mid-November on Sherman’s destructive March to the Sea.

The FBI Case Files

August 20, 2014 by | 17 Comments

FBI Case FileLike a good mystery? Then take a look through Fold3’s collection of old FBI Case Files. Written between 1908 and 1922 when the FBI was still just the Bureau of Investigation, these files document the fledgling organization’s investigations into crimes against the United States and violations of federal laws.

The case files (via the National Archives) cover a vast range of topics, though common ones include investigations into suspicious or anti-American activities of German aliens during WWI and Mexican aliens during the Mexican revolution; conditions at the US-Mexico border; instances of draft-registration avoidance; violations of Prohibition and its precursors (like the Reed Amendment and Wartime Prohibition Act); and alleged communist, socialist, or otherwise radical activities.

With more than 2.3 million records, the majority about individuals, this collection can also be a good place to look for your ancestors, especially if they’re of German or Mexican descent. Not only do the case files give details on the individuals being investigated, but they also commonly mention interviews with family, employers, and neighbors, giving you a more rounded look into an ancestor’s past rather than simply the bare facts.

A few cases you might find interesting include the following:

  • An investigation by O.L. Tinklepaugh into a probable violation of Mexican neutrality in Texas. A rancher reported that Mexican bandits stole his cattle, but the truth of the situation isn’t what you might expect.
  • An investigation by Arthur Denison into an unusual crossing at the California-Mexico border. Discover why Denison was worried about “engendering a misunderstanding with the Mexican border officials.”
  • An investigation by Charles Scully into a report of mysterious signals flashing at night from the house of Howard Vibbert in Connecticut. Could Vibbert be a German spy? Or does he just have a nosy neighbor?
  • An investigation by H.P. Shaughnessy into a man pretending to work for the Secret Service to con a woman in Boston into a fake engagement. Find out in the report what was more important to Shaughnessy than the young lady’s broken heart.
  • An investigation by J.W. Bales into a letter reporting irregularities in a Delaware draft board’s classification decisions. Decide for yourself whether the actions of the draft board were suspicious, or if the letter writer had a personal grudge.

Explore the issues that interested the Bureau of Investigation in the first quarter of the 20th century—and maybe even find an ancestor along the way—in the FBI Case Files.

Tip: Finding Women in Military Records

August 11, 2014 by | 17 Comments

Women in the militaryMilitary records might not be the first placed you’d think to look for that elusive female ancestor you’re researching, but these records can actually be a valuable resource. Although women themselves didn’t formally serve in the military for much of America’s history, they sometimes had male relatives who did, and the military records of these men can contain varying amounts of information about the women in their lives.

One of the richest potential sources of information about women is Fold3’s pension or widows’ pension files from the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, and Civil War (as well as others, like Navy Widows’ Certificates, Navy Survivors Originals, and Mormon Battalion Pension Files). Pension files are a good source because applicants provided a vast range of information and documents during the process, including things like deeds, wills, diaries, journals, letters, marriage certificates and affidavits, and newspaper clippings—any of which might contain information about our female ancestors. Although widows’ pension files and those submitted by a living husband are especially promising sources for finding out about our female ancestors, the pension files of a woman’s father, brothers, sons, or other male relatives may also turn up unexpected information.

In fact, looking beyond a husband’s records and into those of other male relatives holds true for all the military records you search. For example, in the WWII “Old Man’s Draft” Registration Cards, an unmarried man may have listed a mother, sister, or aunt as their contact “who will always know [their] address”—and that contact information may provide you with the clues you need to track down more information about the woman

Women in the militarySome other Fold3 military records where you might find your female ancestors via their male relatives include the WWII Draft Registration Cards; New York 174th Regiment Service Cards; New York National Guard Personnel Jackets; WWII Missing Air Crew Reports; and WWII Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard Casualty List.

Sometimes you can find documents and information about women in their own right (rather than via their male relatives) in military collections. On Fold3, these include the Civil War Subversion Investigations, Confederate Amnesty Papers, Confederate Citizens File, and Union Citizens File, as well as the WWII US Air Force Photos; the various Civil War photo collections; and the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps Vietnam War photos.

Remember, although many of Fold3’s records are indexed using OCR, it’s not true for all of them, especially older, handwritten documents. So if a search doesn’t turn up the names you’re looking for, it’s time to put on your detective’s hat and start browsing through the records for the information you want. If you want to learn more about finding female ancestors or searching military records, has helpful videos on those topics, among many others. Happy hunting!

The Burning of Washington: August 24, 1814

August 1, 2014 by | 66 Comments

This August 24 and 25 mark the 200th anniversary of the British burning of Washington DC during the War of 1812.

Prior to the burning, 4,500 British soldiers went up against 5,000 Americans (mostly militiamen) in a battle at Bladensburg, Maryland, just 4 miles northeast of Washington. Though the Americans had the advantage of numbers and artillery, the untried and poorly led militiamen didn’t stand much of a chance against the better trained and disciplined British soldiers. Three hours of battle had the Americans fleeing as fast as they could, while the British commanding officers, General Ross and Admiral Cockburn, led a portion of their men into Washington, which was now undefended.

Leaving private homes and property alone for the most part, the British began burning government buildings, starting with Capitol building, which at the time also housed the Supreme Court and Library of Congress. They then proceeded to the White House, which had been abandoned by President Madison and his wife shortly before. (Dolley Madison is famous for staying at the White House as long as possible and directing the rescue of a portrait of George Washington, among other valuables.)

The following day, Cockburn and Ross organized the burning of other buildings, like the State and War departments and the Treasury, which had started to burn the night before but had been doused by a rainstorm. Cockburn ordered the destruction of the printing presses of a newspaper that had been particularly critical of him, but the U.S. Patent Office was saved from destruction by the pleas of its superintendent. The British went to the Navy Yard, but it had already been burned the previous day by the Americans to keep it from falling into British hands. A contingent of soldiers also went to Greenleaf Point Federal Arsenal to destroy the gunpowder and cannons there but ended up causing an explosion that killed or maimed many of them.

Later that day, a huge storm blew in that wreaked havoc on the city, downing trees and ripping roofs off buildings. After the storm had died down somewhat, the British officers ordered a retreat of their men during the night, before the American forces could regroup.

Discover more about the burning of Washington DC, and other events and people of the war, in Fold3’s War of 1812 collection.

150th Anniversary (1864–2014) This Month in the Civil War: Battle of Mobile Bay

August 1, 2014 by | 6 Comments

Civil War Collection 150th Anniversary

On August 5, 1864, Union admiral David Farragut led his ships into Mobile Bay, Alabama, to battle the Confederates for control of the last major port for Confederate blockade runners.

Farragut’s force consisted of 14 wooden ships and 4 ironclad, while Mobile Bay was protected by only 3 gunboats and 1 ironclad, the Tennessee. However, the bay also had 3 forts and a field of floating mines (called torpedoes) for protection.

Farragut began his attack on the morning of the 5th, entering the bay via a route that avoided the torpedoes by instead sailing within range of Fort Morgan‘s guns, which opened fire on the Federals. However, the lead Union ironclad, which had come too near the minefield, hit a torpedo and sank, causing the next ship in line to hesitate. Farragut, tied to the flagship’s mainmast rigging at this point for a better view, uttered his now-famous order, “Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!”

The Union ships were met in the bay by the small Confederate force. The Confederate gunboats were soon forced from the battle, leaving the ironclad Tennessee to fight the Union ships by itself. The Tennessee put up a fight but was eventually too damaged to continue.

In the following weeks, the Union naval force bombarded the three Confederate forts on the bay while Federal army troops attacked from land. By the 23rd, the last fort had surrendered, leaving Mobile Bay in the control of the United States.

Always Remember and Never Forget

July 28, 2014 by | 1 Comment

From the vantage point of history, there is consensus: the Great War changed everything. World War I resulted in more than 37 million casualties. Empires were lost. An era of new roles for women and civic rights swept the globe. National boundaries were reshaped. Economies were devastated. The world was never the same.

And now, we commemorate 100 years since the Great War started. None of us are untouched by the changes that touch everyone.

The United States entered World War I in April of 1917 and more than 4 million Americans served their country around the world. Their courage, honor, sacrifice and valiant efforts led to the end of the world’s first global conflict just 20 months later on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month (Nov. 11, 1918).

Yet, their bravery remains largely unrecognized.

We are pleased today to announce a new collaboration with the National World War I Museum. This will help the nation always remember and never forget.

We’re calling on you to help us.

  • The National World War I Museum is making a historical collection of unique and identified images available on Fold3. View this unique collection here.
  • Discover where your family fits in this story and share your ancestor’s memories, photos, and stories to help us remember and honor those who fought for America. Click here to get started.
  • Help others discover the story. Over the next four years, the National World War I Museum will educate 1,000,000 students about the Great War and its enduring impact during the Centennial. Remembrance begins with discovering. You can help the Museum reach students across the country. Your charitable gift ensures that children will never forget the heroic Americans who brought an end to World War I. We invite you to join with us and the National World War I Museum in reaching 1,000,000 students across the country. Start by clicking here.

Family stories eventually become our nation’s stories. Through this project, we can remember the forgotten stories, which show us how we became who we are today. Be a part of honoring those who served in the war that forever changed the world. Help create remembrance you’ll never forget.