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Memorial Day Tips for Documenting Veterans’ Graves from Find a Grave®

May 23, 2022 by | 41 Comments

Memorial Day is a time to remember and honor the men and women who died in the service of our country. Since many of us will be visiting graveyards and cemeteries in the coming weeks, we’ve invited our friends at Find a Grave® to provide tips on how to properly clean and photograph the graves of our country’s veterans. We are grateful for their time and expertise.

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When planning your trip to the cemetery, you’ll want to go prepared. Our goal is to have every veteran remembered with a memorial on Find a Grave®. Before you head out, here are some items you might consider taking along.

  • Camera/phone with GPS turned on– Smartphones and Digital cameras are great for capturing photos of tombstones because you can see in real-time whether you’ve captured the image you want. Take high-resolution photographs. Be sure to bring plenty of memory, extra batteries, or chargers.
  • If using a smartphoneDownload the Find a Grave® app where you can search for memorials, easily add GPS for gravesites, and create memorials from the headstones in the cemetery you are visiting.
  • Sun Protection– A hat and sunscreen, whatever you need for your area.
  • Small towel, old clothes, and shoes– Towel to help gently wipe dirt off a stone.
  • Spray bottle with plain water– Wetting tombstones can make them more readable. 
  • Small sweeping brush– Paintbrushes work well to brush loose dirt off without harming fragile stones. 
  • Mirror– Use the mirror to reflect the sunshine and throw shadows off inscriptions. Foil-covered flat surfaces are less breakable and can help when mirrors aren’t available. 
  • Scissors or clippers– You’ll need these to trim away grass that has grown over the gravestone. 
  • Small kneeling pad– You may need to kneel or even lay down while taking eye-level shots of smaller stones. 
  • Notepad and pencil – You may want to take some notes.

We suggest using “no harm methods” when reading a headstone and photographing it. There are several no harm methods available. The first has to do with light and shadow. It is easier to read the inscription on a stone in the morning or evening because shadows tend to accentuate the lettering. You can also use a reflector to reflect light onto the stone to produce the same effect. A second no harm method involves photographing the headstone using a remote flash. In the example below, a Find a Grave® member placed a remote flash to the side of the stone and timed it to go off at the same moment he snapped the photograph. An alternative method is to carry a high lumens flashlight, shine it on the stone, and test different angles to read the lettering.

Photo credit: Krista Al Qirim

The Cemetery Conservator for United Standards website has a page on reading weathered headstones called Reading Stone Basics. This website discusses other no harm methods such as a foil impression, adding snow to the lettering, or gravestone rubbings. Before doing any rubbings, the gravestone should be evaluated for safety and durability. These methods are also available to download as a PDF, so you can print it and take it with you. We suggest exploring their website as there is so much to learn about cemetery and headstone conservation. Always contact a professional or take training courses for anything other than no harm methods for reading a headstone.

The inscription on a headstone holds valuable information that can tell us more about the person and about the relationships of those they left behind. It is extremely important to document and record these relationships. Inscriptions fade, and a stone itself can be damaged or decay over time.

An example of this is the memorial for Edwin A. Turner, who died in 1865. Turner and his father were traders in the mid-19th Century. They were traveling through Utah with another man named Holland when an argument broke out between Turner and Holland. Their disagreement turned into a scuffle, and Holland stabbed Turner. Turner died at just twenty-six years old. The inscription on the headstone included words from his mother.

My darling boy, I little thought that

When I last saw thy manly form

And fondly kissed thy noble brow

That death would dash thy life away

Mother

A photograph of Turner’s headstone taken in the 1970s shows the inscription was clearly visible. A subsequent photo taken in 2009 shows it had nearly crumbled away, and a new stone had been placed in front of the old stone. By 2021, the original headstone no longer existed, and the new headstone did not include the inscription from Turner’s mother.

Photo credits: KC and Judie Latshaw Huff

An inscription on a headstone usually contains genealogical information such as name and dates. It can also include other information like names of family members, unique inscriptions, symbols or icons, and other clues to religion, military service, fraternal organizations, and more. This information helps others in their genealogical research.

Photo credit: Elaine Clark

As the inscription on a stone contains so much information, you’ll want to be sure when photographing a headstone that the stone is readable. Remove any debris or dirt from the front of the stone, or that has gathered around the edges. You can see in the photos below how the uncut grass covers part of the inscription, which reads:

“We can safely leave our boy

Our darling in Thy trust.”

Photo credit: KC

Our Find a Grave® team has compiled some helpful tips to consider when photographing a headstone and documenting its surroundings.

  • Use a camera or cellphone with GPS enabled to add the grave’s location. 
  • Make sure your lens is clean and avoid including your fingers, feet, or shadow in the photograph. 
  • Make sure the stone is readable; remove debris such as soil, leaves, or twigs.
  • Take multiple photos. This will give you more choices when uploading photos to the site. 
  • Photograph the entire headstone straight on so that it nearly fills the frame. If the stone is upright, you may need to kneel to get the best shot. You can photograph at different readable angles as well. 
  • If the headstone has multiple sides with text, then photograph each side. 
  • Capture a close-up of text on the headstone. 
  • Capture an area photo of the stone, giving context and showing the surroundings of the grave. 
  • A shadow can help text be more pronounced. Morning or evening may be best. 
  • Consider using reflective material (such as a mirror or foil on a flat surface) to cast light on the stone. 
  • If there is not a marker for the grave, take photos of the grave location in context to the surrounding stones. Add to the caption that the grave is unmarked. 

You can use the Find a Grave® app (iOS or Android) to upload the headstone photos directly to the memorial or upload them to the specific cemetery page to transcribe later.

Thank you in advance for your efforts to honor veterans this Memorial Day. We hope that every member of the Armed Forces will have their final resting place remembered and documented on Find a Grave®. To explore military records for our country’s veterans, search Fold3® today. To see Find a Grave® memorials for veterans and others, search Find a Grave® today.

Introducing the New Fold3® Gallery and Tags!

May 11, 2022 by | 20 Comments

We’ve launched a beta version of a new Fold3® Gallery and Tag experience! The new Gallery and Tag feature gives researchers a powerful new tool to organize Fold3 records, Memorials, photographs, and documents. Now you can create custom tags that allow you to tag records and organize them into groups that can be quickly recalled. We’d love your feedback as we fine-tune this experience, but we promise, that the end result will provide Fold3 customers with powerful ways to organize your research and bring more value to your Fold3 membership!

What is the Gallery?

The Gallery is a place to see all your Fold3 content and organize it into groupings by creating tags. Enter the Gallery from this banner on the home page:

Once you are in the Gallery, you will see items you’ve recently viewed and all the items you have previously tagged.

For example, if you’ve created Fold3 Memorials for all your ancestors that served in the Armed Forces, you can create custom tags for which conflict they served in (Civil War, WWI, WWII, etc.). You can then choose to add additional tags for which battles they participated in (Gettysburg, Battle of Somme, Battle of the Bulge, etc.). Create as many tags as you want to organize your content. Tags are custom and searchable in your Gallery. Maybe you’re headed to Gettysburg and want to quickly search for all your ancestors that participated in that battle – now you can!

How Do I Add Tags?

Tags can be added from your Gallery, from Memorials, or from any individual record. Just look for this tag symbol. When you click on it, a dialogue box pops up that allows you to quickly add a new tag or choose from a previously used tag.

For example, if you are researching WWII Flying Fortresses, you can search Fold3 for related records and images, then click on the tag icon. If you’ve already created a tag called “Flying Fortress,” just click on the + to tag the newly discovered record with this tag. From there, you can also add additional new tags to fine-tune your results. Once an item is tagged, it will now show up in your Gallery where you can quickly recall all your tagged records.

Ready to Give It a Try? Access the beta version of Gallery here, or click on the banner link on our homepage. Once you are enrolled in the beta, you can access your Gallery in the drop-down menu in your profile

We’ve just touched the surface of the capabilities of the Gallery and Tags. Want to know more? Head over to our Help Center by clicking here. We’d love your feedback on this new Gallery and Tags experience. Please leave your feedback on this prompt on the Gallery page.

Search nearly 600 million military records on Fold3® today, then organize your research with our new Gallery and Tags.

Introducing Our Collection of Morning Reports

April 25, 2022 by | 69 Comments

Morning reports are company-level reports that were filled out each day to reflect status changes of all personnel assigned to the unit. Morning reports are not rosters. They are exception-based reports, meaning that a soldier’s name will only appear on the report if his status has changed in the last 24 hours. For example, if a soldier received a promotion, was attached to another unit, or was injured, the morning report reflected the change. We have just added a new collection, U.S. Morning Reports 1912-1946. This growing collection contains 2.33 million records, with additional records coming. We currently have morning reports through the year 1939.

Morning reports were introduced in 1912 and, until now, were only available through the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) in St. Louis, MO. This collection is a valuable way to research the daily movements of individual veterans and their companies.

Morning Report for the Service Company, 7th Infantry – April 1933

As you browse through this collection on Fold3, you will find Index ReelsMicrofilm Targets, and the actual Morning Reports.

The Index Reels contain a set of 119 microfilm reels with a summary of information on a punch card noting dates and units relating to the morning reports microfilm. Microfilm Targets are sorted by their reel number, which points researchers to the correct microfilm reel.

The early morning reports are handwritten, but during WWII, the military transitioned to typewritten reports making research significantly easier.

To search this collection, enter the name of the unit or company, then search by date. Start searching this new collection of Morning Reports on Fold3®. Check back frequently as we continue to update this collection.

Escaping a Sunken Sub: The Dramatic Story of the USS Tang

April 13, 2022 by | 75 Comments

On October 24, 1944, the USS Tang (SS-306) sank off the coast of China during WWII, trapping 29 sailors in 180 feet of water. The Balao-class submarine was destroyed when her own torpedo boomeranged back and slammed into the ship’s port side during an attack on a Japanese convoy. Out of the 87 men aboard, just nine survived.  

USS Tang

The USS Tang launched in August 1943. During her 14-month career, she sank 33 ships with an aggregate total of 227,793 tons. She rescued 22 Naval aviators, received two Presidential Unit Citations, and conducted five highly successful war patrols. During her fifth and final patrol, Tang’s distinguished service came to an end.

Early in the evening of October 24, 1944, while on patrol in the Taiwan Strait, the USS Tang made radar contact with an enemy convoy of large ships. The convoy hugged the China coast between Foochow (Fuzhou) and Amoy (Xiamen). The Tang shadowed the convoy as the Japanese ships fired randomly in their direction. Meanwhile, since it was dark, Commanding Officer Richard H. O’Kane decided to attack from the surface. The Tang sank two freighters, and a tanker, and damaged a transport. When the Tang launched the final torpedo, it began to arc and circle back towards the sub.

O’Kane desperately tried to maneuver the Tang out of harm’s way, but the ship moved too slow. The torpedo slammed into the sub, causing a violent explosion that sent crew members smashing into bulkheads. Almost half the sailors died instantly. O’Kane and several crew members were blown off the bridge by the explosion and tossed into the water, where they clawed their way to the surface. As water flooded three compartments, the Tang began to sink.

Crew of the USS Tang

Personnel in the control room succeeded in closing the conning tower hatch, but it had been damaged in the explosion. A quick-thinking sailor leveled the sinking sub by flooding two ballast tanks. The Tang sank 180 feet and settled on the ocean floor. Many of the survivors were injured, so the able-bodied carried them to the forward torpedo room where the escape trunk was located. Twenty-nine men were now in an escape position, but some were too injured to try. On the surface, the Japanese patrols dropped depth charges, making it almost impossible for the rest to attempt an escape. As they waited, the crew destroyed sensitive and confidential documents. A growing electrical fire in the forward battery of the sub sent smoke seeping into the torpedo room, creating a sense of urgency.

The Momsen Lung

With time running out to attempt an improbable escape, the first four men entered the escape trunk. They let it fill with water to equalize the pressure and opened the outside hatch. They used Momsen Lungs, a device that recycles exhaled air allowing an escapee to breathe, to ascend from the depths. Eventually, thirteen men escaped the sub, but only eight made it to the surface. Of those eight, five managed to swim until they were rescued. Meanwhile down below, the pressure was building outside the torpedo room door. Suddenly, the gasket failed and the door blew open. All the remaining sailors were asphyxiated.  

The nine survivors, including Commander O’Kane, were plucked from the water and taken to Japanese POW camps, where they languished until the war ended. Following the war, O’Kane was awarded the Medal of Honor. If you would like to learn more about the USS Tang, search Fold3® today. Also, our friends at Stories Behind the Stars have written profiles for each of the sailors who died aboard the Tang. See those profiles here.

April 9: National Former POW Recognition Day

April 5, 2022 by | 5 Comments

In 1988, President Ronald Reagan issued a proclamation declaring April 9th as National Former POW Recognition Day. The day commemorates the capture of nearly 25,000 U.S. troops that were surrendered by their commander on Bataan in the Philippines on April 9, 1942. Though this day has special significance for the “Battling Bastards of Bataan,” as they came to be known, it honors all former POWs.

We have two collections of POW records on Fold3. The UK, Allied Prisoners of War, 1939-1945 collection contains information on captured prisoners and may show which POW camp they resided at and what happened to them. The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, Unaccounted-for Remains collection, has records for some of the 82,000 American military and civilian personnel missing in action from WWII, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the Cold War.  

Harry Corre

On April 9, 1942, Maj. Gen. Edward King, commander of the U.S. and Filipino forces on Bataan, surrendered to the Japanese. The surrender came after months of fighting Japanese forces despite shortages of rations and supplies for American and Filipino soldiers. One soldier recalled eating rats, worms, or birds – anything to stave off the constant hunger. Already weak from hunger, about 70,000 troops began a forced march after the surrender. It was a nearly 70-mile journey that came to be known as the Bataan Death March. Japanese captors denied prisoners food and water. Many collapsed or were beaten and killed. Although estimates vary, about 16,000 died during the march. Conditions at the camps were hardly better, and many more died from starvation and disease.

Harry Corre enlisted in the United States Army in May 1941. He was serving in the Philippines when the U.S. surrendered. Corre participated in the Bataan Death March and survived a Japanese POW camp. He endured torture, starvation, disease, and exposure. He recalled other starving POWs trading their meager rations for his cigarettes. The extra food kept him alive but left him consumed with guilt. “When you are a POW, the only thing you think about is how to live,” said Corre. In 2011, Corre returned to Japan as a guest of the Japanese government for a weeklong reconciliation tour. When asked about his time as a POW, he replied, “It doesn’t go away…there’s no way you forget it.”

H.M.A. Day

Many Allied forces captured in Europe ended up in German POW camps. Harry Melville Arbuthnot Day was a decorated Royal Marine in WWI. During WWII, he became a decorated Royal Air Force ace pilot. In 1939 his plane was shot down over Germany. Day bailed out and was captured. He escaped his first POW camp but was quickly recaptured. Over the next several years, he became known as the “Escape King” for his nine escape attempts. He capped his exploits by participating in the famous Great Escape from Stalag Luft III, where 76 POWs tunneled their way to freedom. Fifty of the escapees were recaptured and killed by the German forces.

Do you have former POWs in your family? Search our POW records and preserve their story by creating a Fold3 Memorial. Search our Fold3® Honor Wall to read more amazing stories of courage and survival.

Unit History of the 493rd Bomb Group!

March 29, 2022 by | 3 Comments

The 493rd Bombardment Group was a unit of the US Army Air Forces assigned to the 93rd Bombardment Wing, Eighth Air Force, during WWII. The group included the 860th, 861st, 862nd, and 863rd Heavy Bombardment Squadrons. They were known as “the Fighting 493rd,” and we’ve recently added their Unit History to our archives. This Unit History documents the 493rd from its initial activation at McCook Army Air Base in Nebraska to its participation in D-Day and their combat experiences across Europe during the war. The 493rd returned to the United States just before V-E Day, and the unit was inactivated in August 1945.

Crew from the 860th Bomb Squad, 493rd BG

The 493rd was the last group to become operational in the Eighth Air Force. They Initially flew B-24 heavy bombers but later transitioned to B-17s. This Unit History chronicles the 493rd and is a great way to research a military history for those who served in the group. This history is organized chronologically and contains summaries from Morning Reports, copies of the base newspaper, crew assignments, photos, and biographies.

The 493rd flew its first combat mission on June 6, 1944, or D-Day. Thirty-six B-24 bombers took off from Debach Airfield in England. When they reached their target, heavy cloud cover prevented them from dropping their ordnance. On the return trip to England, two aircraft flying in formation collided killing 19 men. Before the month was over, the 493rd conducted operations in Lisieux, Tours, Nantes, and other locations and suffered additional losses. The details for these missions can be found in individual Operation Reports.

Personnel of the 493rd BG load food for mercy mission in Holland

During their time in Europe, the 493rd flew 157 bombing missions and dropped nearly 13,000 tons of bombs. Some of their targets included factories, bridges, a synthetic oil manufacturing plant, batteries, and airfields. They provided support for Operation Overlord, Operation Varsity, bombed German fortifications to support Operation Market Garden and attacked communication lines during the Battle of the Bulge. Their most difficult mission occurred on September 12, 1944, when they bombed an Ordnance Depot in Magdeburg, Germany. They lost seven aircraft and faced intense flak.

In early May 1945, the 493rd participated in six “mercy missions” in Holland, dropping 450 tons of food and supplies. In late May, they helped repatriate French and British POWs. By the end of the war, the 493rd destroyed 11 enemy aircraft but lost 41.

The group returned to the United States in the summer of 1945. The air echelon left in late June, and the ground echelon sailed home aboard RMS Queen Elizabeth in August. After a 30-day furlough, the group reassembled at Sioux Falls Army Airfield in South Dakota, where they were inactivated on August 28, 1945.

To learn more about the 493rd, see their Unit History here. Search Fold3® to see additional Unit Histories and military yearbooks.

The Alphabet Soup of Army Rations

March 18, 2022 by | 154 Comments

Have you ever wondered what the difference is between C-Rations and K-Rations? During WWII, US military officials had to find a way to feed the troops when they weren’t near a mess hall. Rations were prepackaged meals, easy to prepare, and intended to be eaten in the field. The Unit History of the 63rd Infantry Division breaks down some of the different types of rations that fueled troops and helped Allies win the war. 

American journalist Ernie Pyle eating C-Rations

A-Ration: A-rations were the most preferred by US fighting forces and consisted of fresh, refrigerated, or frozen foods. The meals were prepared in kitchens or field kitchens and generally served in permanent dining halls.

B-Ration: B-Rations were prepared by trained cooks in a field kitchen while on the move. Ingredients consisted of canned and dehydrated foods that did not require refrigeration. Thus, the food could be kept in a truck or wagon for months without spoiling.

C-Ration: Often called C-Rats, these rations were designed for individual combat troops and consisted of precooked food in tinplate cans that opened with a key. Initially, officials calculated that C-Rations would only be consumed for no more than three days at a time and produced just three varieties. As fighting forces relied more on C-Rations, they quickly tired from the lack of variety, and the military eventually expanded the offerings. C-Rations could be eaten cold but tasted better heated and included an entrée, such as pork and beans, or spaghetti and meat sauce. They also contained biscuits or crackers, gum or candy, and cigarettes.

Soldiers load trucks with rations 1944

D-Ration: The D-Ration was a heat-resistant, fortified chocolate bar intended to provide high energy in a small package that soldiers could carry in a pocket. Formulated with help from Hershey Food Corporation, the 1,800 calorie D-Ration contained concentrated chocolate, vitamins, and other ingredients meant to sustain a soldier during an emergency. It did not taste appealing, preventing soldiers from nibbling on the bar unless necessary.

K-Rations

K-Ration: Originally developed for paratroopers by a University of Minnesota physiologist Ancel Keys, the K-Ration had lightweight but durable packaging. Three K-Ration meals provided 2,830 calories but proved inadequate for some soldiers who required more calories per day based upon their strenuous output. A sample supper ration included a meat product, biscuits, a chocolate bar or caramels, bouillon, coffee, sugar, wooden spoon, cigarettes, chewing gum, and a packet of toilet paper.

In addition to the rations above, the military had additional field rations and modified existing rations throughout the war. What stories have you heard about WWII military rations? Search Fold3® to learn more about military rations and see our complete WWII records collection.