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Search Updates

April 12, 2019 by | Comments Off on Search Updates

At Fold3, we’ve recently launched powerful new updates to our search engine. Our updates are designed to help you navigate through more than 500 million records with a series of filters including name, date, place, military (including branch, conflict, service number, etc.) and additional filters to help you quickly locate the records you’re looking for.

Search Techniques and Tips:

  1. From the home page, click “Search” on the top bar. Just start typing a name, date, place, or other search term in the search box and see how it gives you hints to guide you along. For example, type a name and select “Name” from the hint box that appears. To enter a date, type “Date” and select the type of date you want to search on, then enter the date itself. Multiple search terms can be added to narrow down your search, and you can always edit the terms you have entered.
  2. Start your search with broad perimeters, and then narrow it down for the best results.
  3. Notice that we also have a list of search filters on the left-hand side of the screen. As you enter search terms this list will shrink as it shows you what is available based upon your current search.
  4. Keep in mind that many of our records are scanned with optical character recognition (OCR) that converts images into encoded text. That means when you perform a search, the highest probably matches appear above a bar, while results less likely to match your search parameters are found below the bar. You might be tempted to ignore the results below the bar, but valuable search results might be available if you dig a little deeper.
  5. To omit a certain publication from your search results, click on the down arrow on the far right of one of these results and click “Exclude all results from this publication.”
  6. After you have located records, you’ll want to keep them easily accessible. Consider creating a Memorial and attach your records to that Memorial. As always, records and/or Memorials can be attached to your Ancestry Tree.
  7. To watch a video tutorial on our new search engine, click here to access the Fold3 Training Center!

April 4, 1945: The Liberation of Ohrdruf

April 1, 2019 by | 135 Comments

As a member of the Fold3 team, I’m always looking for ways to personalize a story to show how our military records are much more than just records. They represent lives, sacrifice, and service. When I started researching this month’s blog post, I had no idea the personal angle I would find would be my own. This is the story of how I learned that my grandfather helped liberate Ohrdruf concentration camp.

Generals Dwight D. Eisenhower, George Patton and Omar Bradley visit Ohrdruf

On April 4, 1945, Ohrdruf concentration camp became the first camp liberated by U.S. troops during WWII. Ohrdruf was a subcamp of Buchenwald and was located near the town of Gotha, Germany. As the 4th Armored Division and the 89th Infantry of the Third US Army approached the gates at Ohrdruf, the sights that greeted soldiers shocked them and defied description.

Don Timmer, an 18-year-old private in the 89th Infantry Division described his experience. “We drove in and between the gate and the barracks were 30 dead…the blood still wet from departing German guards.” Bodies were piled in a shed and others partially incinerated on pyres. Timmer had taken German in high school and acted as an interpreter as prisoners shared tales of unspeakable horror. General George S. Patton arrived at Ohrdruf and was so sickened by what he saw that he threw up. General Dwight D. Eisenhower flew from Belgium to witness the carnage firsthand. According to Timmer, “Even Ike looked pale, and he wasn’t a pale guy.”

The sights and smells of the camp left indelible marks on the soldiers who were there. I know, because my grandfather LaMar Norton was one of the liberators and his experiences were so difficult to share, that most of the family wasn’t aware of this remarkable fact. He was unable to talk about the war without his eyes brimming with tears. LaMar served in the Fourth Armoured Division, Third Army, Company C, during the Battle of the Bulge. He suffered from PTSD after the war and was known to duck and cover during a clap of thunder or when a balloon popped. We knew he’d seen atrocities, but he never shared the details, and everyone learned not to ask. He passed away in 1996 leaving us with unanswered questions.

Pfc. LaMar Norton

To honor his service, I’ve recently been curating content to create a Memorial for him on Fold3. I reached out to extended family asking for any photographs or stories that could be included. At the same time, I was simultaneously researching the liberation of Ohrdruf. One morning I woke to a message from a second cousin. She had an old, typed history of my grandfather’s service that his brother had compiled. I anxiously read it and my heart skipped a beat when I came to the paragraph where he described helping to liberate Ohrdruf. I suddenly realized that the story I had spent hours researching, was my really my story and my history.

According to LaMar, the Americans could smell Ohrdruf before they saw it. The approaching Army had prompted the Germans to flee, but not before shooting as many prisoners as possible. When the Americans arrived, the ground was still wet with blood. LaMar said there were 27 bodies out in the yard and a few more by the gate and at least one body was that of an American. “This American pilot had been carried outside on a stretcher and shot in the head,” he said. As US Soldiers tried to process what they were seeing, military officials told them to leave everything untouched. General Patton wanted the scene documented for possible future war crimes trials.

General Patton insisted that the mayor of the town of Ohrdruf and his wife tour the camp to see for themselves the atrocities committed by their countrymen. The next morning, they were both found hanging from an apparent suicide. A note left nearby said, “We didn’t know. But we knew.”

Though Ohrdruf was the first concentration camp liberated in April 1945, it wasn’t the last. Before the month was through, at least eight other concentration camps were liberated by Allied forces including Buchenwald, Dora-Mittelbau, Westerbork, Bergen-Belsen, Sachsenhausen, Flossenburg, Ravensbruck, and Dachau. On May 7, 1945, Germany unconditionally surrendered to Allied forces clearing the way to bring an end to WWII. My grandfather was discharged in October and came home a changed man. Along with many others, he spent the rest of his life trying to make sense of what he’d seen and experienced at Ohrdruf.

If you would like to learn more about the liberation of concentration camps during WWII, search Fold3 today.

New Confederate Records

March 22, 2019 by | 38 Comments

Do you have an ancestor that fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War? Our Confederate Letters, 1861-1865, is a collection of letters received in the Office of the Confederate Adjutant and Inspector General from April 1861 – April 1865. The collection is organized first by date, and then by the last name. The letters are 150-year-old manuscripts, but a little digging can unearth historical gold!

For example, this letter dated May 23, 1862, is from Samuel Morgan of Spartanburg, South Carolina. He owned a tannery and was requesting that his employee, John Barry, be excused from the mandatory conscription law. At the time, male citizens between the ages of 18-35 were required to register. Said Morgan, “John Barry is a Tanner by trade and is in my Employ at the head of an extensive Tannery and cannot be sepperated from it without material Injury to the success.” He further argued, “The successful opperation of this yard is of great importance to the country and especially to the army as a great many soldiers are now being supplied.” The letter contained the signatures of nine additional men certifying the truth of Morgan’s argument.

In this letter from Tallahassee, Florida, dated June 20, 1862, Capt. E. C. Simpkins outlined charges against Maj. John G. Barnwell for abandoning his post at New Smyrna, Georgia. According to the charges, Barnwell sailed to New Smyrna aboard the steamers Kate and Cecile and ordered troops to leave their post. He then traveled towards Tallahassee inviting everyone he saw to “Take what they could carry off in their hands. That there were Splendid Guns, Swords, and Pistols, Shoes, Blankets, which could be had for the taking…” Interestingly, a newspaper clipping from 1861, noted that Maj. Barnwell had “Devoted much of his life to the artillery service, having commanded a volunteer corps in his native parish for twenty odd years; he is a planter of great experience, and enjoys the entire confidence of his section.” Barnwell must have been found innocent because in a subsequent newspaper clipping from 1864, Maj. Barnwell is working as an ordinance officer.

Braxton Bragg was a senior officer in the Confederate States Army. In June 1862, he wrote a letter to General Samuel Cooper expressing the urgent need to complete a rail line between Meridian, Mississippi and Selma, Alabama. “That connexion is one of such vital military necessity and so immediately affecting military operations, in the Department entrusted to me, that I feel it my duty to Communicate frankly my views, for the information and Consideration of the Department,” Braxton wrote.

About two months before the war came to an end, letters show the Confederate defense beginning to unravel. In this letter dated February 15, 1865, the mayor of Charlotte, North Carolina, wrote to the Secretary of War asking that a group of paroled Union soldiers be removed from their city. “We have now deposited here for safety some millions of specie*, the property of the Gov’t., and the specie and money of the Banks. A regt. of paroled Yankees called the Foreign Legion has been quartered here and have to day pillaged several houses and committed robbery in open day. Will you order them to be removed, or shall they destroy the public property,” wrote Mayor S. A. Harris.  

This collection of Confederate Letters between 1861-1865 is a great way to research ancestors that served in the Confederacy and to document the history of the Civil War. Start searching the collection today on Fold3!

* Specie is money in the form of coins rather than notes.

Tips for Advanced Military Records Research on Fold3

March 14, 2019 by | 168 Comments

Military records are a rich resource for genealogical and historical research. They are advanced records, meaning that unlike vital records that push the door wide open with a neatly packaged birth and death dates, military records sometimes require you enter through the side window! Once you find records, they provide a rich and powerful narrative of military service. At Fold3, we find similar questions posed repeatedly by researchers and hope to answer a few of them here:

Sam Carlson, US Navy – WWI

Military Records for Service After 1957: Due to the Privacy Act, these records are only available to the veteran or next-of-kin from the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC). On Fold3, we have selected records and photographs from recent wars along with powerful content available on personal Memorials.

The 1973 Fire at the NPRC: On July 12, 1973, a massive fire broke out at the NPRC in St. Louis, MO. It burned for 22 hours and destroyed 16-18 million military files. Records affected included 80% of Army files for Personnel discharged between November 1912 – January 1960; and 75% of Air Force files for Personnel discharged September 1947 – January 1964. No duplicate copies of these records were ever maintained. These lost records certainly present a roadblock, but other available record sets can help you construct a military history.

Widow’s Pension File
Benjamin W. Hallett – War of 1812

For example, if you are searching for a WWII veteran, you might search for records like Unit Histories, Missing Air Crew Reports, Draft Registration Cards, WWII Diaries or Air Force photos. Keep in mind that until 1947, the US Air Force was part of the US Army (United States Army Air Force – USAAF).

Navy Muster Rolls recorded the movements of troops on transport ships even if they didn’t serve in Navy; and if you know the infantry regiment or battalion your ancestor served in, that information can also open research avenues.

Amazing records are available in our collections of Casualty Lists, European Theater Army Records or user-contributed information found on Memorial pages among others. In addition, soldiers were asked to file discharge documents in the county where they resided. Contacting county records departments might also unlock a roadblock. Good luck with your military records research! Fold3 has over five hundred million military records available online to help. Visit Fold3 today!

Do you have a Unit History or a military yearbook? At Fold3, we love to collect these records. They are a rich, detailed source of military service. If you have one, we can digitize it and return it to you intact. Please reach out to us at [email protected].

History of the WAC

March 1, 2019 by | 147 Comments

In 1941, Representative Edith Nourse Rogers of Massachusetts introduced a bill to create the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC). Rogers had witnessed first-hand the contributions of women during WWI, and the lack of government benefits available to them. She intended to create legislation to change that.

WAAC Recruitment Poster

Meanwhile, military leaders approached Oveta Culp Hobby asking for suggestions on how the military might organize an auxiliary branch for women. Hobby was busy with other responsibilities but reluctantly agreed to prepare a potential organization chart. In December 1941, the attack on Pearl Harbor brought a sense of urgency to the work of both women. On May 14, 1942, the WAAC bill passed and Hobby was named WAAC director.

The first WAAC training center was established at Fort Des Moines, Iowa. Anxious to serve, nearly 35,000 women applied for 1,000 open spots. Applicants were required to be US citizens, between the ages of 21-45 without dependents, at least 5-feet tall, and weighing a minimum of 100 lbs. WAACs were an auxiliary of the Army, meaning they would receive living quarters, uniforms, pay, and food, but would not receive overseas pay, life insurance, and death benefits. WAACs immediately set about training to free up positions held by male soldiers, enabling them to go overseas and fight.

In 1943, Rep. Rogers introduced legislation to convert the WAAC into the Women’s Army Corps (WAC), making the WAC part of the regular Army. Women would receive a rank, pay, and benefits equal to their male counterparts. The bill passed and Director Hobby received a promotion to the rank of colonel.

WACs in front of bombed out building in Italy

The first WACS arrived in the European Theater of Operations in July 1943, followed by other war theaters. WACs performed a variety of duties including clerical work, intelligence, translation, and mechanics. Marijane Trotter Lehr turned her photography hobby into a vital military job. Pvt. Louise Karpowitz created photo-reconnaissance negatives while Edith Standen, a graduate of Oxford University, used her education as an art historian to make valuable contributions to recover priceless art and artifacts looted by the Nazis. Sgt. Geraldine Hill plotted the course of Allied planes in the Flying Fortress division of the Eighth Army; and Cpl. Florence Doolen served in Africa and Italy in a communications company. The most effective weapon Sgt. Ann Beryl Tilson used was her watercolors. She painted on the battlefields of France, capturing details for Army engineers that a camera could not.

When the war came to a close, most WACs returned home, although a few stayed as part of the occupying force. More than 150,000 WACs served during WWII and their contributions changed the tides of history. To learn more about the WAC, search Fold3 today!

New Allied POW Records on Fold3

February 21, 2019 by | 57 Comments

Do you have a family member who was held POW during WWII? Throughout the war, hundreds of thousands of Allied troops were captured and taken Prisoner of War. They were held in POW camps in Europe and Asia. Some died while being detained and others set free at the end of the war. This month we’re highlighting our UK, Allied Prisoners of War collection.

This collection covers the years 1939-1945 and contains information about WWII POWs, including where they were held and, in many cases, what happened to them. You can search for a specific POW camp or search by region.

These records have either been created or collected by the War Office. Here are just a few examples of what you might find in this collection:

POWs at Stalag 11B Welcome Liberators

Military officials interviewed a Japanese soldier named Norihiko Ozaki. He was an eyewitness to events that took place at the Ballale Island POW camp. In his interview, Ozaki related his observations and general conditions within the camp. His transcribed statement describes sickness among the prisoners, escape attempts, and executions. More than 500 POWs died on Ballale Island.

The POW camp Stalag Luft III, near the German town of Saga (now Żagań, Poland), became well known after the release of the movie “The Great Escape.” Royal Air Force pilot and prisoner Roger J. Bushell masterminded an escape plan from the camp. More than 600 prisoners dug tunnels in the sandy subsoil below the camp. They reinforced the tunnels with random pieces of wood they scavenged. On March 24th, 1944, 76 prisoners escaped; 73 of them were captured, and an infuriated Hitler ordered the execution of 50. The collection contains records on Stalag Luft III and other German POW prison camps.

On January 28, 1944, in a terrible incident of friendly fire, the USAAF bombed a railway bridge in Allerona, Italy. A train crossing the bridge was hit, destroying some cars and derailing others. Unbeknownst to the Air Force, the train was filled with more than 1,000 Allied POWs. Without transportation lists, it was difficult to determine the losses, but estimates range from 200-600. See documents and correspondence related to this incident.

To research more about these and other POW camps during WWII, start searching this collection today on Fold3!

Tips to Save Fold3 Military Records to Ancestry

February 15, 2019 by | 5 Comments

For more Fold3 tips, search our Fold3 Training Center.

Did you find a military record that pieces together the story of your ancestor? It’s easy to attach Fold3 records to your Ancestry Tree. Just follow these steps:

  1. Click the green Save to Ancestry button in the Viewer toolbar or from a Fold3 memorial page
  2. You will be prompted to log into Ancestry (if you are already logged in, this step will be skipped)
  3. Select the Tree you would like to attach your record to
  4. Select the Person would like to attach the link to
  5. Click the green Save button