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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

February 1839: The Amistad Rebellion

February 1, 2019 by | 104 Comments

In February 1839, slave hunters abducted a group of Africans from Sierra Leone and shipped them to Havana, Cuba to be sold as slaves. Their kidnappings violated all treaties then in existence. When they arrived in Cuba, two Spanish plantation owners, Pedro Montes and Jose Ruiz, purchased 53 slaves to work their Caribbean plantation. They loaded the slaves aboard the Cuban schooner Amistad. On July 1, while sailing through the Caribbean, the captured slaves organized a mutiny. One of the slaves, Sengbe Pieh (also known as Joseph Cinque), freed himself and loosed others. They killed the captain and the ship’s cook, seized the ship, and ordered Montes and Ruiz to sail to Africa.

Under the guise of heading towards Africa, Montes and Ruiz sailed the ship north instead. The Amistad zigzagged up the east coast for nearly two months. On August 26, 1839, it dropped anchor off the tip of Long Island and a few of the men went ashore for fresh water. Soon, the US Navy brig Washington sailed into view. Thomas R. Gedney, commanding officer of the Washington, assumed those on board were pirates. He ordered his men to disarm the Africans and capture everyone including those who had gone ashore for water. They were all transported to Connecticut where officials freed the Spaniards but charged the Africans with murder upon the high seas.

Amistad Memorial
New Haven, Connecticut

The murder charges were eventually dismissed, but the Africans remained imprisoned and their case sent to Federal District Court in Connecticut. The plantation owners, the government of Spain, and Gedney all claimed some sort of compensation. The plantation owners wanted their slaves back, the Spanish government wanted the slaves returned to Cuba where they would likely be put to death, and Thomas Gedney felt he was entitled to compensation under maritime law that allowed salvage rights when saving a ship or its cargo from impending loss.   

The district court ruled that the case fell within Federal jurisdiction. The ruling was appealed, and the case sent to the Supreme Court. Former president John Quincy Adams argued on behalf of the Africans. He said they were innocent because international laws found the slave trade was illegal. Thus, anyone who escaped should be considered free under American law.

The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Africans and ordered their immediate release. Abolitionists who had supported their cause raised funds to return them to Africa. On November 26, 1841, nearly three years after their abduction, the Africans departed New York City bound for home. Only 35 of them made it back. The others died at sea or while in custody.

The original 19th-century manuscripts from the Amistad case and our entire Black History collection are available to search for free this month on Fold3!

War of 1812 Pension Files Update

January 16, 2019 by | 24 Comments

“P” is for Pension File…and patience! We’re almost through digitizing the P’s in our 1812 Pension Files (can’t wait for Q-Z) and we’re excited about our growing War of 1812 Pension Files collection.

Pension files are a rich source for military and genealogical research. In 1813 and 1816, Congress approved a military pension for soldiers who served between 1812 and 1815 and suffered a disability or death.

In 1871 and 1878, Congress expanded the pensions to include more veterans. The 1871 act allowed men who had served at least 60 days during the war to draw a pension. Their widows were eligible as long as the marriage had taken place before the end of the war. The 1878 act expanded the pensions further to apply to veterans who had served 14 days in the war or any engagement, and to their widows, regardless of when the marriage occurred.

A veteran’s pension often includes his rank, place of residence, age or date of birth, and time of service. A widow’s application usually includes her place of residence, her maiden name, date, and place of marriage, circumstances of her husband’s death, and the names of children under 16.

In a few instances, the files even contain a tintype photograph of the veteran. Such is the case with William Perry. His file is 55 pages long and contains a gold mine of information including pages from his family bible showing births and deaths, and even a summons to appear before the Justice of the Peace for failure to pay a debt of $1.50.

In contrast, Malinda Hadley filed for a widow’s pension 25 years after the death of her husband Simeon. Her file is just six pages long and includes her rejected application because no record of Simeon’s purported militia group existed.

Our War of 1812 Pension Files collection are organized by state or organization, and then by the soldier’s surname and given name. The process for digitizing the pension files is painstaking and time-consuming. We will keep adding to the collection until it is complete. If you don’t see your ancestor’s pension file, keep checking back!

Get started searching our War of 1812 Pension Files on Fold3 today!

January 17, 1944: The Battle of Monte Cassino Begins

January 1, 2019 by | 152 Comments

In January 1944, one of the longest and bloodiest battles of the Italian Campaign of WWII began at Monte Cassino. Monte Cassino was an ancient Benedictine abbey that towered over the city of Cassino. Sometimes referred to as the Battle of Rome, the Battle of Monte Cassino consisted of a series of four assaults by Allied forces against the defensive German Gustav Line. Before German troops retreated, the conflict claimed the lives of 55,000 Allied soldiers and destroyed the cultural treasure of Monte Cassino.

Allied forces landed in the Italian peninsula in September 1943. The Apennine Mountains divided the peninsula and Allied troops split and advanced on both sides. They took control of Naples and continued the push towards Rome.

Monte Cassino was the gateway to Rome, about 80 miles away. It provided unobstructed views of the area. German troops occupied lookouts on the hillside but agreed to stay out of the abbey because of its historical importance. The precious manuscripts and antiquities housed in the abbey had been removed to Vatican City for safekeeping (although some works of art were stolen by German troops and transported north).

The first phase of the operation began on January 17th with an Allied attack on German positions. Thomas E. McCall, a farm boy from Indiana, found himself in the crosshairs of the battle. On January 22, 1944, during heavy fighting, he was accidentally struck by friendly fire. Presumed dead, McCall was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. Unbeknownst to his unit, McCall was alive but wounded. He became a German POW and spent the next 18 months in makeshift hospitals. “They didn’t even have an aspirin to give you,” he said. “There were no pain-killing drugs for either the Germans or us. The surgeon had a handful of tools and two or three other guys would hold you down while he operated on you.” McCall was eventually liberated and earned the distinction of being one of the few posthumous Medal of Honor recipients that lived to tell about it.

By early February, Allies reached a hill just below the abbey. Some reports suggested Germany might be using the abbey as an artillery observation point, resulting in a controversial decision to destroy the abbey. On February 15th, 1,150 tons of bombs rained down on the abbey reducing it to rubble. German forces quickly took up position in the ruins, utilizing its vantage point to prevent Allies from advancing.

A third offensive began in March with heavy attacks in the town of Cassino, but tenacious German forces held their position. The fourth and final assault, known as Operation Diadem, began on May 11th and included attacks from US troops with help from British, French, and Polish Allies. On May 18th, Polish forces captured Monte Cassino. Soon after, on June 4, 1944, Allied forces liberated Rome.

If you would like to learn more about the Battle of Monte Cassino and see more photographs, search our archives on Fold3.com.