I have been working with a client this fall that I worked with a couple years ago. She decided to take her research to a new level and create a book for her family this year. After much discussion about all the military ancestors in her family, we decided to write a book on five of them. Five became seven. One of those seven is George Tyler Howe, Sr.
George is a collateral relative of my client but one we chose to explore. He was an Annapolis graduate who then served in the Navy until 1935 when he was put on the retired list. Then brought back into action in 1940 in preparation for potential war. He was honorably discharged in 1945.
I ordered George’s service file from my researcher in St. Louis, Norm Richards. It was over 800 pages long. I had a feeling his file would be very helpful with the writing of my WWII records book series, Stories from the World War II Battlefield. I was not wrong.
As I write my book series I realize so many people really do not know what records are available, think they all burned, think they are still restricted, or may not understand how valuable they can be. So why should you be researching your World War II ancestor? I’ll share with you some of the things in George’s file and other files I’ve been working with so you are convinced. I’m quite certain if you are overlooking this part of your family’s history, you are potentially missing out on incredible information.
Reasons To Research
*Note: I use soldier to refer to Soldier, Sailor, Airman, or Marine
- There are sometimes vital records included in service files for the service man or woman and their children and spouse. In George’s son George Jr.’s Naval file there is a birth certificate for Jr. In a Marine Corps file for the same client, there was a birth certificate for the Marine’s son to prove his change in beneficiaries and allowances for his family. George Sr.’s file also has his death certificate and information on the cause of death which takes up half a page.
- While you may not be able to obtain medical records, there may be clues as to the health history of your soldier. There may be notes as to a diagnosis and dates of hospitalization. In George’s file I do not have his medical records but I know every time he went into the hospital and the diagnosis.
- You may learn about children who died young. In George’s file there is a mention of their only child dying in 1918. I had already learned about the birth and death of this child, but had I not known, the record gave me a lead.
- You may learn every place the soldier (and possibly his family) lived while he served. George’s file tells me every ship/station he served on and the addresses where he resided while not on a ship/station.
- You may learn about promotions, awards, and acts of bravery. In George’s file there is a letter about a man overboard on the U.S.S. Nebraska in 1918 which George helped rescue.
- Quite often Marine Corps, Coast Guard, and Navy files have photos of the Marine or sailor.
- There may be genealogy requests. The military tended to keep copies of requests for information in the service file. George Sr.’s file has a couple of letters from the 1960s to the Navy from his daughter requesting copies of vital records and other information.
- You will learn if your soldier was reprimanded or court martialed.
- If the soldier died in service, there may be pieces of his Individual Deceased Personnel File (IDPF) or Missing Air Crew Report in the file. On the flip side of the coin, with in the IDPF there may be a few pieces of service file information.
- There may be letters from family members. In George Sr.’s file there are letters from his wife Mercedes to her sister in-law Mary while they are living in Guam. Mercedes wanted Mary to come be the nanny and tutor because she felt the schools there were unsuitable. These are handwritten letters.
- Files may contain telegrams to and from the soldier to the military branch in which they serve.
- I just received a few pages from a burned service file for Clarkson Russell. Clarkson was a POW in a German camp who died, was buried in the camp cemetery, and repatriated to the U.S. after the war. His file contains no formal service papers but there are letters from his son, newspaper articles, and other bits of information provided by the son. Those few pages provided information I did not have on Clarkson. It is always good to check to see if a file exists even if you think it burned.
Those are just a few reasons why you should be researching your World War II ancestor. My challenge to you is, start researching. If you need a researcher at the NPRC, contact Norm and tell him I sent you. He will be happy to help. Need additional tips to get you started? Check out my book Stories from the Battlefield: A Beginning Guide to World War II Research. This will get you started until Volume I of my record book series is released this winter.
© 2014, Jennifer Holik, Woodridge, IL