Topping the list of new and updated genealogy records this week are United States military records. Ancestry.com has a new collection of U.S. Navy Muster Rolls and an updated collection of historical postcards. Enjoy a special interview with military expert Michael Strauss on how he solved an old postcard mystery! Also new this week are WWI U.S. records at FamilySearch for Michigan and Utah, which you can access for free online.
“These records were created to document enlisted Navy personnel assigned to each and every discrete Navy command (known as “activities” in Navy terminology), such as ships, aviation squadrons, air stations, bases, stations, training centers and schools, flag staffs, and Marine Corps units.
“Arranged by two-year chronological subseries (1949-1950, 1951-1952, 1953-1954, 1955-1956, and 1957-1958), followed by single-year subseries (1959-1971). Each subseries is arranged by “activity number,” a unique number assigned to each ship, unit, and command within the Navy. Each activity’s muster rolls are arranged in chronological order by quarter, typically with enlisted personnel arranged by rate and thereunder alphabetically by surname.
“Beginning in the spring of 1956, officers precede enlisted personnel, with officers arranged either alphabetically by surname or hierarchically by rank. Personnel diaries, which precede each quarter’s muster rolls, are arranged chronologically by date.”
Ancestry.com also recently updated their collection of U.S. Historical Postcards, 1893-1960. You might be wondering how historical postcards would be valuable to your genealogy research. The collection description sheds some light on what you can use this database for:
“This database contains over 115,000 historical postcards with photos of places in the United States. Each postcard caption has been indexed and may be searched by keyword or location. The database also includes the city, county, state, and postcard era (estimated year range) for most postcards.
This database is primarily useful for obtaining a photograph or picture of a specific place in time. If you do not already have pictures of the places your ancestors lived, historical postcards are a good alternative to personal photos.”
In the video below: A captivating story unfolds of old postcards from WWI that are snatched from oblivion by Michael Strauss, who is the Genealogy Gems Podcast Military Minutes man. Michael shares the story of how he found the historic postcards on eBay, and the research process he followed to identify their author. These are strategies that you can use in many areas of your family history research!
You can explore even more new WWI records for genealogy thanks to FamilySearch’s newest additions to their free records.
These records may help you find out more about your ancestors who served in the military during WWI. Depending on the collection and record, you might find:
name of Veteran;
place and date of birth;
occupation before and after the war;
birthplace and date;
names of children and their birth dates;
parents’ names and addresses;
first camp entered and date;
rank, company, and regiment;
transfers and promotions;
battles engaged in;
discharged date and reason, and additional information.
If you don’t find the person you’re looking for, FamilySearch has these helpful suggestions for next steps:
Look for variant spellings of the names. You should also look for alias names, nicknames and abbreviated names.
Look for an index. Local genealogical and historical societies often have indexes to local records.
Search the records of nearby localities (or military units, counties, parishes, etc.).
More Military Records with Michael Strauss
Michael Strauss is our resident Military Minutes man for The Genealogy Gems Podcast. He first debuted on the show on episode #207, where he talked about draft registrations. Click here to listen to the episode and download an exclusive free 4-page handout! For more expert military research tips and insight, browse Michael’s many articles on our website by clicking here.
About the Author: Lacey Cooke has been working with Genealogy Gems since the company’s inception in 2007. Now, as the full-time manager of Genealogy Gems, she creates the free weekly newsletter, writes blogs, coordinates live events, and collaborates on new product development. No stranger to working with dead people, Lacey holds a degree in Forensic Anthropology, and is passionate about criminal justice and investigative techniques. She is the proud dog mom of Renly the corgi.
Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links and Genealogy Gems will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links (at no additional cost to you). Thank you for supporting Genealogy Gems!
Recently Tom wrote in with a question about a Civil War veterans database:
“I’ve been a listener of your podcast for quite a long time. Great job.
“We have a grass-roots group trying to locate and document Civil War Veterans buried in Washington state. Is there a good website where I can enter a name and unit identification and get results of the person’s [Civil War] service? I’m having a really hard time finding US Navy sailors.”
It sounds like Tom is conducting a very worthwhile project! (We added the link above to the website for the project, in case you’re interested.) An excellent resource–still in progress for sailors with only about 20% of them–is The Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System (CWSS).
The site describes its resources as a “database containing information about the men who served in the Union and Confederate armies during the Civil War. Other information on the site includes histories of Union and Confederate regiments, links to descriptions of significant battles, and selected lists of prisoner-of-war records and cemetery records, which will be amended over time.”
This is an excellent resource for soldiers. As far as sailors go: “The Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System currently contains the records of approximately 18,000 African American sailors, though additional records will be added in the future. The information in the Sailors Database is derived from enlistment records and the quarterly muster rolls of Navy vessels. Approximately half of the sailors entered the service at the Navy’s established points of enlistment. For these men and women, enlistment records serve as the primary sources of information. The Howard University research team used muster rolls to fill in missing data or to correct apparent misinformation recorded at the time of enlistment. Information about the remainder of the enlistees was derived directly from these muster rolls. When research uncovered inconsistencies in the data (such as conflicting reports of an individual’s age at the time of enlistment) the most frequently recorded response was used.”
“Descendants of Civil War sailors will find biographical details regarding age, place of birth, and occupation that may help supplement or clarify details from such other sources of genealogical information as birth, death, and census records. Moreover, information about any individual sailor’s enlistment and service is necessary for determining the presence or absence of their pension records at the National Archives.” Click here to read an article from the National Archives about African-American servicemen in the Navy in the Civil War. I covered the Civil War Soldiers and Sailors database in the free Genealogy Gems Podcast Episode 149. Be sure to check out the show notes page (click the link I’ve provided.) There you’ll find the information written out for you and the links I discuss in the episode.
If a Navy ancestor isn’t among those already listed, my first instinct is always to turn to Google searches first. I ran a search in Google Books for free (fully digitized) books meeting the criteria “civil war” “sailors” and there are some resources there as well. Here’s a link to the search results. One example is the book shown here to the left: Manchester Men, which appears to be a published list of those who served from Manchester, N.H. (click on the book cover to read it in Google Books). Learn more about Google searching for “niche” topics like this in the fully-revised and updated 2nd edition of my book, The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox.