The Dusty Genealogist
Remember and Honor Your Military Ancestors!
By: Marjory Regan
We think of our veterans on Veterans Day, which is renamed from Armistice Day. This year, many organizations will remember the end of World War I. We think in terms of the signing of the end of WWI on the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918. Then, after a day of celebrating our veterans, we carry on with our lives, often not giving them a second thought. Currently, the History Channel tells us that there are 21 million living veterans, which is a total of 6.5% of our population. Of that, 1% are women veterans.
Our veterans served in countless wars, police actions, and humanitarian aid actions. Hurricane Katrina saw over 70,000 troops, both regular military, reserve military, and National Guard, deployed in service for our neighbors. Whether drafted or volunteer, these men and women have served and are continuing to serve our nation in many ways.
When we change our residence, we usually go through things that we have saved. As we know, genealogists have paper and documents that need to be protected and preserved. Others have memorabilia that really needs to be respected. Even if you, personally, are not interested in the hobby of genealogy, the accomplishments of others require respect.
If time is of the essence, and/or you were considering simply throwing out memorabilia, or other documents someone has saved, particularly members of the military, the Civil Defense, or other documents, please consider giving them to the National Archives, the Library of Congress, and their many programs including the Veterans History Project, your local museum, or your library.
Put the documents in an envelope or box addressed to where you are sending it with a note that you intend to “gift” the documents to the organization and if the organization is not interested, they may do as they want with the contents. Many groups add the contents to their history or send them to a group better served to take them. It doesn’t have to be fancy or complicated, just mail them. If you were going to throw them away anyway, let some of the historians decide what to keep.
Several years ago, when I was active with the Library of Congress Veterans History Project, I interviewed and filmed a local friend of my husband, who served in the military. He also brought his collection of military paperwork. Today, the military refers to this collection as an “I Love Myself” book which is usually a thick notebook with vinyl page protectors holding all of the paperwork, certificates, and items of personal military experience.
This gentleman had a boarding pass for the Queen Mary cruise ship. In his interview, he spoke of the boarding pass and his trip overseas on the Queen Mary along with hundreds of other military personnel. It seemed that the Queen Mary cruise ship had been deployed by England to help move U.S. military troops to Europe. I had copied all of the memorabilia he had brought to the interview, including the boarding pass, front and back.
A few weeks later, I received a phone call from the director of the Veterans History Project asking me if I had actually seen the boarding pass. I said I did, and provided further information for him. He eventually contacted the veteran and learned more about the trip.
The director told me that several veterans had mentioned the trip on the Queen Mary, but no one else had a boarding pass to show. The director was all excited about the historical value of the boarding pass. In relating this call, it is important to remember that even the smallest, apparently insignificant, document can be important. Give your living or deceased ancestors the benefit of their historical significance.
Most of us have heard the stories of Rosie the Riveter and all of the other women who had to take over and mastered what were thought of as men’s jobs. When looking into the genealogy of women during war time, thinking in terms of what jobs they were doing, many researchers are pleasantly surprised at what their grandmother or great-grandmothers could do.
World War II found that the women of the Woman’s Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) were women from age 18 (unless they lied about their age and were younger, which many did) to beyond 40. The women were required to come with a pilot’s license which cost over $500. That was a lot in 1942. Their male counterparts were trained to fly by the military on the military’s dine.
Once trained, these women flew all varieties of airplanes, from the biggest to the smallest, bombers and fighter planes, shuffling the planes across the U.S. Some women even flew planes dragging artillery targets behind them for artillery practice with live rounds.
It would be remiss to say that our government treated them like the heroes they were. But through their own persistent actions and petitions to the U.S. government, the women were finally granted military status by the 1970s. In 2010, President Obama awarded the women the Congressional Gold Medal.
The Texas Woman’s University in Denton, TX, holds the WASP’s official archives because they all flew out of Avenger Field, in Sweetwater, TX. You can see photographs, documents and reports, military records, rules and regulations, log books and pilot’s licenses, articles, news clippings, and much more at <https://twu.edu/library/womans-collection/collections/women-airforce-service-pilots/>, as well as calling 940-898-3751, Monday-Friday 8am-4:30pm for any questions or research help.
The National Archives also has records, but I would check with Texas Woman’s University first, and then the National Archives.
The Air Transport Auxiliary was England and Canada’s civilian solution to moving aircraft. If you have Canadian or British grandmothers, check to see what they might have been doing during WWII. They might have been baking bread, but they might have been flying too. They might have been working as mechanics, ground crew, or doing other activities in support of their government.
Remember, at the time, during the war effort and even later, their positions were secret. So they were not necessarily inclined to speak about them. It may take some detective work to find them.
Russia was our ally in WWII. Their offering for the women was the 588th Night Bomber Regiment which consisted of three female fighter pilot’s units. It was the first nation to allow women to fly combat missions and to return fire as needed. These ladies dropped 23,000 pounds of bombs and decorated their airplanes with flowers. They flew over 30,000 missions, most of them in plywood and canvas planes generally used for crop-dusting. They flew at night, without radar navigations, using only maps and compasses, flying at low altitudes, in stealth mode, idling their engines to maintain quiet as much as possible. They were in precarious positions. The Germans called this group the “Night Witches” because they made so little noise it sounded like the soft “whooshing” noise of broomsticks. These women were so feared that any German pilot who “downed a witch” was automatically awarded an Iron Cross.
There is a group of women pilots going back to October 1929 called the ‘99s. The Ninety-Nines International Organization of Women Pilots was founded by 117 women, to include Amelia Earhart. Their group exists today offering scholarships and encouragement to female pilots.
You military ancestors deserve a certain amount of respect for their efforts and willingness to help support their families and the United States during times of need. Learn what your female ancestors did to help their families, and you, in turn. You are, after all, a product of their effort.
Bio: I am a Certified Genealogist and a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution. I believe that the hobby of genealogy is fun, exciting, and very satisfying. Through researching genealogy, you acquire new skills, meet new friends, and gain new respect for those who have gone before you. You may reach me via email at ‘firstname.lastname@example.org’ with questions or comments. I thoroughly enjoy the hobby and hope that you will too. Print your photographs of family, don’t just leave them in cyberspace. If you insist on leaving your family pictures in cyberspace, label them and mail them to your email or other locations. Label your photos with a first and last name, an approximate date, and a possible location if known. Please look for a new book from this author to be released soon. My readers will have a special opportunity to read it.
By Marjory Regan
|A brief bio of Marjory Regan: I am a member of the Williams Mills Chapter of the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution (NSDAR) and a “Certified Genealogist’ Thank you for your questions, comments, problems and successes. Email me at email@example.com. I think genealogy is a fascinating hobby; I hope you will, too. Get Started. Do something small every day, it all add up. Label the photos! First & Last names and approximate date of the photo. Do it for an hour while watching TV.|