Family History Research

Background Information Research

Roughly six months ago I began writing a book about my cousin Robert Brouk. Robert was a Flying Tiger in China just before the start of the United State’s involvement in World War II. The Tigers helped the Chinese keep the Burma Road open in the fight against the Japanese.

Writing a book takes a lot of background research. Robert was such a hometown hero in Cicero, Illinois, that The Berwyn Life newspaper wrote many articles about his war service and his life after his return home in July 1942. The newspaper also formed a committee to honor Robert with a Bob Brouk Day on August 2, 1942 in Cicero. I was fortunate that my uncle made several trips to the Berwyn library to look through microfilm for articles about Robert and these articles helped give my research a boost.

I am fortunate that my library has a subscription to ProQuest, a newspaper database. The databases available to my library’s users include the Historical Chicago Tribune, National Paper Abstracts, ProQuest Newspapers, and the Historical New York Times in addition to over 2,500 others.  ProQuest allows me to search by a term, dates, limit to only certain records and change the number of posts shown. I can check a box next to a record which then allows me to email, cite, or export that article. I can view the Page Map of the page on which the article resides to see what else is on the page.  By opening an article I have several more options. I can print; save the file; search; and view the Page Map.

Not only has ProQuest allowed me to find numerous articles about Robert, I have also been able to successfully search the Historical New York Times Newspaper for immigrant ship news. John Phillip Colletta spoke in February at the DuPage Genealogical Society conference and in one session told the listeners that the New York Times has brief articles about ships coming into and leaving the Port of New York. He said at times you will find the ship being reported as docking days later than the ship log states, which could have been caused by a backup of ships or illness or weather.

Searching Frisia between January 1, 1880 to December 31, 1880 brings up many articles. Some of these are listed as Classified Ads and list the ships with incoming and outgoing mail service; ticket prices for steamships; and steamship arrivals.  Depending on the ship or the passenger, the New York Times will have articles on prominent first class passengers and their arrival in the paper.

Not only did I search newspapers for background information, but I also used online search engines to find books and articles on my specific topics, Robert Brouk, Flying Tigers, A.V.G. (American Volunteer Group) China. Some of the books I located were available through my library system. Others were not and had to be requested through WorldCat which is an international collection of books. I was able to obtain several books through WorldCat’s Interlibrary Loan program. Some books came with a $3 fee, but the money was well spent.

And finally, I am lucky the A.V.G. group has an official Association. Searching their webpages allowed me to become a member and post questions regarding Robert or the Flying Tigers. I have been in contact with the webmaster regarding their records, and even had a great email conversation with a former Armorer in Robert’s 3rd Pursuit Squadron. Always be sure to contact a local or national group for the topic on which you are researching. You never know what or who you will come in contact with that will help your research.

Have you used different sources to conduct background research for your family history? If you have, I would love to hear what they are.

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Using Maps to Visually Make Sense of Family History Research

Maps are a valuable tool in family history.  Maps can be used to search for the place from which you ancestor came and can also be used to illustrate a point you want to make in your research and writings. In my research, maps have helped me in in three specific ways which are explained below.

Visually presenting the migration of a family within a city or state after immigration.

I have used Google Maps to build a map of Chicago in 1900 with the street addresses of my families. I am able to pinpoint a location on the map and add text to a pop up box. Google Maps connects to Google Earth and allows me to see a present day shot of the street and home, if the home still exists.  If I want to publish a map I have created, I can link to it, print it, or send it via email. Google Maps allows me to save maps I have created and either make them public or private. In my research, this has been a very useful tool for me to see where my families lived and where they moved as the families grew.

Illustrating the relationships between families.

At the turn of the century, many of my families lived near one another. As the children of the immigrants began their own families, and down yet another generation, mapping out the addresses has shown me that my families were close-knit. A child grew up, married, and typically moved within a street or few blocks from the parent’s home. The grandchildren could “walk across the alley” to grandma’s house for bakery.  Even as my families began moving out towards the suburbs, this same living proximity emerged. It was definitely a different way to live than most families today. I think many would find if they mapped out their parents addresses and those of the children, there would be a much greater distance than “a walk across the alley” between families.

Illustrating military movements.

As I explained in my post about Family Atlas Software, maps can provide a great visual to accompany text in our family history writings. I am currently writing the life story of Michael Kokoska, my great, great uncle who died in World War I in France.  While I do not have a Statement of Service record to know exactly where he fought, by reading his 32nd Unit history and the World War I Order of Battle books, I am able to plot on a map, places in France where his unit served. The software also allows me to add text to the map which gave me the ability to add a timeline for his military service. This map makes a great addition to his story.

How have you utilized maps in your research?

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Genealogy Mapping Software

A few months ago I began writing my great, great uncle, Michael Kokoska’s life story. He had a brief life, living only into his early 20’s and dying in France during World War I. I wanted to add a map to his story to illustrate where he fought in France during his months in the War overseas.

I found a fantastic genealogy mapping software program called Family Atlas. This program allows me to add places via a Gedcom upload, or by adding them at will. I am able to create custom maps, such as one I created for Michael’s story that has the places at which he fought. The map also has a timeline feature which I utilized when creating his map to document his entry into the Army and service through his death.

Users are able to publish the maps through a printer or by export to a PDF or picture file. The software matches what city you enter with one in the database complete with county and country. Users are also able to view their maps with or without county and country borders. The software has great tutorials so any level user is able to create amazing maps.

In my next article about using maps to document family history, I will give an example of a map I created using this software. Stay tuned!

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Discovering World War II Armed Guard Naval Records

My grandfather served in the Naval Armed Guard during World War II. He was called to duty late in 1943. He began his training at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center in Glenview, Illinois. From there he was sent to the Brooklyn Armed Guard Center and the New Orleans Armed Guard Center before taking his place on a ship.

My grandfather died before I was born so I know very little about his time in the Navy. The family has two different stories about the action he saw during the time he served, yet I cannot find any proof of this. I have been able to obtain some records to help tell his story, which are outlined below.

1. To obtain the Naval Armed Guard Logs, Deck Logs and Captain’s Logs, for the ships on which he served, I wrote a letter to the Modern Military Records Unit (NWCTM), National Archives and Records Administration, 8601 Adelphi Road, College Park, MD 20740-6001.

I provided information they would need such as his name, Serial Number and the dates for ships on which he served.

Joseph J. Holik             Serial #: XXXXXXX

May 5, 1944 – Sept. 17, 1944 – S.S. Joshua Hendy

Sept. 18, 1944 – Jan. 15, 1945 – S. S. Sea Quail

Feb. 28, 1945 – July 13, 1945 – S. S. Henry Durant

I initially ordered the Deck Logs about 10 years ago and was charged copy fees. I read that the Captain’s Logs differed from the Deck Logs. In the case of my grandfather’s ships, both logs appeared to be almost identical and again I paid for copies. Recently a researcher assured me that the Armed Guard Logs would provide more information than the Deck Logs, so I sent for those. I was charged for the copies and only one of the ships had slightly different information than what I already had. All of the logs showed No Enemy Encounters.

One thing to note about these types of logs is that the information they provide varies based on who was keeping the log. Some logs are very detailed, while others are the standard log that was required to be kept. The logs basically outline the training done on the ship, guns tested or repaired, enemy encounters, damage to the ship, port of call, cargo carried, convoy numbers, some health information on the sailors, and daily routines.

My uncle provided me with a copy of my grandfather’s Discharge Papers from the Navy. This document provided me with his Serial Number, date of entry into active service, how long he served, the stations (on land) on which he served, yet no mention of ships. The document also gave the name of his last employer, dates of employment, occupation and what he planned to do after being discharged.

If I would not have had this document, I could have written to the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis by sending in the Standard Form 180 to request his records. Not being next of kin, the NPRC will not release all of his information to me.

3. If you are next of kin, you are able to obtain more information from the NPRC in St. Louis. My father recently requested my grandfather’s medical records. Only a few pages of his file was sent and they included medical records such as Dental Check-ups and Treatment, Immunization records, Physical Exams, and Medical History forms where specific tests were performed such as assessing night vision.

4. Several years ago I located and contacted someone who served on one of the ships my grandfather did. This man got on the ship the day my grandfather was getting off. Even though they did not serve at the same time, this man was able to help guide me to resources for more information. He provided me a document outlining his experiences in the Armed Guard which gave me an idea of what my grandfather’s life might have been like while serving. He also sent me a photo of the ship. Some old ship photos can be found online.

There are still questions I would like to have answered such as if another ship in the convoy had an enemy encounter, did only that ship record it in the Deck Log? Is it possible my grandfather experienced the enemy by watching something take place, but not firsthand?

For more information on the Armed Guard or obtaining records, you can read the World War II US Naval Armed Guard website

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