Friday, March 24, 2017

Women's History Month 2017: Gold Star Mothers

American losses in World War I were modest compared to those of other belligerents, with 116,516 deaths and approximately 320,000 sick and wounded of the 4.7 million men who served. The USA lost more personnel to disease (63,114) than to combat (53,402), largely due to the influenza epidemic of 1918.*

The United States entered the war late, nevertheless it would still feel the bitter sting of  the loss that happens with war. That loss had different consequences for each country involved. Great Britain lost a generation of men which in turn affected civilian life (more on that later).

It's not unusual for those that suffer a common loss to find each other. Those US women who lost sons and husbands during World War I were no different and their grief would be felt again and again in later wars.

Out of grief, The American Gold Star Mothers was founded. ""Who is a Gold Star Mother?" During the early days of World War I, a Blue Star was used to represent each person, man or woman in the Military Service of the United States. As the war progressed and men were killed in combat, others wounded and died of their wounds or disease, there came about the accepted usage of the Gold Star."**

You can read more about the founding of the Gold Star Mothers at their website. Some Gold Star Mothers would eventually get a government sponsored trip to Europe to see the final resting place of their son or husband. You can read more about these trips in the National Archives magazine Prologue.

  • Do you have a family member killed during World War I?
  • Have you ordered their military service record?
  • Have you conducted a search for Gold Star Mothers in the  National Archives Catalog?
  • Have you searched the newspaper?
  • Was a female ancestor a member of the American Gold Star Mothers?

Additional Resources:
GenealogyBank Blog - Gold Star Mother's Day
American Gold Star Mothers, Inc.
FamilySearch Family History Research Wiki - United States World War I Casualty Records

Graham, John W. The Gold Star Mother Pilgrimages of the 1930s: Overseas Grave Visitations by Mothers and Widows of Fallen U.S. World War I Soldiers. Jefferson, N.C: McFarland & Co, 2005.

*"War Loses (USA)," 1914-1918-online. International Encyclopedia of the First World War ( accessed 23 March 2017).

**"History," American Gold Star Mothers, Inc. ( accessed 24 March 2017).

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Women's History Month 2017: Searching for Her in His Military Records

Have you ordered the military records for your World War I soldier? You may be surprised at who else shows up in those records.

There are some surprises in my paternal great-grandfather's military records; he served in the Navy right after the end of World War I. Yes, his service is documented in those records but the names of three women in his life also appear.

He entered the service while living with his parents. Not surprisingly, his mother is listed as the next of kin and the beneficiary of his insurance. Both of his parents were alive at this time but his father's name does not appear on these records.

What other women appear on these records? While my great-grandfather was in the Navy, he met and fell in love with my great-grandmother and they married.

But her name does not appear in these records. Information about their marriage does, but not her name.

However, when it came time to be discharged he wanted to be discharged in California, where his new wife and her family lived. So he wrote a letter to his commanding officer explaining the situation. He also included a statement from two witnesses who verified that his wife lived in California and they had established a home there. The two witnesses? His wife's mother and sister.

Always get the military records. There is often information that you didn't expect to find. If you're lucky, that information may include the women in his life.

Additional Resources:

National Archives - Research in Military Records

FamilySearch - World War I United States Military Records

Library and Archives Canada - Personnel Records of the First World War

The National Archives (UK) - How to look for records of First World War

Schaefer, Christina K. The Great War: A Guide to the Service Records of All the World's Fighting Men and Volunteers. Baltimore, MD: Genealogical Publishing, 2006.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Women's History Month 2017: Women and the WWI Draft

Library of Congress
Let's start to explore women in the World War I era by using records that involve the men in their lives.

Women leave fewer records behind. They have historically lived lives of domesticity, denied full citizenship and rights until well into the 20th century. So they have not left a multitude of official records.

However, women can be found in the records of the men they are related to. Aside from marriage records, you might find them mentioned in a military pension or a mortgage. So in order to exhaustively research a woman you need to research the men she's related to.

The genealogist's most familiar World War I resource is the World War I Draft Registration available on various genealogy websites. The Draft Registration is one of those records that we tend to just use and not study. I highly recommend the book Uncle, We are Ready! Registering America's Men 1917-1918 by John J Newman. This book was published before the WWI draft could easily be searched online but provides historical information about the three draft registrations and all the different types of men who registered (including non-citizens).

Newman begins his book with a  history of the  World War I draft and then explains that:

The means to execute the military census was through use of registration cards. These were designed to determine who was eligible for meeting draft criteria, if occupation or family situation could be cause for exemption, and to determine general physical characteristics and conditions...Men were to be chosen for military service who would impact least the family and society while at the same time proportioning those eligible to the lowest jurisdiction possible. {9}*

This "military census" was done via three different registrations and each registration had its own card. Two of the registrations asked for information on the person's nearest relative.  The first registration didn't ask for information about the nearest relative but it did ask if the man was married or single. So while the first registration provides a clue if the man was married the other two registrations might list a wife, mother, or other female relative.

Additional Resources:

FamilySearch - United States World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918

FamilySearch Wiki - United States World War I Draft Records

National Archives - World War I Draft Registration Cards

*Newman, John J. Uncle, We Are Ready!: Registering America's Men, 1917-1918.  A Guide to Researching World War I Draft Registration Cards. North Salt Lake, Utah: Heritage Quest, 2001.