Saturday, December 10, 2011

WWII Neighbors and Ethnic Profiling

Veteran tells 'their stories', Kevin Cullen 
The Charlestown Veterans History Project
Proper Use of Ethnic Profiling
A common genealogy brick wall scenario is the story of ancestors who flock to the big city for jobs. This is best seen at war-time. So when a recent client from down-under asked me to assist, I pulled out my 3 step process: 1) Map out surrounding area to the distance of the largest city (cities); 2) Define area industries, i.e. ship building, textile, etc.; 3)Define racial and ethnic communities. What were their neighbors doing? What was the trend for this community? 

So when searching for an Irish immigrant ancestor during WWII ensconced in Boston, it was no wonder that I stumbled on the neighborhood of Charlestown,located north of downtown Boston, MA. Immediately, my curiosity antennae’s stood at attention!

How is it possible that in a one square mile neighborhood approximately 5000 men and 100 women served in WWII?  Did mothers hold their breath watching one child after another leave for war? Who was left in the neighborhood of Charlestown? Did they share the same ethnicity? These are just some of the questions I had, when I heard of the Charlestown Veterans History Project. The article Veteran tells 'their stories' speaks of the many families that watched five or seven of their sons go off to war. Of course they were lucky if half of them returned.

Charlestown Veterans History Project
It is said that Charlestown, a historically strong Irish neighborhood within the city of Boston can boast of the highest enlistment rates per capital in the country during WWII.  In honor of those who served from this neighborhood the Charlestown Veterans History Project was born.
Charlestown Veterans History Project is an organization dedicated to preserving the history of the approximately 5,000 men and 100 women who served in WWII that came from Charlestown Mass. Charlestown is a One square mile neighborhood located in the City of Boston and had one of the highest enlistment rates per cap in the country during WWII. The neighborhood is most notable for where the Battle of Bunker Hill was fought and where the warship USS Constitution resides. It’s also the location of the old Boston Navy Yard where 50,000 workers built and repaired ships during WWII. To share the history, the Charlestown Veterans history project maintains a WWII exhibit hall that’s located at 20 City Square Charlestown. The exhibits help honor the men who served in WWII and provide an opportunity for all to learn about the history and contribution Charlestown made during WWII .The hall is open free to the public and encourages anybody to provide information on any veteran who served in WWII that came from Charlestown.  Bill Durette, Charlestown Veterans History Project,
What Did The Rest of the Neighbors Do?
It appears that if you didn’t go to war, there was work at the Boston Navy Yard, formerly known as the Charleston Navy Yard. About 50,000 persons worked at the yards that never closed during the WWII. The Navy Yard dedicated  its production to war ships: reconditioning, repairing, and building anew. I wonder did those who had a hand in building the notable WWII ships follow their creation to battle? Did they cheer the ships to victory?

Of course there were other dominate Irish neighborhoods (i.e. Somerville, So. Boston, Dorchester, Roxbury) and some fellows involved themselves with the “Irish mob activity.” Some say, that escaping the gang activities was one of the motivators to join the military. But if the mobster/gang activity best suits your black sheep ancestor, check the prison systems and cemetery/funeral home records. Of course their infamous actions may have been  featured front page. 

Truth or Myth
If this type of history exists in a neighborhood, Charlestown, MA would be the ideal host. This district offers not only the Charlestown Navy Yards, but also the Bunker Hill Monument, and the USS Constition Musuem and (why not?) the USS Constituion and the USS Cassin Young. You might have to dust off the history books for information on the USS Cassin Young, but here’s a hint: Navy destroyer. During WWII 14 Navy destroyers were built at the Charlestown/Boston Navy Yard (but not the USS Cassin, it was built in California).  Did one of your ancestors work there?

Additional Resources
  • Military records dating after 1940 are available through the Military Records Branch of the Adjutant General’s Office, 239 Causeway Street, Boston, MA 02114
  • Massachusetts Archives 
Kathleen Brandt
accurate, accessible answers

Note: I am proud to be associated with the Charlestown Veterans History Project. 


  1. Charlestown also had a huge "Old Soldiers Home" which might have skewed any statistical data. My uncle used to visit there every Christmas and Veteran's Day with his Lion's club or Legion brothers.

  2. @Heather, I'm am checking on Monday where the 5000 number comes from. The recruiting center? The project is cool if 500 or 5000, but I'm curious. Thanks for sharing about the Old Soldiers Home.