Saturday, March 3, 2012

Tracing Ship Movements and Genealogy

WWII - Carrying the Troops
When all else fails, and you don’t have enough information in military records to clearly define with which unit or company your WWII ancestor served overseas, you may be able to follow ship records by dates to narrow possible troops/regiments.

Recently I came across a veteran’s Report of Separation (often referenced as a DD214) that provided three (3) crucial bits of data of European service. Along with other vital records and service data, practically every discharge report provides the following:
1) Date of Departure
2) Date of Arrival
3) Organization at time of discharge

WWII Service
Perhaps our men were busy fighting a war and some of the field notes became a bit cryptic while warding off attacks; records did not always clearly state every man’s move during engagement. Veteran’s service personnel files and separation reports do not yield a list of the various companies served while stationed in during war-time. Even Morning reports were inconclusive with movements, transfers, and temporary assignments For example, I have one report that states “9 total limited asgmt pers asgd &atchd unasgd this orgn this date.”   Translation: 9 soldiers were unassigned from our organization and assigned to another. It’s possible those writing the reports had the same questions I had: “Which 9 men?” And, “to what other organization were they attached to?”  This exact same note was on a Morning Report dated 3 Mar, 5 March and 25 March 1945 for the 394th, Co D. I can assumed these 9 men were classified as “replacements” Or was there so much movement, that names of the detached were less important than those responsible to the 394th  Co. D “that day?” Maybe it was through these cryptic notes that the final number of men reporting to a troop were accounted for and tracked.  (Note: rosters and muster rolls for 1944 to 1946 are not available; however, you may find a few tucked away in the Morning Reports.)

Ship Record Intentionally Destroyed 1951
According to National Archives correspondence, original ship records were intentionally destroyed in 1951.  NARA as quoted on website World War II Ships:
According to our records, in 1951 the Department of the Army destroyed all passenger lists, manifests, logs of vessels and troop movement files of the United States Army Transports for World War II.  
Separation papers, however, usually state departure data for “Service Outside Continental US…” With this information you may wish to include ship movements and histories in your research in order to trace your ancestor's troop movements during the war. Be sure to visit the World War II Ships website for a chronological listing of ship departure dates in 1943.  (This is the best source I’ve seen so far for reconstructing the destroyed records.)

Once you have narrowed your troop by date of departure/arrival, then Morning Report searches of those candidates are necessary. No, it will not be easy and fast, but it may be possible to locate your soldier by name (hidden roster, medical attention, transfers, etc.) and even have a glimpse of daily activity in Europe through troop reports.

Using ship/transport records as a tool of tracing a soldiers comes with a few warnings since following “replacements and the many wartime transfers” are not an easy tasks:
  • Your ancestor may have served with various companies, troops, and organizations throughout the war, with no mention by name or service number in Morning Reports. 
  • Once soldiers reached overseas they may have been assigned to a new troop. 
Kathleen Brandt
Accurate, accessible answers

1 comment:

  1. Really good information! Although my father never made it out of the US during WWII, my uncle did. Thanks for the link to the World War II Ships website.