Monday, April 30, 2012

Researching Children of War

Jewish Museum, Berlin
War Child - WWI to Vietnam
Perhaps your ancestor was a “war child”; a descendant of a WWI or WWII soldier. Or maybe you are the war-child of a Korean War of Vietnam War soldier who disappeared once the war ended.  many are dedicating their family search on US military men who fathered children overseas.  Some are seeking living relatives; others would like to know a bit more about their American family having no interest in meeting them. 

The opportunity for a serviceman to become involved with a local woman was great. Sure, some married, but many more left behind their DNA either not knowingly or not acknowledging. It was war after-all. The local women were left in men-less towns. Take Germany for example, most of the men were at war. The American soldier, likewise, was without wife or girlfriend in a war tense foreign country.  

In  recent a3Genealogy cases a WWII paramour still living, recounted the story of her West Samoan lover. This led  to locating the Ohio veteran’s family. In another tear jerker, a French war child found out her birth father died less than 6 months of commissioning a researcher. But she did connect with her new family. (Enough romanticizing for now).

Looking for Your War-Child Father
Locating the father of a war-child may be difficult but not impossible. Two parallel researches must be completed. Family folklore may provide a soldier’s name, a military base, maybe even a job position that will lead the researcher to a regiment/company. But the unsuspecting family will need a lot more proof. Expect, at minimum, a DNA test. Matter fact, we usually have DNA test results in hand, as it is often the key tool to locating family. Coupled with proper genealogical research, a DNA test may help uncover siblings, cousins, and extended family.

Research the Child. Begin with the birth and place of the child. Are there any salvaged photos of the mother and soldier? This is a case where a picture speaks louder than words. A photo will bring a relationship to life.  Know that matching photos on both sides of the water help.

Were any gifts or mementos left behind? What happened to the mother after the father left? Was the father of the child given to any authority? This occurred often in Germany providing further proof closer to the event. Can others vouch for the family story? In one case a younger cousin was able to identify the WWII soldier in the photo since she too often went to the military base and knew him.

Research the Veteran. Define the veteran’s military timeline. Through these details, you may also ascertain the probability of him fathering a child. Was he in the right place at the right time? It may be important to follow his company movement. Through analysis of this detailed timeline it may be possible to determine if the father even had knowledge of the child. When did the father leave the post?

Cultural Ramifications
The exact number of war children left behind is unknown. It is important to understand that there was enough shame to pass around. The women often were tormented, disowned by family, and even officially stripped of their country’s citizenship when a relationship was known. To avoid such ridicule, the father of the child was kept a secret. Visit The Human Problem: The High Cost of War Paid by Women for more information.

Maria Hohn tells us in GIs and Fräuleins, that 66,000 German children were born to soldiers of Allied forces in the period 1945–55.  Over half, 36,334, had American fathers. The number of war children continued to rise 10 years after the war.

Asian war children born of American soldiers garnered a new word of classification. Amerasian are persons born in Asia, to a U.S. military father. Several Asian countries - Japan, Thailand and So Korea, as well as islands in the Pacific Ocean - have significant populations of Amerasians.

Of course Western Samoa and the Philippines have notable populations of Amerasians.  In the Philippines the Pearl S. Buck International foundation estimates 52,000 Amerasians.  In the small region of Upolu , Western Samoa, it is suggested that over 1200 children were fathered by American soldiers (Stanner 1953, pg. 327).

Kathleen Brandt
Genealogist and Licensed Private Investigator

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Dating Your Centenarian - Ancestor's Real Age

How Old Was She?

As genealogists we come across our fair share of centenarians in documentation or from family folklore. Ancestors often were uncertain of their age. Ages varied from one to twenty years, or more if the person was well preserved. And usually when they were eligible for social security they struggled to prove their true age after years of “I don't quite remember” or their typical response to age: “about xxx years old.” Age was often guessed based on national events, or a family memory: “right before/after the war,” “I had the baby when I was about 17 and the baby is now about 12,” “President Cleveland was in office.”

Every once in a while the family of the Centenarian* supported their folklore through a family bible, or an official document, but it wasn't always clear how age was verified before the social security days. For Mary E. Strader (in the newspaper article above) her school records were used to establish her birth year as 1866. This was proof enough for social security eligibility, and her becoming a Centenarian. For more about Mary E. Strader: and

Mary E. Strader’s letter from the President of the U.S.A. has long been misplaced, but the article above is still a precious family memory. Plus, although the signed letter was cherished by all, it is said that a signed Centenarian Presidential congratulation was less about proving longevity and age, and more of a celebration of life experiences.

If you or your family member would like a signed Centenarian congratulation note from a President, send a request two months in advance to:
The White House
Attn: Greetings Office
Washington, D.C. 20502-0039
Or fax to: 202-395-1232

Be sure to include the complete name as you wish it to appear (Mr., Mrs., Dr., etc), home address, exact birthday, age, and telephone number.

If you have a Centenarian in your family, you may also wish to visit Live to 100 and Beyond, National Centenarian Awareness Project, a blog dedicated to centenarians as role models:

* Centenarian is purposely capitalized to show proper respect to the persons who have achieved.

Kathleen Brandt
Accurate, Accessible Answers

Reprint of original post Centenarian Presidential Greeting, Celebrating One Hundred;  18 Feb 2010; a3Genealogy

Friday, April 6, 2012

Tracing a Convoy

Edmund P. Alexander - Transport
Tips to Widening Your WWII Search
If you’ve ever tried to identify your WWII veteran’s transport to Europe, Africa or Iceland (etc.)  you know the difficulties of dissecting the large convoys carrying thousands of men and women to their destination. As soon as I hear “convoy” I cringe. The Edmund P. Alexander, a ship originally made for 1000 passengers, carried up to 5000 military personnel in any of its multiple WWII runs.  At some point the convoys divided and took various routes to European and African destinations. Where do you begin with defining your WWII veteran’s destination?  

Start with the Departure Date
To best define your ancestor’s crossings, start with the departure date. This departure date may be found on discharge papers, or in unit Morning Reports. The goal is to uncover as much activity as possible. That’s Step I.  Matching timelines of your ancestor’s military activity and troop activity would be the second step.

As mentioned, researchers may find departure dates on your veteran’s discharge papers, commonly known as DD214. Using this process, I was able to narrow my veteran as having been a part of the transport ship Edmund P. Alexander. It was the only ship that left on the departure date specified on his DD214. By tracing this ship, I was able to confirm that my veteran indeed served in Iceland.  There are various websites dedicated to ship departure dates.

Tracing the Edmund P. Alexander
The Edmund P. Alexander saw a lot of activity during WWII.  So the first key is to gather information, and later you can narrow by dates and activities.

Use Obituaries for Clues.  Obituaries give us clues of ship events and passenger experiences. Of course you must verify the right passage and timeline, but here’s an example of what can be retrieved from an obituary.
She departed New York in a convoy aboard the Army transport Edmund P. Alexander. Three days later, the ship lost a boiler, which forced it to drop out of the convoy. It limped into Oran in North Africa in early March."For the first two nights, they slept on the Ground at Goat Hill, a barren hill where they set up tents," Mrs. Laun told a daughter, E. Louise Laun Duncan, of Columbia, who wrote an unpublished account of her wartime experiences.They remained at Goat Hill for three weeks. (Baltimore Sun:
Read Message Boards. I’m not a fan of message boards. But I find them to proffer clues when casting a wide net for your initial research phase. Here’s an example of a message board post giving clues of the ship activity and timeline:
USAT Edmund B. AlexanderLooking for any one on board September 6, 1946, when ship was rocked by explosion off Bremerhaven, Germany.
Did my ancestor's unit experience this explosion? Must check this date on the Morning Report.

Locating Passenger Biographies
As I mentioned, I’ve cast a large net in order to identify my veteran’s European transport. So even unrelated biographies that detail experiences are useful.  The Experiences of Lieutenant Dorothy M. Taft during WWII, from the Battle of the Bulge Memories, provides detailed information on the Edmund B. Alexander. Again, I will have to verify timelines and activities to that of my veteran before accepting, but this description may play a vital role in our research.
On December 21, 1943 the unit was moved to Camp Miles Standish. On December 28, 1943 the Hospital embarked on the ”Edmund B. Alexander” transport ship anchored in Boston Harbor.  The ship departed on December 29, 1943 to arrive in Liverpool England on January 8, 1944.

Read more at Those who Served: Army nurse from Oxford tended wounded from Battle of the Bulge.

Of course with the gathering of historical data and facts - ship records of the Edumund B. Alexander, timeline of Unit activities, etc. - these basic resources, may provide just the hint you need to further your research. 

Kathleen Brandt
accurate, accessible, answers

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Don’t Research the 1940 Census in a Vacuum

Knowing the Decade of 1930 - 1940
In case you’ve lived under a rock in 2012, you probably already know that the 1940 census will be released 2 April and that it will help many of us move our family research out of the abyss.  To understand the magnitude of this new release, be sure to become familiar with the era.  Between 1930 and 1940 the historical and social timelines of America painted many changes in rural and urban family life.  Surprising to some, more occurred than Amelia Earhart’s noted solo fly across the Atlantic Ocean (1932).  Keeping your research in perspective, may assist you in locating and researching your ancestor.

This decade launched the computer age. It was in 1930 that Massachusetts Institute of Technology, (MIT) invented the forerunner of the world wide web - the first analog computer (Vannevar Bush).  Was your ancestor involved or part of this revolutionary invention?

Many may remember the historical event of the Star Spangled Banner being approved as the national anthem in 1931, even if the end of War of 1812 that inspired the lyrics, is forgotten.

Perhaps your veteran ancestor was one of the fifteen to twenty-five  thousand WWI veterans who camped near the White House in 1932 to pass the “Bonus Bill” pay.

In 1933 the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC was established). By 1935 over 500,000 men served by constructing national parks and other Federal projects. This was also the year  the year the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) was established.

Unrelated (I’m assuming), Prohibition was repealed (21st Amendment to Constitution) .  The depression was underway, and Mother Nature was not helping. In 1934 the Great Plains’ dust bowl encouraging movement to California and other western states. 

Interestingly enough, most US citizens aren’t aware that at one time Philippines was a US territory. But in 1934 US Philippine residents were no longer classified as American citizens, but reclassified to “aliens” via the Tydings - McDuffie Act. Was your Filipino ancestor affected by this change?

Where Was Your Ancestor in 1935?
One of the questions on the 1940 census: “Where were you in 1935? This migratory clue coupled with a bit of history may assist the family researcher.

I suggest that 1935 was the year of art revitalization.  The Works Progress Administration (WPA) [Works Project Administration, 1939] brought us more than beautiful architecture; it helped create an awareness of the arts.  Through the WPA project 3.4 million ancestors were filled over 8 million jobs between 1935 - 1943.  Many of these records may be found at the National Archives Records of the Works Projects Administration.

African American culture played a vital role in this art awareness period.   In New York, in spite of the economic challenges, George Gershwin’s opera Porgy and Bess premiered. The cast featured classically trained African American singers.  The Museum of Modern Art  (MOMA) hosted an  African American art exhibit.   Many art-centric African Americans, found their way to New York for opportunities. In towns like Kansas City where the Count Basie Orchestra played at the Reno Club, small community venues sprouted across the nation and were news worthy.  

We all know that social security applications are being redacted as needed and alternatives to that genealogical tool is needed, but it’s good to know that it is still a valuable took in certain searches today. In 1935 the Social Security Act was passed. Our ancestors fulfilled obligations to meet the social security application requirements. My Great Grandmother Mary Strader (1865-1968) had no proof of her birth, but her social security eligibility was met by obtaining school records and school correspondence. 

The Martians Are Coming
Where was your ancestor 30 Oct 1938?  An excerpt of the War of the Worlds by Orson Welles was heard over the radio speakers in many homes.  This was the day that radio listeners first learned that “Martians had arrived.”

Speaking of Martians ( relation) but the Alien Registration Act registered all aliens over 14 years of age.  These genealogical rich records can be located at the National Archives.  For more information visit: Don’t Wait for the 1940 Census. 

Changes Late in the Decade
It was in 1938 that child labor became illegal, changing the face of urban workers (Fair labor Standards Acts).  This change in work force was exacerbated by the recession. 

1938 Blue Gray Reunion photo 
Perhaps your veteran was one of  1800 Civil War veterans who attended the Blue and Gray Reunion held in Gettysburg in 1938 commemorating the Battle of Gettysburg. Information may be found in veteran publications to include The History of the Grand Army of the Republic, Confederate VeteranSouthern Bivouac, and  the Journals of the GAR Grand Encampments.  

For More Information:
Remembering Last Reunion of Civil War Veterans, NPR

Kathleen Brandt
Accurate Accessible Answers