Sunday, December 23, 2012

Ancestor Research in War Department Papers

Central Decimal Correspondence Files,1940-1945
One of the best treasures held at the National Archives and Records Administrations’ (NARA) is the War Department Correspondence Files. Military, historical, and family researchers may find correspondence from ancestors, written accounts detailing veteran ancestor’s medical discharge, as well as personal letters, telegraphs, and notes regarding political and civil theoretical postulations. Citizens’ correspondence is also saved in these files. 

Where to Find War Time Correspondence?
Beginning in 1914 collections of correspondence have officially been filed and systematically classified according to the War Department Decimal File System. The textural records are held at NARA II, College Park, MD.

Although correspondence is filed much earlier, one of the best collections is for the WWII era, Central Decimal Correspondence Files, 1940-1945. 
The series consists of letters, memorandums, and other administrative documents that relate to activities of the War Department during World War II. The records were maintained by the Adjutant General's Office. Included in the decimal files subseries are records pertaining to organizational data filed under the following file designations: 020 (organization of major Army branches); 320.2 (personnel strengths of specific commands and units); 320.3 (authorized tables of organization); 322  [companies and field hospitals] (activation, composition, and operational histories of specific commands and units); 370.5 (unit transfers and movements); and 400.34 (tables of authorized equipment allowances for units). Personnel information for select individual servicemen is scattered throughout the files, including general information, under file designation 095 and information about awards of decorations and medals (file 200.6), discharges and separations (file 220.8), American prisoners of war (POWs) (file 383.6), and determinations regarding dead and missing servicemen (file 704). The decimal files subseries also includes records pertaining to the military utilization of and racial incidents involving African Americans (file designations 291.2 and 291.21). These files also include correspondence with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and general information regarding segregation policies. Included in the project files subseries are records pertaining to the U.S.S.R. and the Philippines (filed under Foreign Countries); military aviation (filed under Aviation Schools and Flying Fields); and extensive information on officer and enlisted reserves, the National Guard, the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC), and the Women's Army Corps (WAC) (filed under Special Projects).
Other favorites are the Surgeon General – Army files, 321.01; Officers and Enlisted Men in hands of Civil Authorities, 250.3; and Summary Courts 250.414.

Looking for Details on Ancestor’s Discharge?
Genealogical - historical researchers will want to delve into the War time collection especially to gather an ancestors’ medical discharge (Section II). It is here that researchers can find correspondence between the Adjutant General and Surgeon General and military medical facility leading to a Certificate of Disability Discharge (CDD).

For the WWIII era, in order to have received a Section II discharge there would have been a hearing before a board of medical officers and a Certificate of Disability Discharge would have been issued.  The CDD would then be forwarded to the Adjutant General and a letter sent to the Surgeon General from the hospital. Often the medical event is well noted and discussed prior to the veteran’s discharge date. For Decimal Correspondence of the Adjutant General’s Office, 1917 -, be sure to also review Record Group 407.

Did Your Ancestor Write the War Department?
Myrtle Smith, abt 50 yrs old.
Wife of George Smith,
local mechanic, living on Rhode Island Street
Lawrence, KS

It is also in these Correspondence that researchers can uncover perhaps a letter penned by an ancestor making administrative or personal requests.  When Mrs. Myrtle Smith, Lawrence, KS pleaded to the War Department to halt consideration of stationing “colored trainees” between Lawrence and Topeka for the war effort Jun of 1941, it was customary for the Adjutant General to respond to alleviate her fears. This one letter from a concerned citizen generated several personal exchanges.  

Happy Holidays, and wishing Santa to leave you a gift for NARA Research.

Kathleen Brandt

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