What did you do in the war, Grandpa?
In honor of Veterans Day, today’s blog post comes from Nathan Jordan, an Archives Technician at the National Archives at Atlanta. Nathan recently presented his family’s history of military service using resources from the National Archives.
Greetings from Atlanta! Thanks for allowing me to blog in honor of Veterans Day.
When I began working as a student Archives Technician at the National Archives at Atlanta in January 2010, I quickly realized that the public craves military records – anything and everything military. I plunged into navigating the “old war” microfilm records and our military-related textual records. I learned how to obtain records from significant military collections held in Washington and St. Louis, and I discovered unconventional avenues by which patrons can uncover our Nation’s military past and the official memory of its participants.
In the spring of 2010, a staff discussion on upcoming public programs, particularly the Veterans Day Program in November, piqued my interest. I knew that my family had participated in America’s armed conflicts as far back as the Revolutionary War. Could I speak to the public’s fascination with military records, affirm my own family’s military service, and contribute to the Archives’ tribute to veterans? The answer, emerging from productive staff collaboration, was the National Archives at Atlanta’s Veterans Day 2010 Program – From Bunker Hill to Kabul: The Search for Family Stories at the National Archives.
Using my family’s history as a case study, I was able to build an exhibit displaying personal military artifacts previously seen by a limited audience of moths and mold spores in the attics and garages of my family. I also developed a presentation detailing my use of NARA’s military records to construct stories of service accompanying the exhibit.
The sources I referenced for two of my ancestors in the Revolutionary War were the standard microfilm records now available on footnote.com (M860, M881, M804). They corroborated the stories that I had heard and presented paths for continued research. These records were especially meaningful because no family artifacts from that time remain. Wartime experiences common to so many veterans are represented: promotions, pay stubs, movement from camp to camp, and capture by the British. Pension files revealed additional genealogical information, as most do, via wills and the naming of heirs.
The records of the Creek War were not as forthcoming, with only an index available on microfilm (M629). This, however, produced an index card with my ancestor’s name and unit information. Another ancestor’s widow completed a pension application, the card for which I found on microfilm (T318). This offered an opportunity for me to present the practice of ordering such records online.
The most compelling story I found, created from complementary family and NARA records, was that of Fleming Jordan, my great-great-grandfather’s older brother. Using Fleming’s compiled service records (M266), I corroborated the story I had been told: Fleming enlisted in the 4th Georgia Infantry, was wounded and captured in Jubal Early’s raid on Washington in July 1864 (M598), later succumbed to his wounds, and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery. Another ancestor was captured at Spotsylvania Courthouse, died of typhoid fever at Camp Delaware, and is buried at Finn’s Point Cemetery in New Jersey (M918). Aside from the obvious stories of tragedy and loss conveyed in these records, there are applicable lessons on the successful collaboration of NARA records with family artifacts.
Two of my great-grandfathers served in World War One, so this gave me the opportunity to exploit our own Record Group 163 holdings to discover both of their draft cards and other information.
Also in RG 163 I found the local board draft order for Jim Nat Walker, which provided an important piece of information: the location of his reporting station as Camp Gordon in Chamblee, Georgia.
This information was important because knowing the location of Jim Nat’s reporting station/basic training post provided clues to his unit of service during the war using old newspapers on footnote.com and other sources.
Using the The Atlanta Journal from January 4, 1918, I determined that Jim Nat Walker served in Company M, 328 Infantry, 82nd Division. From there, I researched this outfit’s wartime service in unit history books and newspapers.
My grandfather, E. Glover Jordan, Jr., served in the Navy in World War II and his military service records are held at the Military Personnel Records Center in St. Louis. Since I am not the next-of-kin, I used the SF 180 to request his records, and received some unexpected surprises. Along with his enlistment records, there were civilian artifacts, including his college transcript and a list of references that included some employment history – excellent references for genealogists and family historians.
My great-uncle Phil Jordan also served in the Navy in World War II. He shared Navy Deck Logs that he ordered years ago from the USS Chevalier with me, though he didn’t remember from where he had ordered them. Ironically, I stumbled across a post on the NARAtions blog from July 2010 describing these logs. I included the ordering procedure to obtain them in my presentation.
Finally, my family’s military service in our nation’s armed conflicts concluded – for now, at least – with my own deployment to Afghanistan in 2006-2007. Will my great-great-grandchildren be curious about our own historical context? Perhaps they will tell my stories and participate in this fascinating endeavor themselves.
Good luck in your search and Happy Veterans Day!
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