National Archives

After Action Reports

On 26 March 1945, at 0200 hours, the 89th Infantry Division began crossing the Rhine on its march eastward. Imagine the coordination between the divisions, brigades, battalions, batteries to make this happen. As the crossing began, the 914th Field Artillery Battalion provided support to the 355th Infantry Regiment. The crossings were made near St. Goar and Oberwesel. My great uncle Irwin Carl, a corporal in the 914th Field Artillery Battalion, was there. He was one of 88 men in Battery C, positioned 1500 yards east of Niederburg. 12th Army map web[1]

How do I have such detail, down to his exact position? After Action Reports.[2]

After Action Reports typically comprise a narrative, plus S-3 and S-2 Reports and a Unit Journal. The “S” stands for “Staff.” The “3” refers to “Operations,” and the “2” to “Intelligence.” The After Action report is a high-level narrative, written in the weeks after events. It does not give names. For the 914th Field Artillery Battalion, the 10 – 31 March 1945 report was submitted on 1 April 1945.

Reading through the After Action report for 24 – 29 March provides much detail on the Battalion, and each Battery within the Battalion. It details the locations, and exact timing of movements of troops – even the type and amount of ammunition expended.

From reading the primary source material, I know that the Rhine crossing took days – the 914th Field Artillery Battalion, Battery C started crossing at 0130 hours on 28 March 1945 – 48 hours after the first troops headed across – and they finished at 0400 hours on 28 March 1945.

Primary source materials, and drilling down into the details, tells the soldiers’ stories. These documents helped inform this blog post:

914 FA Bn After Action Rpt WWII cropped web    914 FA Bn After Action S3 Rpt WWII cropped web

914 FA Bn After Action Rpt WWII Unit Journal web

Many thanks to Eric S. Van Slander, Archivist at National Archives, College Park, for his assistance locating a mislabeled box, without which this research would not be possible. See also:

Next in the series… Liberation of Ohrdruf

[1] Allied Forces. Army Group, 1. E. S. & United States Army. Army Group, 1. H. (1944) HQ Twelfth Army Group situation map: Battle of the Bulge–France, Belgium, Netherlands, and Germany. 26 March 1945. [England?: Twelfth Army Group, to 1945] [Map] Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/2001628569/, 26 March 2020.

[2] After Action reports are located in Record Group 407: Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, 1905 – 1981, World War II Operations Reports, 1940 – 1948. The 914th FA Bn: Entry (NM3) 427, File 389 – FA(914) – 0.3.

Bottle Recycling

Today, 16 January 2020, marks the 100th anniversary of the start of Prohibition, a 13-year experiment in honing the skills of bathtub brewers, bootleggers, counterfeiters, and illicit supply chains.

Max-on-right-bottle-wagon~1920s edited

A year after its ratification, the 18th Amendment went into force. It changed the trajectory of the Carl family business, bottle recycling. Bottle recycling was a good gig in St. Louis. The city was full of breweries and other businesses that relied on glass bottles. Wagons collected the empty bottles, which were sorted in a warehouse, and then sold back to the manufacturers. The Carl’s were green way before it was cool.

Prohibition took a big bite out of the bottle recycling business, so the family added distribution of “intoxicating liquors” to the portfolio, eventually leading to a stay in Leavenworth for one of the brothers, and a family rift that never fully healed.

Researching this part of my family history involved newspapers, St. Louis Police Archives, records of the FBI, records of the U.S. Circuit Court for the Eastern Division of the Eastern District of Missouri, and Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary, the latter two record sets via the National Archives in Kansas City.

Image: Carl Bottle Company horse-drawn wagon. Date unknown, likely late 19teens, early 1920s. Max Carl on the far right.

Records, Not Revenue

In a past career life, I coordinated diverse groups of non-profits and ran advocacy campaigns, harnessing their collective voice for positive change. When I departed the political sphere, I never thought that I’d return to those roots in order to help keep historical records accessible.

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Genealogy Program, keeper of some of the most essential records on 20th century immigrants, has proposed a 492 percent increase in the fees required to search their index and obtain historical records held under their purview. Many of these records should already be publicly accessible. USCIS is essentially holding them hostage, demanding individuals pay exorbitant fees to access documents of our immigrant ancestors.USCIS Genealogy Program Fee Hikes final v4

If approved, fees to access records will start at $240 and could cost up to $625 for a single file.  The fees are even more inexplicable when USCIS refers the majority of genealogy record requests to their Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) program for processing.  If these requests are FOIA requests, researchers should not be paying any fees other than standard FOIA fees.

Everyone should care about the issues involved, even if your research does not include these records. What can be done to one type of records can be done to others. You do not need to be a US resident nor citizen to submit a public comment. Any interested party can make their voice heard.

You can make a difference. Make your voice heard in 3 easy steps:

Step 1: Review the proposed rule here, and jump to the Genealogy Program section here. There’s a summary available at RecordsNotRevenue.com

Step 2: Write your comments, addressing the issues listed here or any issue you think is important. Be sure to mention the Genealogy Program. See these conversation starters for thoughts on how to begin. 

Step 3: Send your comments BEFORE 30 DECEMBER 2019 to

    • Federal Rulemaking Portal and refer to DHS Docket No. USCIS-2019-0010 and follow instructions for submitting comments on the Genealogy Program; and
    • Send a copy of your comments to your US Senators and Representative, and refer to DHS Docket No. USCIS-2019-0010. Tell them you care about preserving access to federal records!

Sign up to stay informed on this effort and learn more at RecordsNotRevenue.com

Amplify your voice! Please share this with genealogical societies, historical societies, and every family historian and researcher you know!

Sold for the Benefit of the Captors, redux

Back in February, I wrote Sold for the Benefit of the Captors, so the recent post on the National Archives Rediscovering Black History: Blogs Relating to the African-American Experience site might have seemed familiar to some. Let’s unofficially call it Sold for the Benefit of the Captors, redux.

I’ve had a chance to do some additional research on the document, and I’ve made some revised conclusions, along with developing a long list of questions. Take a look at the new version. I am really honored and excited to share the research process with posts for the National Archives. Get ready for an interesting, challenging exploration of the treatment of black prisoners during the War of 1812.

Sold for the Benefit of the Captors

Surely many researchers dream of finding an unknown draft of a speech written by Abraham Lincoln; the doodles of JFK; the Ark of the Covenant; or whatever the movie National Treasure had thought was hidden somewhere in the vaults of the National Archives. The reality is that every archival file holds a hidden gem, for that information might be the key to solving a family’s mystery, or explaining their history. Sometimes, though, a document might be a bit more than a hidden gem. Let me explain.

I’ve been researching British sailors captured from the merchant vessel Dolphin and held as prisoners during the War of 1812, on behalf of Bruce Murduck, a genealogist in Canada. I’ve spent a bit of time reviewing the Registers of British Prisoners of War 1812-15.* The registers are a bit of a bear. They are mostly in alphabetical order, but only by the first letter of the surname. The entries are not in date order, and there are entries also placed in an appendix, plus a continuation of the appendix as entries for some letters in volume two. Looking for a man’s name means checking through many handwritten lines, and to be thorough, reviewing nearly every page in both volumes. At the back of volume one, I came across a most curious, unbound, folded piece of a paper.

Copied at the National Archives, Washington DC

Copied at the National Archives, Washington DC

“Preserve these sheets they may be wanted,” signed by J Beerce, and then lower down on the page, and upside down, “List of Slaves not Entd in General List.”

I unfolded the paper, and a list of 47 men appeared, some marked as slave, and some marked Negro. There are eight columns on the page, untitled, but they seem to follow the pattern elsewhere in the register: name, description of person, vessel on which they were captured, vessel by which they were captured, date of capture, where captured, where they were held, and finally, the date of what happened to them next, and what happened.

For example, James Baptiste, Seaman of the Sloop Searcher, captured by the Schooner Rapid in June 1813 off the coast of Belize. Taken to New Orleans and on 29 July 1813, “Sold for the Benefit of the Captors.” Seven men were sold on 29 July 1813 in New Orleans: James Baptiste, Thomas Clarke, Bristol Clarke, Sharper Forbes, Ranter Forbes, Thomas Forbes and Prince William Henry.

Copied at the National Archives, Washington DC

Copied at the National Archives, Washington DC

“Sold for the Benefit of the Captors:” that would be to benefit the war effort, to benefit the United States. The fate of others was “Sold by Order of the District Court.” Some died. And for some men, the information is blank, unknown.

But these men are not unknown. This document, a folded piece of paper that nearly 200 years ago a J Beerce suggested be saved, offers a genealogist, an historian, an archivist the opportunity to make these men known.

Will you help me tell their story?

Certainly I’m not the first person to see this document, nor the first to write about it. But I do not think it is well known. I’ve brought this document to the attention of several archivists at the National Archives, and it was received with much interest. I can’t fit the entire list, or a high-resolution copy of it on this blog, but I would be happy to share. Just contact me. All I ask is that you keep me posted on your research and discoveries, and share your results.

*Registers of British Prisoners of War, 1812-1815, 2 Volumes. Record Group 45: Naval Records Collection of the Office of Naval Records and Library, 1691 – 1945. National Archives Building, Washington, DC.

Researching World War II Service: Beware the Unknown Unknowns

Irv Carl in WWII uniformMy great uncle Irwin “Irv” Carl served in the Army during World War II but that’s about all any family members knew. My search began with his enlistment data, and then I found a copy of his Application for a Headstone or Marker for a Military Veteran. That application matched the enlistment data, plus gave me a lot of new information. On most applications, you will find:

• Enlistment date
• Discharge date
• Service number
• Grade (rank)
• Medals
• Branch of Service, Company, Regiment and Division.

While these two documents were useful, I wanted to try and learn more, and placed a request for Irv’s military service record.

The service record request signaled challenges ahead: the 1973 fire at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis destroyed approximately 16-18 million Official Military Personnel Files, and 80 percent of Army records for personnel discharged between 1912 -1960. I was not surprised when I received a letter explaining that there were no records available for Irv, other than his final payment document. Something is always better than nothing!

The final payment roll confirmed the company, regiment and division. Or so I thought. I started to put together a report on Irv’s war experience based on the headstone application and final payment document, both of which placed him in “Headquarters Battery, 8th Infantry Division Artillery.” The 8th Infantry’s members wore a shoulder patch featuring an upward pointing gold arrow piercing a silver figure “8,” all on a blue shield.

I looked at dates, maps and locations, plotting where Irv might have gone or seen action. But then I received a box of photos from a relative. In that box were photos Irv had taken while in training and then in the European Theatre of Operations. A few images had information written on the back, some had identifiable landmarks, and others showed enough of Irv’s shoulder patch that the questions started.

If Irv was a member of the 8th Infantry Division, what was he doing wearing a patch for the 89th Infantry Division? The 89th Infantry Division patch is a distinct, stylized “W” inside a circle, black on khaki, nothing like the gold arrow of the 8th. There was no mixing up the two. Was he really a member of the 89th? If so, it would explain a few things: photos of Irv training in Colorado (the 89th trained at Camp Carson, Colorado), and some of the locations the 89th fought in Germany matched place names on the photos.

Why did the US military have the “wrong” information for the final payment roll and the headstone application? Actually, the information obtained in the two documents was accurate because at the end of World War II, Irv was briefly part of the 8th Infantry Division. Here’s why: when the war was over, the U.S. military in Europe needed to relocate more than 3 million service members, and get them back to a separation center close to the soldier’s final destination. It was a giant logistics puzzle. Attaching Irv to the 8th Infantry Division got him to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, a separation center about 130 miles southwest of St. Louis, Missouri.

Irv Carl with 89th Inf Div Patch

Irv Carl with 89th Inf Div Patch

Without the photos of Irv, and examining the shoulder patch, I would have identified his WWII service incorrectly. But at the same time, I would have been working with the documents and the evidence available to me. When researching the veteran in your family, beware the unknown unknowns.

On this Veteran’s Day, I’m doubling down on my effort to identify any of the people in the photos my great-uncle took, as well as share the photos in the collection of the Signal Corps at the National Archives. Follow this link and take a look.

There are more photos from the National Archives to scan and add to the collection, and the next step for the family photos is to geo-locate them. I also need to start digging through World War II Operations Reports to see if I can determine the company and regiment to which Irv was attached. Much more research ahead!

Going to NIGR, not Niger

Street in Naimey, Niger

Not the corner of Pennsylvania and 7th Sts NW

Things are confusing in our household at the moment. One of us is traveling in Niger for work, and the other is attending the National Institute on Genealogical Research, known by its acronym, NIGR. The Nigeriens (not to be confused with Nigerians, from Nigeria) prefer a French pronunciation of the country name, something along the lines of “nee-ZHER,” while the Institute goes by “NYE-jur.”

Now that I’ve cleared up pronunciation, the more important information is, what is NIGR? NIGR is an intensive program offering a series of lectures plus on-site examination of federal records at the National Archives.

The syllabus includes: court martial records, pensions and other military records; public and private land claims; the Freedmen’s Bureau and Southern Claims Commission; American Indian research; using photographs and maps for genealogy; a lecture on documents relating to pirates and privateers; plus sessions in the Library of Congress, the Daughters of the American Revolution Library and with the US Customs and Immigration Service.

Whew. It’s going to be a brain-bursting week. I can’t wait.