I observe a lot of WWII conversations on Facebook, mostly in groups where people are asking for information on American WWII soldiers, sailors, and Marines. I observe several people replying with the same old free database links that everyone knows about, that will help you start your research but not take you deep enough into what you really want to know. How do we move from the same old links to something new and helpful?
First, understand that in America, unlike some countries in Europe, our WWII records are not in one archive within a state or the country. They are scattered throughout our National Archives branches across the country, Library of Congress, University library special collections, State libraries/archives/historical societies, local libraries/archives/historical societies, genealogical societies, WWII reunion groups or associations, Presidential Libraries, and many other locations.
Related to this is that the Official Military Personnel Files (OMPF) or service files are not digitized and online. This is one file you do want to help you piece together your soldier’s story. The Individual Deceased Personnel Files (IDPF) or death files are not online. Read more about records and access.
Second, most of our records are not digitized. Many archives, libraries, and organizations are working toward this end, but we are far from accomplishing this.
To really dig into the history of your soldier’s life, whether he is a family member or someone whose grave you adopted in Europe at an ABMC cemetery, you must dig into paper records at the various repositories. How can you do this if you live far away?
- Hire a researcher who lives in that locale to visit the archive and research for you. If the researcher has a website (recommended), then see if people have endorsed their research skills. Review the website to make sure they know what they are talking about and have the kind of research experience you are looking for.
Often, repositories have researcher for hire lists on their websites. Beware! Most repositories do not vet the people who want to be on those lists so you take your chances when hiring those people. Contacting genealogical societies is often a good idea because the board members can refer you to the researcher in their group they know can do the work you need.
- Search the finding aids and collection guides to discover all the available resources.
- Explore the access to records section of the archive’s website.
- Can you visit in person, hire a researcher, send an email or letter asking for research to be conducted?
- What are the fees associated with this?
- How long does it usually take to receive a response?
- Look in unexpected places! Contact the smaller museums, repositories, libraries, organizations that have almost nothing on their website. These repositories often have records that are not listed online or not digitized, but available. Smaller repositories often do not have the funding to accomplish what larger facilities can. A couple of years ago I volunteered at a local Italian American Veterans Museum. They had no funds and almost nothing on the website. But in the closet – boxes of Chicago related Italian American WWII files, photographs, documents, uniforms, and more. Sometimes you have to inquire. You might be surprised what you find.
Finally, for the more experienced researcher who has a better idea of what specific information they seek, talk to other researchers to find out where the really good stuff is hiding.
To help you start your journey into unexpected repositories, please visit my State Specific WWII Resource pages. If you know of a repository that should be on this list (which is a work in progress and will never be complete), feel free to comment and share the link.
Learn more about how I can help you research your WWII soldier, sailor, or Marine through my research services.
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