Last week at the Federation of Genealogical Societies Conference, I met Maureen Taylor, The Photo Detective. If you are involved in the American genealogy community, you know who she is. If you are a WWII researcher in Europe, then you probably have no idea who she is. But you should! Maureen has incredible skills identifying photographs. Please visit her website and see what grabs you. I’m sure you’ll learn a lot.
Maureen shared with me two of her WWII posts, in which she asks for help identifying a couple of women. You can read them both here. I’m hoping some of the people who read my website and focus on WWII, can help her.
Reading her posts today inspired me to write this post and explain how I identified and told the story of an album full of unidentified WWII (?) photographs. If you have heard my “Stories of the Lost” program, I explain how I was giving a big bag of stuff when I was researching my cousin James Privoznik’s WWII service. In that bag was a photo album of seemingly WWII-era photos, all unidentified. The photos in this article are all from that album.
How did I do this? How did I identify the photos and tell James’ story?
The photos look like James is in some sort of an Army uniform. In some photos he is on KP duty, peeling potatoes. In others, he’s doing work.
The buildings do not necessarily look like barracks used during the war, but there is uniformity which made me believe he was somewhere in an Army-created environment.
I knew James had trained at Camp Butner, NC because I had a longyard photo of his unit. Christmas Eve 2013, I discovered Camp Butner had created the Camp Butner Society. I contacted the Society to ask if someone would look at some of the photos and tell me if they were taken at Camp Butner. The answer was, No. The photos were not taken there. The environment was too mountainous.
I contacted my colleague Paul Grasmehr at the Pritzker Military Museum and Library in Chicago, where I visit often, to research. Paul knows everything and everyone it seems. He is almost always able to give me an answer to any question I ask.
Paul told me it looked like a Civilian Conservation Corps Camp. The Army used these camps after the CCC shut down its program, to train soldiers during the war. He said he’d pull a book for me on my next visit. So in January 2014, I sat in the library looking at all these photos from James’ album, plus the CCC book, and the CCC website. I went back and forth trying to make sense of what I was seeing. Thankfully James was helping me out because he pushed me to take another look at his Army photo in uniform.
Guess what I noticed!
James looks younger in the unidentified photos than he does in his Army uniform photo. So what does that possibly mean? James wasn’t training at a CCC Camp during WWII – he worked for the CCC prior to the war!
Well, I got very excited and ran to find Paul and Teri, both staff members at the library and tell them what I thought! It was possible! And those records for the CCC are at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis! I called my researcher on-site there and asked him to put in a request. They are supposed to search those records by Social Security Number and Name. I gave all that information plus more and off we went.
A month later, my researcher told me there were no CCC records for James. Ummmmm what? No. I was not wrong about this. I knew without a doubt there were records. So I asked him to spell James’ last name PRIVOZNIK rather than PROVOZNIK and search again. Within two hours I had 12 pages of CCC records placing James in their employment the end of 1939 in Washington State!
The moral of the story…….NEVER give up on trying to identify your photos. There is someone somewhere who knows the answer.
For all the WWII researchers and European grave adopters who come across photos through various avenues, please don’t give up when you find photos that are not labeled. Post them on your website or blog, share them on Facebook and LinkedIn, or Instagram or other social media sharing ways. Someone has an answer for you. It might take a while, but you’ll usually get one.
Have you had success identifying unidentified WWII photos? Please share with us in the comments.
I am taking new clients at this time if you are interested in working with a researcher to pull records for any military branch. I’m also scheduling speaking appearances in Europe for 2017. Please contact me if your group is interested in a program. I have seven to choose from on my website.
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