I have been talking about and sharing a lot of resources on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter the last week that encourage WWII researchers to think outside the box for research. Move beyond the usual sites to help you dig deep and find resources you didn’t know existed (mostly because no one every told you to look!)
Let’s explore what may be available in university archive special collection using an example from the University at Illinois – Urbana-Champaign Student Life and Cultural Archives
- Letters, V-mail, cards, and postcards
- Photographs of men who attended the university prior to, during, or after the war.
- Schoolwork and grades
- Memoirs written after the war about their experiences.
- Notes from books a service member wrote about the war.
- Military documents
- Programs from events
- Film footage
- Sound bytes
- Photo albums
- Fraternity and other clubs and social group records and photos
- Publications from university and groups
- Military training and program information. Many universities trained service personnel on campuses across the country and have records in their archives.
What can you learn about a soldier’s life from these items?
- Vital statistics – birth, marriage, and death data.
- Family information – parents, siblings, spouses, children. This may lead you to finding living family members.
- If a family member donated records the soldier recorded and shipped home, you might get to hear your soldier’s voice. One client I worked with last year sent me recordings of his dad’s records. His dad died during the war. It was incredibly emotional to sit and look at his photographs and listen to his voice all these years later.
- Information about their life prior to the war, while they attended school, and after the war.
- Read original and possibly unpublished manuscripts about their wartime experience.
- Find photographs to put a face with a name.
- Put your soldier into historical context by understanding what his life was like at the university or town where he lived. Soldiers are more than a photograph and short summary of their service. They had a life before (but not always after) the war.
What exciting things have you discovered using University Archival Collections? Please share with us in the comments.
Learn more about how I can help you research your WWII soldier, sailor, or Marine through my research services.
© 2016 World War II Research and Writing Center
Marie-Antoine Philippe says
How is it possible to get the photo of an American soldier killed during WWII. I have adopted the grave of one of them who is bured in Belgium and I would lie to lear more about him. His name is Fred W. Phillippe from Detroit.
Jennifer Holik says
There are many articles under EDUCATION on my website you can read that provide a lot of places to look for photographs. You can also get a copy of my book “Faces of War: Researching Your Adopted Soldier” from a Dutch foundation, which also has information. https://www.svaao.nl/shop/index.php?id_product=25&controller=product&id_lang=1