If you have ties to the Sunflower State, count yourself lucky. We’ve had three Kansas collections go live on Ancestry.com recently: Kansas, Registration Affidavits of Alien Enemies, 1917–1918; Kansas, World War I Veteran Collection, 1917–1919; and Russell County, Kansas, Vitals and Newspaper Records, 1800-1937. Though they’re relatively specific, they contain some interesting records and are well worth a look if you have ancestors who fall into their categories.
Think Patriot Act circa 1917.
When the U.S. declared war on Germany in 1917, President Wilson authorized the registration of aliens living in the United States. This included all non-naturalized German males age 14 and older, who were classified as enemy aliens. The requirement was later extended to Austro-Hungarian nationals and women as well. Questions asked on the affidavits actually differed for men and women.
While you might not appreciate the possible slight on your ancestor’s patriotism, the extensive details—which can include fingerprints and a photograph—may take some of the sting out of that “enemy” business.
Kansas, World War I Veteran Collection, 1917–1919: The Report of My Death Has Been Exaggerated
This database includes newspaper clippings, photos, service records, letters, and other documents related to Kansas veterans of World War I compiled by members of the Kansas State Historical Society. Those vets include Mark Woodford, who was mistakenly declared dead, as he explains below:
This collection is home to one of my absolute favorite finds of 2011. The database is made up of index cards with details extracted from the Russell County Record and other area newspapers. They include references to birth, marriage, and death announcements, as well as general news items, from reports of accidents to notices about who had visitors or was returning from a trip—plus, there is at least one reference to someone being hung in effigy:
How many folks can claim to have one of those in their family tree? And it even comes with a name and a date.
You may not be in Kansas anymore, but if your ancestors were once, you’ll want to give these three collections—Kansas, Registration Affidavits of Alien Enemies, 1917–1918; Kansas, World War I Veteran Collection, 1917–1919; and Russell County, Kansas, Vitals and Newspaper Records, 1800-1937—a good going over.
Wars play out on both the epic and the personal stage and leave behind both large and small stories. The four new collections from the American Jewish Historical Society (AJHS) that recently went live on Ancestry.com include two sets of war records: WWI Serviceman Questionnaires, Jews and Non-Jews, 1918–1921, and Undated, and WWII Jewish Serviceman Cards, 1942–1947. We also added Jews in Colonial America, Brazil, and Surinam (Oppenheim Collection), 1650–1850, and we’ve indexed the New York Hebrew Orphan Asylum Records, 1860–1934, to make them more accessible. I’ve spent a few hours in all four collections, and each is full of interesting facts and folks, but the stories of two soldiers in particular caught my attention.
The first was Daniel Stern. To document the service of Jewish soldiers during World War I, the American Jewish Committee’s Office of Jewish War Records sent out 16,000 questionnaires soliciting information on soldiers they believed to be Jewish. Daniel Stern sent his back.
Daniel was working as a salesman when he was drafted and entered the service in February 1918.
May saw him promoted to bugler and landing in Bordeaux.
In September, though, the war turned ugly for Daniel, who wrote: Gassed in the Argonne, Sept 2, 1918. Totally blinded for six weeks—lost speech for same length of time.
What I liked best about Daniel’s story was the ending. He spent six months in the hospital recovering and was discharged from the army a short time later. But he didn’t go straight home. The bugler stayed in France, employed by the American Red Cross as the leader of a jazz band.
Rabbi Alexander Goode’s story takes a different turn.
During WWII, the Bureau of War Records (BWR) of the National Jewish Welfare Board compiled service files on about 85,000 of the 550,000 Jewish-American service personnel. They extracted an annotated index to the files onto index cards.
The files include 3 cards for Lt. Alexander Goode, each with a different notation in the upper-right corner: “Missing” then “Death i.a.” and finally “D.S.C.” and “P.H.” for Distinguished Service Cross and Purple Heart.
On 3 February 1943, Goode was one of 900 men aboard the troop ship USAT Dorchester when it was torpedoed. As chaos broke outn, Goode was one of four chaplains who moved about the deck, praying with the wounded, calming the fearful, and handing out life jackets from the ship’s lockers. When those ran out, each of the chaplains gave his life jacket to another man. They were last seen praying together with arms linked on the deck of the Dorchester as it went down.
And those are only two of the stories—big and small—you’ll find among the new records from the AJHS.
(WWI Serviceman Questionnaires, Jews and Non-Jews, 1918–1921, and Undated; WWII Jewish Serviceman Cards, 1942–1947; Jews in Colonial America, Brazil, and Surinam (Oppenheim Collection), 1650–1850; New York Hebrew Orphan Asylum Records, 1860–1934)
This week, two databases—and 200 lives—went online as part of a special partnership between Ancestry.com and Library and Archives Canada to support the popular “Lest We Forget” educational initiative. This program helps students explore the lives of Canada’s soldiers and their sacrifices through selections from the service files of 200 veterans of the First or Second World War. Ancestry.com is making those files available online as Canada, Selected Service Records of Soldiers, 1914–1918, and Canada, Selected Service Records of War Dead, 1939–1945, to allow more students to participate in the program—and to let the rest of us remember men like Sergeant L. J. Patrick Lafleur.
In June 1940, 22-year-old Leonard James Patrick Lafleur of Montreal, Canada, worked as a fruit clerk for Steinberg’s, a retail grocery chain.
But he had bigger aspirations. Steinberg’s had promised to rehire him after his enlistment in the R.C.A.F., but Lafleur was hoping to turn his radio hobby into a career with a broadcasting company.
Lafleur stood a little under 5′ 10″, slender, with brown hair and blue eyes, and he had been only an average (71%) high school student. However, he impressed the R.C.A.F. with his “confident approach” and “upright carriage.”
The Air Force didn’t consider Lafleur officer material, but they did think he “would make an excellent Airgunner.”
By 1941, Lafleur appeared to be on his way, posted to a training depot in Toronto in the Royal Canadian Air Force Special Reserve as both an air gunner and a wireless operator. In June the next year, 1942, he made sergeant.
He was serving overseas in September when his plane took off on an anti-submarine sweep on the 12th. The aircraft made radio contact at 9:10 p.m., but afterward failed to return to base. Searchers later found a dinghy with the body of one of the crew and determined that the plane was probably “shot down in the vicinity of Land’s End.”
When I read the letter, I had to wonder if it was Sergeant Lafleur on the radio at 9:10, making his final broadcast.
Because the sacrifice is still worth remembering.