by Denise May Levenick, The Family Curator
Sometimes you don’t have a choice when it comes to finding your ancestor in old photographs. You are happy to take anything, even if it’s a tiny face in a crowd of college grads or a stern-faced soldier in the back row of long panorama. Group photos present unique challenges for the genealogist.
Snapshots are often poorly composed and people may be blurred or hidden behind others’ shoulders or heads. Amateur photographers may have had difficulty including everyone in the frame, leaving some folks cut off at the edges. Photos can also suffer from basic problems like back lighting, glare, or poor composition.
I found this 1964 snapshot in one of my grandparents’ old albums. The book had fallen apart and the some of the flip-style plastic photo pages were water damaged over the years. As I removed this picture from the album, I was intrigued by the handwritten caption along the border:
The poorly-framed color snapshot shows a group of eleven men standing in front of a leafy background. It’s a great shot of the trees. The men are cut off mid-thigh, but it doesn’t matter to me. There’s my grandfather Walter G. May, standing fourth from the left with his WWI buddies. But who are the other men? Handwritten captions in the photo album gave me a clue that Walter was stationed at Camp Funston for basic training.
Gathering Background Information
Using Google.com I searched for “314 supply train co. e 89 div” and found a list of likely candidates for the 1964 Reunion photo in a regimental history archived at the Missouri Digital Heritage website, “The Three hundred and fourteenth motor supply train in the world war: an account of the operations of the supply train of the 89th division from its organization until its demobilization, including maps and complete rosters and appendices.”
The public-domain book was available for download, and included the company roster for 89th Division Company “E.” There was my grandfather’s name, listed under Chauffeurs.
Crowdsourcing the Caption
You may have heard the advice to search your ancestor’s “F-A-Ns,” or Friends, Associates and Neighbors, an acronym coined by professional genealogist Elizabeth Shown Mills, and it’s a good plan for advancing this identification project. I am guessing that my grandfather’s closest friends might have been have also been assigned as Chauffeurs, so I plan to search online trees on Ancesstry to find others researching those names and share my scanned reunion photo.
To clearly capture the detail in each face it’s a good idea to use a higher scan resolution of 1200-2400. This makes it possible to enlarge the individual faces without losing clarity. I also like to add an identification key directly on the photo using my computer or tablet photo editing program. This makes it easy for people to respond with names and more information.
I know that I’m more likely to get feedback to my photo if I make it easy to tag faces and contact me with information. My overall plan includes:
- Scanning at high resolution to get the best quality image, and saving as a JPG to same file size.
- Adding a meaningful filename, for example: 314supply-train-reunion_1964.jpg. I also like to embed my name and email address in the metadata.
- Adding a caption area that includes an identification key with numbers for each person. I might do this in a Word document or in a photo editing program.
- Including everything I know about the photo and the people pictured.
- Sharing the photo as “bait” to find others researching the men of the 89th Division, Company E.
You can see examples and a step-by-step tutorial for adding the captions and an Identification Key at The Family Curator, Hey Soldier, What’s Your Name?
Finding Photos of Grandpa’s War
To learn more about the 314th Supply Train, I searched Fold3 for documents and photos.
Using the Browse function, I selected WWI and scrolled down to select > WWI Panoramic Unit Photos (FREE). Searching through the alphabetical list, I located a wonderful panoramic image of Camp Funston in Fort Riley, Kansas.
Browsing the image sets on Fold3 gave me a new appreciation for my grandfather’s wartime experience and some of the sights he may have witnessed. Although Walter’s Company is not included in Fold3’s images, you may find your WWI ancestor pictured with his own regiment. The large collection of company photographs reminded me to add a Fold3 Watch notice to be notified if photos of Company E are added in the future.
Grandpa in the News
Next, I turned to Newspapers.com and found several articles and an interesting map of World War I training camps that included Camp Funston in Kansas. News clippings list details about troop activities and movement.
A brief article in The Lincoln Star (Lincoln, Nebraska) on Tuesday, 9 October 1917 hints at the popular mood of the time: “To Cheer the Boys On the Way.” Walter G. May is one of seventeen Polk County men named to receive a share in the $170 gift from county residents and businesses.
In only a short time I had a better idea of Walter’s war service and many clues for future research about the regiment. The public domain images will be interesting illustrations in the photo book I’m creating as a gift for my dad. Captions, charts, maps, and a short narrative will help tell the story of Walter’s wartime experiences.
The Waiting Game
Anyone who has publicly shared a family tree as “cousin bait” knows that it may be months or even years before someone stumbles on your photo and responds with new information. I’m hoping that if I “nudge the line” occasionally with new blog posts or sharing, with a little luck and patience, I might yet identify the men of Company E who met again one June day in 1964.
About the author: Denise May Levenick is the author of How to Archive Family Photos: A Step-by-Step Guide to Organize and Share Your Photos Digitally and publisher of http://www.theFamilyCurator.com website.
Authored by Richard Coplen and originally published in the Westmeath Chronicle May 5th 2015.
The Doyles: A Mullingar family fractured by the First World War
The First World War was more destructive than any other war had ever been. It was the first genuinely global conflict, fought not just on the fields of France and Flanders, but up mountains, across deserts, at sea and in the air. Industrialization brought massive changes to warfare during the War. Newly-invented killing machines gave rise to novel defense mechanisms, which, in turn spurred the development of even deadlier technologies. When Europe‘s armies first marched to war in 1914, some were still carrying lances on horseback. By the end of the war, rapid-fire guns, aerial bombardment by aeroplanes and zeppelins, armoured tanks, sinkings by submarines and chemical weapon deployments were commonplace. Any romantic notion of warfare was bluntly shoved aside by the advent of chlorine gas, massive explosive shells that could have been fired from more than 20 miles away, and machine guns that spat out bullets like fire hoses. The First World War not only shaped the 20th Century, it also cost the lives of some 17 million people, decimating millions of families across the globe.
Exactly a century ago this week, readers of the Westmeath Examiner newspaper would have read with sympathy about one local family directly affected by two of these latest warfare inventions. Annie Doyle, 32, was a native of Mullingar, Co. Westmeath, Ireland. The daughter of Thomas Doyle and Mary Doyle (nee Duffy), she had been working in New York City as a domestic servant. Whilst returning to Ireland in May 1915, the ocean liner which Annie was travelling aboard, Cunard’s RMS Lusitania, was torpedoed without warning by the German submarine U-20. Annie was one of the 1,198 passengers and crew lost when the ship went to the bottom within twenty minutes. She also had a brother, Patrick, who was fighting on the Western Front. Within an hour of learning of his daughter’s death, Thomas Doyle also learned that his son had been admitted to army hospital, suffering from exposure to poison gas.
Anne “Annie” Doyle was born in Killaskillen, Co. Meath, on the 13th of January 1883, the daughter of Thomas and Mary Doyle (nee Duffy). Her father was a coach smith and her mother a machinist by trade. Thomas and Mary had married on the 23rd of November 1879 in Mullingar, it being Mary’s hometown. Their first-born, Patrick, was born in the town on the 10th of October 1880. Although the family resided in Mullingar, the second child, Anne, was born in Meath, her father’s home county, in 1883, suggesting that they may have been staying with relatives at the time. Life for the young Mullingar family would have been comfortable given Thomas’ prized profession. Fate, however, was to deal the Doyles a different hand. Mary Doyle passed away after a three month long illness on the 11th of December 1885 at the young age of 27. The widowed Thomas was now left on his own to rear two young motherless children – aged just five and two. It seems that he was unable to cope, for he soon passed the children into the care of his late wife’s parents, John and Anne Duffy. Thomas then left Mullingar and took up residence in Ballinasloe, Co. Galway. It was here that he married a local woman, Ellen Doyle, on 27th of September 1894. He and his second wife went on to have three children of their own – Mary, Thomas and Ellen.
Meanwhile, back in Mullingar, Patrick and Anne remained in the good care of their grandparents and, later, their uncles and aunts. A family photo, taken circa 1890, show Patrick and Anne to have been well-dressed and well-nourished children, albeit with sullen expressions. The experience of losing their mother and being left in the care of their grandparents while their father moved away to start a second family can only be imagined.
Thomas, together with his second family, moved back to Mullingar between 1897 and 1899, when his second child was born in the town. Thomas continued to provide for his second family by working as a coach smith. The children of his first marriage were now entering their late teenage years. Whether they had a fractious relationship with their father is unknown but, on the 26th of October 1900, Patrick travelled to the Curragh Camp where he signed-up as a recruit with the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, a job which would take him abroad for many years. His enlistment papers record Patrick as being 19 years and 6 months old, 5 feet 5 ½ inches tall, 122 lbs. in weight with brown hair, grey eyes and a “fresh” complexion.
Within a year he was serving with the British army in South Africa during the Boer War. During the peacetime years between 1902 and 1908, he was variably posted at British army garrisons in Malta, Cyprus and Egypt. Patrick seems to have been a spirited character for his military service records are interspersed with no less than 19 disciplinary sanctions for “drunkenness” as well as numerous others resulting from such misdemeanours as being absent without leave, neglecting his uniform and “striking his superior officer”. The service records go on to sum up his conduct and character as “Indifferent. Addicted to drink”.
Patrick returned to civilian life as a reservist between 1908 and 1912. During that time he lived in Mullingar, working as a labourer and residing at his Uncle Michael’s household on Harbour Street. His father, Thomas, continued to live with his second family just a five minute walk away, on Blackhall Street. Thomas was employed at P.J. Carey’s coach-building establishment on Harbour Street, the same street that Patrick lived on. Whether father and son were on good terms is unknown but it is likely they were for Patrick repeatedly named his father as next-of-kin in his army documents. Life in Mullingar must have been monotonous to Patrick following his years of globe-trotting, something most Irish people at that time could only dream of. He returned to active military service in April 1912.
Upon Patrick’s initial enlistment in 1900, his younger sister, Anne, appears to have followed suit in leaving Mullingar for she doesn’t appear in the town in the 1901 Census. It would appear that she moved up to Dublin along with some members of the Duffy family and whilst there, took up the position of shop assistant. She next appears on the 29th of March 1906 when she is recorded boarding the White Star Liner Baltic at Queenstown (now Cobh), Co. Cork, as a third class passenger. Together with her Mullingar cousin, Anne Duffy, she had taken the decision to seek her fortunes in the United States. On the passenger list the cousins record themselves as both being 23 years old, with Doyle’s occupation recorded as a shop assistant and Duffy recorded as a dressmaker. The Baltic’s captain on this voyage was none other than Edward John Smith, of Titanic fame.
When Baltic docked in New York City a week later, on 6th of April 1906, the girls were landed at Ellis Island for processing. The records there tell us that Anne Doyle’s last address was Dublin. Her intended address in the United States was with her aunt, Kate McEvoy, a domestic servant of the Gilford family, living at 473. Lexington Avenue, New York. Anne Doyle is recorded as having $35 in her pocket whereas her cousin, Anne Duffy, had $45. Anne Duffy’s last address is recorded as being Mullingar.
The girls were permitted entry into the United States. What happened to them after this remains a mystery. The family story is that Anne Doyle found a job working as a nurse to the children of a wealthy New York family.
Just over nine years later, Anne Doyle once again found herself boarding another ocean liner for a transatlantic crossing. She boarded this one, the Lusitania, as a third class passenger at New York’s Pier 54, on the morning of Saturday, 1st of May 1915. The pride of the Cunard Line, the Lusitania, one of the world’s largest, most luxurious and fastest ocean liners left New York bound for Liverpool. She carried 1,265 passengers and a crew of 694. But there were rumours of a far more deadly cargo – munitions needed by the British for the war against Germany. Whether Anne was returning home to visit her family or whether she was moving home to Ireland permanently is unknown. Either way, it was a journey she was never to complete.
Six days out of New York, on Friday, 7th of May, the Lusitania reached the southern coast of Ireland. Soon after lunchtime, and in sight of land, she was hit by a single torpedo fired by the German submarine U-20. Moments later another much bigger explosion rocked the vessel. The great ship listed sharply to starboard and began to sink bow first. In just over fifteen minutes she disappeared beneath the calm flat sea. 1,198 men, women and children perished with her, among them Annie Doyle. Never before in naval conflict had so many innocent lives been so cruelly ended. Overnight Britain was cast as the helpless victim of a ruthless German foe. In the United States outrage at the loss of 128 American lives helped draw the country into the war on Britain’s side. At the battlefronts of Europe tens of thousands were dying every day but the fate of the great Cunard liner overshadowed them. As Annie’s body was never recovered, she has no known grave. She was just 32 years of age.
Within an hour of hearing about the sinking, her father also learned that his son, Patrick, serving with the British Army on the Western Front, had been hospitalised having suffered grievous injuries in a poison gas attack on the 4th May. Patrick was hospitalised and granted leave until 14th of August 1915 whereupon he returned to active service. The next two years saw Patrick fighting at Gallipoli before being returned to the Western Front. The war would ultimately claim his life also. 7275 Private Patrick Doyle, 1st Battalion Royal Dublin Fusiliers, having survived the 1915 poison gas attack, died at a casualty clearing station near Dozinghem, Belgium, of shrapnel wounds to his right thigh and right forearm on the 4th of October 1917. He was 36 years of age and just six days short of his 37th birthday. He was subsequently interred in Dozinghem Military Cemetery.
Patrick’s personal effects, returned to his father in January 1918, were found to consist of letters, a religious book, a belt, scissors, rosary beads, a knife, religious badges and a cotton bag – a few simple sentimental items and all that Thomas would have to remember his son by. With Anne lost at sea and Patrick buried in war-torn Belgium, Thomas didn’t even have the opportunity to pay his respects at his two eldest childrens’ gravesides. Thus ended the lives of two young and tragic siblings, victims of a global conflict which was unprecedented in its barbarity and destruction.
Richard Coplen is a History teacher, WWI researcher and expert in all things nautical. This article was researched in large part using collections available on Ancestry.
One of the best things about family history is that it is constantly taking you to new places and times. Even if your ancestors stayed put for generations, the places where they lived changed and evolved through the years.
Knowing your ancestor’s surroundings can be critical to your research in terms of locating new records. Where would the family most likely have done business? Worshipped? Or perhaps relocated? Transportation routes and the environment may have impacted those decisions. Too often we have to visualize our ancestor’s surroundings based on what we can glean from records, but with historical maps we get a visual of the places our ancestors lived as they were at the time. And the more detailed the map, the better.
England’s Ordnance Survey began in 1791 in an effort to produce detailed maps of areas in southern England for military uses. Though it took the better part of a century, the Survey eventually mapped the entire country, and the maps were published between 1805 and 1874. In the meantime, the rapid expansion of railroads and urbanization had changed the face of the country, and maps were being put to greater civilian uses. New surveys led to new maps published between 1876 and 1896, and they were revised again starting in the interwar years. Ancestry now has two sets of these maps – the Revised New Series Maps, 1896-1904, and Popular Edition Maps, 1919-1926.
These detailed maps cover much of Britain (England, Wales, and Scotland-though only Scottish Borders are included in the latter). They include features such as forests, mountains, larger farms, roads, railroads, towns, and more to help you better understand and even visualize the world your ancestor lived in. This map lists the names of several larger farms and even shows a road that dates back to Roman times.
Elevations are noted, as are some distances, and natural features like marshes, rivers, lakes, hills, woods, and orchards are marked. Man-made features like churches, windmills, lighthouses, railroads, post and telegraph offices, and parks are also included. Roads are classified by class in the Revised New Series and ranked for various types of traffic in the Popular Edition. Below are legends to each collection, and additional information can be found on the Cassini Historical Maps website.
You’ll also note some abbreviations on the maps. The Ordnance Survey website has a helpful list of these abbreviations. So if you’ve got British roots, take a closer look at your ancestor’s neighborhood to get a better feel for their surroundings and some new insights into their lives.
Published today, from records held at The National Archives in Kew, the UK, WWI War Diaries 1914-1920 document operations by British and colonial units serving in France, Belgium, Germany, Gallipoli and the Dardanelles over a six year period. Of these, the records pertaining to Gallipoli and the Dardanelles have been digitised for the very first time.
Each diary entry includes a mixture of tactics, maps, intelligence summaries, reports on casualties and fatalities and general observations. Written up daily by a junior officer and approved by the commander on duty, regiment/unit, sub unit, date and location are also all recorded. Their detail makes the records an invaluable resource for family historians looking to trace the footsteps of a WWI ancestor.
The purpose of the diaries was to create a permanent record of the movements of each unit on active service. Each entry holds a vast amount of military information, which was used by senior officers to locate patterns, plan attacks and build intelligence against enemy forces.
The records also offer a unique first hand perspective on some of WWI’s most infamous battles. This includes the Battle of the Somme, which saw more than one million men wounded or killed in 1916 and has since been described as one of the bloodiest clashes in military history. Diary entries relating to this brutal five-month conflict recall “hurricane bombardments of the German front line” and “mass casualties from prolonged attacks on German trenches”.
Records relating to the Battle of Sari Bair in which Britain tried to seize control of the Gallipoli peninsular, go on to highlight how soldiers were fighting around the clock. An entry for the
East Lancashire Regiment describes how they “received information that the enemy had broken through to the right…we dug trenches as quickly as possible but suffered a few casualties from their fire.” The time was recorded as 5.30am.
Further reports from Gallipoli reveal the terrible conditions facing soldiers from the British Army Corps noting how “there had been heavy rain all over the forward trenches during the afternoon and they were mostly knee deep in mud and water. The Gully Ravine Road was turned into a breast high torrent and cut about by the water.”
Another entry pertains to the actions of The Royal Welsh Fusiliers and notes how “the enemy retaliated from our previous bombardments with heavy shelling of our own front line.” This regiment contained acclaimed WWI poet Siegfried Sassoon. As well as a way with words, Sassoon was a courageous commander – once single-handedly capturing a German trench in the Hindenburg Line.
The battalion of Victoria Cross recipient Reverend Theodore Hardy also appears in the records. Part of The Lincolnshire Regiment, Hardy was killed after crossing into no-man’s land under heavy fire whilst attempting to rescue his wounded comrades. Just 17 days before his death, diary entries note early morning clashes with “the battalion arming up for attack at 4.30am.”
Whilst the majority of officers recorded the brutalities of war succinctly, others were more descriptive with their entries, providing a more personal take on life on the front line. One note relating to the Battle of Le Cateu details how, “battle continued all day but was fiercest between 10am and 3pm” and that wagons sent to drop off much needed ammunition “could not be traced and in some cases had to be abandoned to carry the wounded men who were very tired.”
In a similar vein, some of these records confirm the horrors facing soldiers off the battlefield with regards to sickness and disease. A diary entry recorded by the 102nd Field Ambulance Service states how several soldiers had experienced “prevailing disease for a month, temp for up to three to four days, chilly sensation, pulse acceleration and soreness of the whole body.”
As well as providing insight into what life was really like on the front line, the War Diaries present people with the perfect opportunity to locate their ancestors and trace their wartime movements with military precision.
To search the UK, WWI War Diaries, 1914-1920 click here.
Authored by Karyn Stuckey, Archivist at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers
After the guns had fallen silent, thoughts turned to how to honour the dead. Faced with the dilemma of how to commemorate the dead, many organisations created Honour Rolls or memorials. The Institution of Mechanical Engineers created an ornate board, recording the names of its war dead, which is still hung on the first floor landing of One Birdcage Walk. 1,270 Institution members and 8 staff members went on active service: 7.1% of members died; and 12.5% of staff died.
All the membership records for the war period are available online – UK, Mechanical Engineer Records, 1847-1930. The Government requested members names to be put forward for the Engineering Unit of the Royal Naval Division, the Royal Garrison Artillery and then for munitions contracts. In 1916 the Institution’s Council decided that any man on active service who was approaching the age of, or over the age of 28 could apply for Associate Membership without having to sit an examination.
Our Headquarters building also did its bit: almost immediately, the top floor of the ‘new’ wing was taken over by the Prince of Wales’ National Relief Fund; then rooms on the third floor were occupied by the Office of Works for the Explosives Department (Ministry of Munitions), who soon spread to the fourth floor; next the meeting hall was occupied; and in June 1915 the whole of the building was given over to the Office of Works. It was not returned until 1919.
The honour roll has been fully researched and all the stories of those who died have been recorded. There were two others added who had been omitted because they were civilian casualties who had gone down with the Lusitania. Each is listed by name and date of death. Under each name are their membership dates, their professional post at time of joining, their service posting and any details of their death or medals awarded to them. Where they exist, a contemporaneous obituary can also be read. Stories to commemorate the men will be posted here. Membership information is taken from our application forms, service and death information from their official service records. Where contradictions exist for example, on date of death these have been left unless there is clear evidence as to which piece of information is correct.
Sir H. Frederick Donaldson (Image reproduced by courtesy of Institution of Mechanical Engineers, London)
Amongst those who died: were an ex-President, Sir Hay Frederick Donaldson, 5th June 1916, who went down on the HMS Hampshire with Lord Kitchener and another member; Leslie Stephen Robinson/Robertson when she was stuck en route to Russia; William Martin-Davey, 7th May 1915, who went down alongside member Colin Stanley Fenton on RMS Lusitania when she was torpedoed by a German submarine. There were those who died at home or on their way home including, Charles Lysaght Bruce Hewson, 12th April 1918, who fought in the Cameroons Campaign and died on the voyage home having been invalided with fever from Nigeria; and those from/working abroad including, Gordon Porter Cable, 2nd January 1918, an Indian national and Captain, Indian Army, Indian Army Reserve of Officers, Jaipur Transport Corps.
- For further details please see World War I Honour Roll article from Institution of Mechanical Engineers.
- You can also learn more about collaborative exhibit between the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, Civil Engineers and the Institution of Engineering and Technology on their dedicated portal.
- Engineers’ records from ICE, IMechE and IET can be searched via Ancestry
The Ancestry team at the Tower of London
Remembrance Day has passed and many of you observed a moment of silence to honour the memory of those that sacrificed so much so that we would know peace. Memorials and monuments were attended in vast numbers. The crowds that gathered to remember were bonded in collective appreciation for the brave men and women who had paid the ultimate price in their service to their country.
People of every creed and race gathered together to remember. Among the crowds there was one common feature, one common symbol – the poppy. During World War One the battlefields were scarred and devastated. It seemed as though nature had given up in the face of such tragedy. The landscape was littered with the bodies of the fallen.
It was here in the seemingly barren earth that the poppy flourished. To the soldiers they must have symbolized the blood of their brothers and friends. It may have offered hope to those brave men who wondered if they may ever return to their families; a sign that new life is possible no matter the circumstances.
In 1915, Lt Col John McCrae, after losing his friend at Ypres, wrote the now famous poem In Flanders Fields.
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
To mark the centenary of World War One, the Tower of London created an installation of 888,246 ceramic poppies. The installation Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red was created in the moat area and each poppy represents a British fatality during World War One. We at the Ancestry London office went to see this installation. When faced with the stark reality of so many lives lost, so many families missing loved ones, we were deeply moved by the reality of what war means for so many.
That is why we wear the poppy.
Lest we forget.