Starting WWII Research: Tips from Jennifer Holik

– Hi everyone, I’m Amy Johnson Crow. So many of us have
someone in our family tree who served in World War II. And it’s a challenge even
for those of us who have been doing genealogy for a long time. Well, I have someone here
today who can really help us with getting started with
our World War II research, Jennifer Holik who is awesome
with World War II research. Where do you even get started? I know a lot of the people
who are watching this have heard about a fire in St. Louis and so many of the records were lost. And you know, where do we even begin? – Well, the first place to
start is documenting everything you think you know. So every family story that you’ve heard, every piece of paper, letter, photograph. And if you have letters, keep the envelopes that go with them because usually the soldier
has the service unit that he’s in and and his service number which you absolutely need, and often a location
when they’re stateside. It’ll be stamped on the
envelope by the military camp. So using that, you can
start to put a timeline of service together which is a requirement to do military research. – Right. Right. So really some of those
things that we already have at home whether they’re
letters or something like that. So as we see everyday, we’re
losing so many of the veterans who are part of that greatest generation. And let’s say we’re researching
someone who has passed on. One thing that I’m always
confused about when I see a military marker, trying to decipher what all of that means. It’s like, okay, I know
that that’s something with his service, but I don’t
know how to decipher that. Are there any good sources, or any good tips that you can give us for how to kind of read that? – When you’re looking at a headstone, sometimes it will just
have the branch of service and it might have the final unit. – Okay. – And that’s especially at The American Battle Monument’s Commission, ABMC’s cemeteries overseas. Those are the final units
in which someone served. And even if they survived the war and you have a separation discharge paper, it’s the final unit. – Okay. – So when you have that, there are some abbreviation
dictionaries online for military to decipher
some of those abbreviations that you’ll see. But you also can use that
to start working backward through the military records because soldiers were
in more than one unit. – Oh. – You can’t assume that that
final unit was the whole story because it almost never is. – Really? – Yes. – So it would actually be
unusual to find someone who stayed with one unit the entire time. – Because soldiers, even if
they did stay with one unit the entire time, I did
research for a client who was Fifth Infantry
Division the entire time he was overseas. Now he was in different
units during training. But he was wounded 30 June
1944 and taken out of his unit until 19 December. So even though he was
in the Fifth Division while he was overseas, everything between 30 June and 19 December does not apply to his service. – Okay. – And I actually recently
published several quick guides to getting started on
your military research with the death files online research. It goes through all of
these starting tips. And then the branch specific Army books which have my research strategy which you’ve only heard at rootstech. Nobody else in the country,
the National Archives, military museums, nobody
else is teaching you this. But it’s in my books now. – And we will have links to
all of Jennifer’s resources in the show notes. So check that out down in the description. With the destruction that
we had at the archives in St. Louis, and there
were a lot of records lost, is it true or not that
everything was lost? – No, approximately 80% of the
Army and the Army Airforce’s service files were burned. But St. Louis has
technology that’s developed even in the last year, five years, that can take some of
those burned documents, and it’s not an x-ray
machine but it kind of works as an x-ray machine to see what’s beneath that burn material and
pull some of that out. So you still have the data. I have service records for clients that are in a plastic sleeve that say, “Do not remove because of mold.” So they are treating this. There are also a lot
of records for the Army and the Army Airforces like
company morning reports that St. Louis will not search for you. You either have to go there or hire a research firm like
mine and we get that for you. But those records are required if you want to reconstruct service
even if the file survived. Because all of the service
files no matter what branch you’re talking about, they have all the pieces
of the puzzle in there. And we think when we’re
reconstructing service it’s because of the fire, but everybody’s reconstructing service. Because it’s not laid
out in any of those files an exact timeline of what happened. – Okay. – You have to decipher it. And the Navy and the Marine
Corps have so many abbreviations you need an online military
dictionary to figure out what it is they’re talking about. – You mentioned the Navy and the Marines. We hear a lot about the
destruction of the records for the Army and the Army Airforce. What about destruction
of records for the Navy and the Marines? Were their records also affected
by the fire in St. Louis? – The National Archives
website says like less than one percent, so we
don’t even mention them. But when we look at
either morning reports, those company level records
or even unit records, sometimes those don’t exist anymore because the ship that they’re
on, if it’s the Navy ship, and the records are in a
room and there’s a fire on the ship, those can be destroyed. If the company records are on
a truck moving through Europe and that truck gets hit by strafing, those records can be destroyed. So it’s not just the fire
that we have to contend with. – Right, right. Well, thank you so much for, (laughter) and it’s encouraging to me
that we do have the technology that they’re using in St.
Louis so that we can pull some of this data from the
papers that were burned back in, what was it, 1973. Yeah, ooh. Still dealing with that. But now we have that technology. And that we actually can
reconstruct their service. – I do it everyday for clients. It changes their lives. You wouldn’t believe it. And a lot of people at
rootstech have said, because I talk about
the spiritual side of it and the healing side of it, and a lot of people are
coming up to me and saying, “Wow, I didn’t know that
anybody else felt that way “about these records.” But it changes lives. – And to me, it’s been
amazing talking to people who have talked to their
relatives who were in the war. And they never really talked about it. – Right. – They didn’t talk about their
service when they got home. So being able to discover
some of these stories and get that healing, I think that that’s
really a wonderful thing that you’re doing. – Thanks. – Thank you for sharing that. And if anybody wants to
find out more about you and the services that you provide, where can they find you? – I’m at The World War II
Research and Writing Center. It’s – We’ll have a link down below. – It’s most comprehensive website of educational articles,
research materials. I even have a network
in Europe of researchers that Americans really
should be tapping into. So take some time with your
coffee and explore the website because there’s nothing
else like it online. – Awesome. Thanks so much. – Thank you. – And you can find out more
about other genealogy topics over at And feel free to subscribe
here to my YouTube Channel. Thanks for watching, bye, bye. – Bye.

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