Research hints and tips
How do I go about researching a...
A person’s date of birth and place of birth can be useful starting points, as they help you locate them in census records. The US government has made its population censuses for 1900, 1910, 1920, 1930 and 1940 available online so you can find records of citizens’ addresses, family members and occupations available. These are available through www.ancestry.com. If the person you’re editing had or has a genealogy enthusiast in the family, they may have created a family tree on Ancestry and you might be able to contact them for further information.
For death details, i.e. names of family members as well as grave/obituary notices there’s the National WWII Memorial Register: http://www.wwiimemorial.com/
For those who died during the war and are buried overseas, the American Battle Monuments Commission WWII registry is invaluable: http://www.abmc.gov/search/wwii.php
The Fields of Honor database currently contains online memorials for just over 19,000 of the 24,000 American servicemen of all the forces buried or commemorated at Margraten in the Netherlands, and Henri-Chapelle and the Ardennes in the Netherlands. This number will grow as researchers work through the remaining names: www.fieldsofhonor-database.com
A good source for death and burial details is the US Department of Veterans Affairs’ National Cemetery Administration’s search: http://gravelocator.cem.va.gov/index.html
Local newspapers are a great source of information and searching for different variations of a person’s name and a place they lived often throws up useful information including details of their pre-war and post-war lives.
Looking for their enlistment record is another good way in. The US National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) keep these and have put the nine million of them online. Don’t fret though if there isn’t one for the person you’re researching as NARA say that the total number of enlistment records is higher than the number successfully scanned.
You can search the enlistment records here:
The website called Fold3 carries military records and census records from NARA, Missing Air Crew Reports and photographs from the Army Air Forces available free of charge. The search function encourages you to search by full name.
Another key piece of information for researching a person is which unit they belonged to. You won’t be able to get this from the enlistment record, as it wouldn’t have been decided straightaway. If the person is not already associated with a unit on the AAM website then a search for their name plus ‘bomb group’ or ‘fighter group’ on Google is quite likely to return the answer.
Once you know what unit they were part of you’re able to search for background information on their group, which would give you information about where they were based and what the group was like. Many groups also have their own websites.
An aircraft serial number can actually be the best way into a lot of people’s stories if they were part of an aircrew.
The serial number is the most important piece of information to have. In full, it takes the format XX-XXXXX. The first two digits give the year of production. Only the ‘year’ digit will be written on the tail. E.g. if the serial number of an aircraft is 42-30081, what will appear on the tail will be 230081.
You may come across mentions of ‘model number’. Aircraft were constantly being modified. The different models are given letters – e.g. B-17F, B-17G, etc.
You don’t need to get into production blocks, but for the curious amongst you, they tend to go into the form L-NNL-NNN-LL. Example: B-17G-3-BO = a B-17 of model G; the ‘BO’ refers to the manufacturer, in this case Boeing and the ‘3’ to the batch it was manufactured within. Not every aircraft will use every number-letter combination.
Here are links to a few good websites for aircraft research:
- All aircraft in service with the USAAF: http://www.joebaugher.com/usaf_serials/usafserials.html
- All aircraft with an accident report: www.aviationarchaeology.com
- All aircraft with a Missing Air Crew Report: www.fold3.com
- Fighter aircraft: www.littlefriends.co.uk
- B-24 Liberators: www.b24bestweb.com
- B-26 Marauders: www.b26.com
The Airfields Research Group in the UK is a good source for bases used by Americans: http://www.airfieldresearchgroup.org.uk/. For an overview of all of the USAAF stations – airfield or otherwise – the Air Force Historical Research Agency has made a listing available as a pdf here and it’s a good place to start.
The captured Luftwaffe aerial recce photos of potential UK targets are in the National Collection of Aerial Photography (NCAP) at Edinburgh. See http://www.rcahms.gov.uk/what-we-hold/the-national-collection-of-aerial-photography for details.
Many of the units – especially the Fighter and Bomb groups will have at least one website dedicated to them online. A quick internet search should reveal this. It’s also worth searching for the unit name and ‘museum’ as airfield museums exist across the UK to perpetuate the history of US air power in their area. Websites dedicated to units may carry detailed histories of the group and its squadrons, a roster of personnel, photographs, contacts and copies of their association’s newsletter. These are brilliant sources for finding out new details that can be added to a unit’s page on this website.
Many USAAF units also produced an unofficial unit history in the months after the war ended in Europe but before they were redeployed out of the ETO (European Theater of Operations). Resembling a college yearbook, unit histories were an unofficial – and often tongue-in-cheek – record of the unit’s time based in the UK. They include photo montages showing different aspects of base life. While we are working to share our collection on the AAM website here, Bangor Public Library also have an excellent collection available to view online https://digicom.bpl.lib.me.us/ww_reg_his/
A useful website for researching missions is http://www.usaaf.net/chron/. The 8th Air Force Historical Society’s Get One Mission search feature is also very handy. Individual bomb group and fighter group websites are very good sources for more in-depth and personal accounts of missions.