Military · State Specific Research · Transcription Project · World War I

Using WWI Military Service Cards to Trace Female Ancestors

There have been several great advancements in making World War I records available to researchers this year.  For example, the microfilm digitization efforts on the FamilySearch website have added a huge browseable collection of images through the catalog area of the site.  While there are some projects which are waiting to be indexed, there are a number of states which have searchable military service cards, discharge certificates, casualty lists, war commission surveys available for free online.

FamilySearch is by no means the only site delivering World War I records to the public.  From the Page, a crowdsourcing manuscript transcription software which hosts big name depositories such as Stanford University Archives, California State Library, and the Indianapolis Public Library.  Earlier this year, I wrote a post about Indiana’s World War I Military Service Card transcription project on the From the Page site, and how it is a great resource to search for Great War veterans who may or may not have served abroad in Europe.  The Library of Virginia has posted their World War I Veterans Questionnaires on From the Page this year as well, and both projects are moving along toward completion.

One thing I’ve picked up while using these records has been while locating service information on the over 35,000 women who performed military service during the Great War is this – military records are not sorted by gender.

Yep.

Let that sink in a little.  I’ll give you a moment.

It doesn’t sound too strange at first, but let’s take a look at how you would typically search for records online or how most records take great pains to distinguish women – think US Federal Census Records 1850-present, ship manifests, and ‘gender’ boxes on modern forms.  Even court records will provide descriptions for women such as ‘wife’, ‘widow’, ‘spinster’, ‘daughter’ or ‘executrix’.

World War I military service cards and the designations therein do not provide gender identification in any of their forms.  Yes, women made up the majority of nurses in the nursing corps, but men were nurses too.  There was no designation between genders on the same level as much as there was an emphasis on distinguishing officers and nurses from other personnel.

Even women’s military issued headstones do not account for their gender.  Let’s take a look at an example.  Jane Violet Griffiths Allebach’s headstone designates her role as ‘Landsman USNRF’ (US Naval Reserve Force).  Not Landswoman.  Landsman.

jane griffith Allebach

So what does this mean for genealogists?

Gender searches in most World War I records do not exist.  Historically, there was no reason to differentiate between male and female, as the role of women had traditionally been assigned to the nursing corps.  But the Great War changed this dynamic, with women serving as yeomen, landsmen, clerks, typists, drivers, and other support roles.  Their titles did not change to reflect their gender, which may be part of the reason locating them proves frustrating unless you have a list of female veterans from a specific location on hand.

You may ask “why not search by name”?  Not a bad idea, but it’s deceptive.  Some names in western culture are unisex.  Tracy, James, Mary, Ashley, Carol, Pearl or Pearle are just some of the names given to both males and females.  While I was browsing the Indiana World War I Military Service Card collection, all the ‘Pearl’ names available at the time were exclusively male.  Not a female among them.

When you do find a female veteran’s service card, it feels like winning the lottery.  Here’s one for Grace Elizabeth Crum from Jeffersonville, Indiana:

Grace Elizabeth Crum WWI Indiana women's card

grace crum page 2

Grace’s card is unique, as she served in the US Army as a Field Clerk in the Adjutant General’s Department for the year 1920-1921.  Even though the service rendered was outside of the years of combat, military personnel were continuing to duties until discharge, which took place sometime in 1921.

Because we know when and where Grace served during her time as an Army Field Clerk, it adds new details to her life story.  On August 21, 1922, Grace married Lieut. Alfred Gruenther in her hometown of Jeffersonville. The record lists Grace’s profession as ‘typist’ while her husband’s profession is listed as US Army Lieutenant.

crum marriage

If you’re familiar with World War II generals, you’ll recognize the name Alfred Gruenther as one of then General Eisenhower’s right hand men.  Gruenther would become the youngest four star general in US history, at at the later part of his his career served as the head of NATO.

Gruenther did not serve abroad in Europe during the Great War.  We know this from his obituary, which was published just after his death in 1983:

“After graduating fourth in the wartime West Point class of 1918 and from field artillery school the following year. In 1920 he was assigned to Fort Knox, Ky., where he took up bridge after noticing that a superior officer thought it was important.” – New York Times

What does this have to do with a service card for Grace Elizabeth Crum?

Pairing the information on Graces’ service to her husband’s obituary helps us make a reasonable conclusion that the two of them met and possibly courted during their time in service at Fort Knox (then Camp Knox), Kentucky.  It’s a genealogical smoking gun, tucked away on a little white service card.

In a search for a photograph associated with Grace Crum Gruenther, I found this little gem on the National Archives website dated 1948-1953.

[Mrs. Alfred M. Gruenther at Val de Grace Hospital]
Mrs. Alfred M. Gruenther at Val de Grace Hospital

The lack of gender designation in World War I records also carries over to Veterans Questionnaires from the 1920s.  Individual or the families of deceased veterans who served in the Great War were asked to complete up to four pages of biographical information to be used to compile state historical or state war commission sponsored publications.  These questionnaires are not only a great way to research veterans overall, but they provide a remarkable insight to wartime service provided by women of the period.

Looking at an entry for Elizabeth Frances Murray from the Connecticut, Military Questionnaires, 1919-1920 on Ancestry.com, reinforces this possible difficulty in identifying female veterans.

connecticut WWI veterans questionaires

By clicking on the green ‘View Record’ button, you will discover Ancestry has taken pains to correct this gender designation.  There may be a point in the future when these records could be searchable by gender, which could go a long way in searching for women from specific locations or time periods of service.

Indiana isn’t the only state with WWI Military Service Cards or WWI Veterans Questionnaires  available online.  Here’s a quick rundown of a few places to begin your search for female Great War veterans.

Alabama World War I Service Records
California, WWI Soldier Service Cards and Photos, 1917-1918
Colorado, Soldiers in WWI, 1917-1918
Connecticut, Military Questionnaires, 1919-1920
Georgia, World War I statement of service cards, 1920-1929
Mississippi, Military Records, 1881-1924
New York, Military Service Cards, 1816-1979
North Carolina, World War I Service Cards, 1917-1919
Texas, World War I records, 1917-1920

The Indiana State Archives and the The Library of Virginia need your help transcribing their amazing collection of World War I military materials.  Your assistance with these projects not only make these resources readily available for research, but also helps other researchers pursuing their own genealogical journey.  Transcribing Indiana’s World War I Military Service Cards is a great and approachable project for beginners, while the Virginia World War I Questionnaires require some transcription skills to complete each entry.  From the Page doesn’t require special software to participate, and everything you need to understand the transcription and arbitration process is available on the website. For more information visit https://fromthepage.com/indianaarchives/indiana-wwi-service-record-cards and https://fromthepage.com/lva/wwi-va-questionnaires.

See You at the Library!
Debra

#WorldWarI #MilitaryMonday #GeneaBloggersTRIBE

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