Military · Transcription Project · World War I

Straight Talk from Soldiers – Virginia’s WWI Veterans Questionnaires

va soldiers walking

With all the local history resources Fountaindale provides, it is easy to forget about the many other projects for historians and genealogists available online. FromThePage is a browser-based software tool that invites anyone to view and work on a massive number of transcription projects. One fascinating collection provided by the Library of Virginia and Institute of Museum and Library Services is the World War I Questionnaire Veteran’s Survey that was conducted by the Virginia War History Commission. Created on 7 January, 1919, the project sought “to complete an accurate and complete history of Virginia’s military, economic and political participation in the World War.” Actually conducting the survey proved to be a mess as it was completely voluntary and many men feared their answers could be used force them back into military service. The result of the commission’s work leaves us with frank, sometimes funny, but honest answers from the men on their experiences during the war. They detail the lives of men from all walks of life, with the majority expressing a strong sense of patriotism.  Here are a few notable examples:

  1. Adkins, Tazwell Allen

“To do my bit toward my country”

I completed this one just to get a feel for the service. This record tells the story of a Chickahominy Indian who had never or rarely left of the town of his birth, had a 4th grade education, and was a farmer who served for a little under a year and returned home to farm work. He still did his part to protect his country. It’s not an uncommon story for that time period, but it is still his story and would be worth its weight in gold to anyone attempting to write a family history. Even the ones that provide minimal information can prove useful if you know how to read them, as highlighted by another recent blog post.

  1. Witham, Winfred Ames

“It was a benefit to me in several ways.”

Some solders offered more the bare minimum, especially if they did the same while serving. While Windred’s response to the question prompts was brief, there are several interesting documents attached to his record. These including a service photo, signed correspondence, and a letter of recommendation from a commanding officer detailing the time when “two runners were wounded in the open in a spot covered by Machine gun fire from two sides, he volunteered and did go to the wounded men, dressed in their wounds and brought back the messages that the runners were carrying.” Its records like these that prove the value of collection.

  1. Durham, Terry Colley

“Made me realize more deeply the use of international understanding, which is the true basis for International activity…”

Some veterans were more than eager to share their thoughts. This highly educated math instructor served the majority of his service as an artillery instructor. I like his responses if only because he provided us more to transcribe. His answers show someone who gained greater awareness of American’s role in the international community and really sells the positive effect service had on him, though it makes you wonder if he would have still held this opinion if he saw more front-line service. Interestingly enough, he went into advertising after being discharged.


All the current projects can be found here, feel free to find one that looks interesting and help out: (Make sure to check transcriptions notes before contributing)

Other notable WWI records

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