Researching the service of World War II personnel can be time intensive, but with each step we add pieces of the puzzle that help us see the larger picture. Each researcher begins the process in a different place, depending on the information they have at the beginning of their journey.
One place you can start research for soldiers, sailors, or Marines who were killed in action is with the Individual Deceased Personnel File (IDPF.) The IDPF can provide many details about a soldier, sailor, or Marine. You may find information on deaths, burials, service history, and even letters from the family to the military. As I discussed in other blog posts, World War II research includes a combination of offline and online records, and you’ll want to be creative in how you research. Combining information from the IDPF with records on Ancestry and Fold3, you can add many details to a soldier’s timeline of service and story.
Note: IDPFs are held with the Army Human Resources Command in Ft. Knox, KY. They must be requested by sending an email to: USARMY.KNOX.HRC.MBX.FOIA@MAIL.MIL. Provide the name, rank, serial number, unit, and death date of the soldier, sailor, or Marine who was killed in action. Provide your contact information and email because files are uploaded online through a secure server.
Introducing Cpl. Minor L. Dickerson
One of the first places I search when I have a new IDPF is Ancestry to see if there is a family tree with a photograph. Photos bring the men and women I research to life. You can see Minor Dickerson’s photo in a tree on Ancestry here. You can view his IDPF here.
Information Gathered from the IDPF
According to information in the IDPF:
- Minor Dickerson was born 13 October 1918 in Georgia. His mother, Margaret Fussel Dickerson, died the day he was born.
- His father, Minor Lewis Dickerson, died 20 February 1935. He had no siblings and at the time of his death no living grandparents.
- He was married to a woman named Retha, who remarried prior to his final interment in 1949.
- His aunt, Ethel Goodwin, was still living after his death.
- Minor L. Dickerson was in the 371st Bomb Squadron, 307th Bomb Group.
- He was killed in action on 26 October 1944 in New Guinea. He died after a plane crash that left his chest crushed and right leg mangled. He was buried with airmen in his group at Kamiri, Noemfoor Island.
Details Discovered on Ancestry
The family tree I mentioned above has a 1920 census attached to it that lists M.L. as the son of Jim Dickerson. We know from the IDPF that Minor’s father was Minor Lewis Dickerson and Minor’s mother died when he was born. The IDPF also indicates that he has an aunt Ethel. More research would need to be done on this family from the 1920 census, to determine if this record is attached to the correct person. If this is the correct record attached to the correct person, questions need to be answered: Why Minor was living with this other family? Where was his father? Is this his aunt Ethel?
The tree also has a marriage listing for Minor L. Dickerson and Retha Bell Horne in Florida. If you examine the IDPF in depth, you will find many addresses for both Georgia and Florida, which could help you verify the records attached to this tree and locate additional records. Are these the right individuals? Upon initial inspection, it would seem so. Knowing more about Minor’s family adds to his overall story.
After exploring Ancestry, I visit Fold3 to see what records they might have to supplement my research.
Details Discovered on Fold3
Fold3 has digitized many unit-level records held at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland. The site also has a record set called Contributed Military Group Records. These are military records held by various branch reunion groups or associations. Many of these groups have copies of records or original records. When these are digitized, they provide an incredible resource for people just starting their research.
The 307th Bombardment Group Association has contributed their records to this set, and if you search for Minor L. Dickerson on Fold3 within WWII Records, you will find many records where he is tagged. Many of these documents are Special Orders detailing where personnel are being transferred. This information is great and easy to obtain because it pops up right away. However, if you dig a little deeper, you can learn a lot more about your soldier’s service.
At the top of the screen you’ll see the navigation that shows you what Publication / Record Type / Category you are looking at. If you click on the publication, it will bring you to the starting point for research into this record set. Exploring record types and categories usually allows me to locate information that provides additional context for details about the soldier found in other records.
For example, if you view the Mission Reports within this Bomb Group’s records and look for 26 October 1944, Narrative, three images will appear. Dickerson’s name does not appear in this narrative, but it provides context about his final flight. Using information from the IDPF, you might be able to explore other categories and add more context to your story.
Our military and genealogy research should be more than names, dates, and places that we find through records. Adding the historical context paints a more vivid picture. It helps honor the individual’s life in greater ways. And that context may help answer any remaining questions.
The research ideas presented in this post are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what you can find on Ancestry and Fold3 regarding World War II service. I hope these tips inspire you to dive deeper into the records available to discover your family’s military stories.