Posted by Jennifer Holik on September 29, 2017 in Guest Bloggers
Credit Lt. John Warwick Brooke, British Army photographer, via Imperial War Museums

A couple of months ago I wrote an article about the Ancestry collection of U.S. Army Transport Service Passenger Lists 1910-1939. If you review that article, near the end I talk about my great-granduncle Michael Kokoska’s ship manifest, on which it shows he is deceased.

In that article I mention briefly the World War I Burial File. This file is held at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, Missouri. A burial file was created for each service member who died while in service during the war. There are files for those killed in combat and those who died of influenza, or a form of flu or pneumonia, on the transport ships going to France from the U.S. You can view two of those files in the WWI Military Record Examples page on my website. More WWI files will be added as time goes by so check back if you are doing WWI research.

Why is it important to have a WWI Burial File?

The burial file contains roughly the same information for everyone, yet just as the WWII equivalent—the Individual Deceased Personnel File (IDPF)—contents vary. Some files are short, less than 20 pages, and others are more than 40.

You should at least find:

  • Service number, unit in which they served at death
  • Next of kin information
  • Genealogy information and possibly names/units of siblings who served
  • Cause of death
  • Report of temporary burial
  • Disinterment directive
  • Compilation of disposition of remains
  • The ship the remains were to sail to the U.S. on, if repatriated
  • Information and documents on permanent burial overseas or the U.S.
  • Often handwritten letters from family members
  • Funeral information

Are the Burial Files ever incorrect?

Yes.

I have one file I have not uploaded to my website to share because it requires a lot of explanation. In this particular file, many African American men died of influenza or a respiratory illness, on an Army Transport from the U.S. to France. The file I have contains records for another soldier, whose file has apparently disappeared. Graves Registration mixed up the remains of these two soldiers, which is clear by the papers in the file and their notes. Yet they did nothing to fix their error.

No matter what military or genealogical record we look at, errors DO occur. Humans make mistakes which is why we must verify what we discover against other records.

What’s Next After I Obtain the Burial File?

There are many starting points for World War I research. You can either approach the record search at NPRC on your own and receive only part of what is available (and likely be told the OMPF burned) or visit NPRC and go through all available records or work with a researcher like myself. Whether you are researching WWI, WWII, Korea, or Vietnam, sending in Form 180 will only provide you with the OMPF if it exists and you can request the burial file/IDPF there. All of the other records that would reconstruct service history will not be searched for you. These are important to have if you wish to reconstruct service.

A summary of next steps include, but are not limited to:

  • Requesting the OMPF
  • Obtaining copies of payroll and morning reports
  • Pulling unit records
  • Exploring what is available on Fold3, Newspapers.com and other websites
  • Explore the WWI Bonus Applications for your state (some like Illinois are not available for many years due to privacy laws, while others can be found on Ancestry)
  • Read unit histories to gather historical context data for your soldier

Need a refresher on WWI research? It is very similar to WWII – a combination of online and offline research. You can review the World War II Research Guide Ancestry posted in December 2016 from my articles.

 

Jennifer Holik

Jennifer Holik is an international WWII researcher, speaker, and author of the only authoritative books on the market, “Stories from the World War II Battlefield,” which teach individuals how to research WWII service across any branch. She can be found at her website The World War II Research and Writing Center or on Facebook.

23 Comments

  1. Elizabeth Betty Evans

    I’m sick of your stupid commercial about the guy who thought he was German etc.
    What a jerk. And who cares what he is. We’re Americans. Period!

    • Ms Henri

      Jennifer – Appreciate your extensive knowledge of the various wars and your willingness to share that knowledge with those of us who are working towards leaving correct information for future generations. Thanks for all the many hours and hard work you have put into this endeavor.

    • Shelley Clemens

      I think the ad is funny, because in my family when we would ask, my father used to say we were Welsh. Many years later, when I became interested in genealogy, I learned his family’s history is actually German!

  2. Salli

    I have a family member who wants to visit the burial site for his great uncle, Andrew James CAMPBELL – Regimental #904611. When I checked his Canadian WWI record it noted he died in action on 30 Oct 1917 at Passchendaele. On the Library and Archives of Canada site it was noted that his remains were not returned to Canada and he wasn’t buried in a single grave – would there still be a burial record?

    • Jennie Rose

      I did find some reference to the Menin Gate Memorial. There is engraved thousands of name that passed through. Probably no grave, but might find his name engraved along with many thousands of men who also passed through. It looks very nicely taken care of.

    • Salli,
      There are many WWI memorials in Europe with names inscribed. Menin Gate is only one. Tyne Cot cemetery which is not far from there has a long wall full of names also. The WWI cemeteries and memorials are scattered all over. It is possible he’s buried somewhere. You can check the Commonwealth War Graves Commission https://www.cwgc.org/ for information.

      • Salli

        Thank you Jennifer. Will have to go back into the Commonwealth War Graves and do further checking. So appreciative of all that have made suggestions.

  3. Joan Schacht

    Thank you for your insightful and informative articles.I was thrilled to find my great uncle on the ship records mentioned in your last article. Are you aware if any POW records (American soldier held as a German POW, WW I) that will be digitized? Sadly my uncle died on Nov 9 in the German hospital and was buried but somewhere along the line the body got mixed up and now he is listed on the MIA tablet at Meuse Argonne.

    • Joan,
      Have you obtained his WWI Burial file from NPRC? If not you should. It will talk about his temporary burial and final disposition. The POW records are in NARA College Park, MD and are not digitized. You have to contact NARA to get them or work with a researcher. There is quite a bit of WWI information available even if the OMPF burned. I do take clients if you need assistance at any repositories.

    • Joan,
      Another thought. In WWII, graves registration had a better handle on their job and how they identified and buried the bodies or what was left of the remains. In WWI, things were not as well organized, especially if they received a body from a POW cemetery. I have a couple of Burial Files which have mixed up papers and the one I mentioned in my article that clearly showed Graves Reg mixed up the remains and knew it, yet did nothing about it.
      WWI was a whole other beast and with so many temporary cemeteries for all nations involved and the tiny bits of men retrieved at times, it seems more often mistakes were made. Follow the paper trails and see what you can discover.

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