I talk to a lot of European World War I and World War II researchers who have adopted the graves of our American service members who are buried in American Battle Monument Commission (ABMC) Cemeteries. The number one thing each seeks is a photograph of their adopted soldier, sailor, or Marine. So, just where might one find photographs from World War I?
Whether you are searching Newspapers.com, any other online newspaper collection, or looking through bound, crumbling copies of undigitized papers, chances are you will find photographs of those who died during the war. The Chicago Tribune from 15 September 1918 has a pictorial page of men who died, including my great-grand-uncle Michael Kokoska. I already knew his photograph would be there, but if you are not sure when you begin to search, try different search terms like only the surname, a year, a location. Expand the search to multiple years.
Tip: During World War I and World War II, the War Department notified families within a few weeks to on average three months, of wounds received, those taken prisoner, and those missing or killed in action. The information appeared in the newspapers as soon as the family was notified. In rare cases, or if the soldier was missing for a long period of time, it may be longer before he appears in the papers.
Official Military Personnel Files (OMPF)
Have you requested the OMPF from the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) in St. Louis? In many cases, the Navy, Coast Guard, and Marine Corps files have photographs in them.
Explore WWI Panoramic Photographs to see if your soldier turns up in a search, or search for the unit in which he served. You can also check the Memorial Pages on Fold3.com as many families have added photographs to these pages.
Local and State Historical Societies
With the 100th anniversary of the U.S. entry into World War I this year and the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I next year, a lot of towns, counties, and states are preparing for commemorations. They are seeking information and providing information on service men and women. Some organizations are erecting memorials or updating old memorials.
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC)
While the ABMC doesn’t always have photographs of service members, many cemeteries work with local groups in Europe who have grave adoption foundations. These foundations often research the service members buried in the ABMC cemeteries and seek photographs. Contacting the ABMC cemetery where your service member is buried and inquiring about local groups is an option.
Tip: Many Europeans are seeking contact with World War I and World War II service member’s families to share what they have learned about their adopted soldier and request more information, including photographs. You can learn more at Honoring Service Together.
Recently I visited Bohemian National Cemetery in Chicago, Illinois with my fiancé. I was “introducing” him to my family members. Many of the graves in this cemetery contain photographs of the deceased. This cemetery also contains numerous statues of World War I service members with their photograph on the grave. If your soldier is buried in the U.S. and you have not visited and photographed the grave, consider doing so. You may find a photograph you didn’t know existed.
Ancestry Family Trees
Are you researching on Ancestry and exploring the family trees for photographs? You may be shaking your head saying, ‘Of course I am!’ I think some of us may not always look at other trees as we dive down one research hole and get lost in another. Or perhaps we have looked at other trees but it has been a while. People are constantly updating their tree so if you have not looked here in a while, take some time and see what you discover.
Talking to Family
Finally, as you move between online and offline research to locate photographs, ask yourself when the last time was you spoke to family members about these soldiers. After I posted some photos I took at Bohemian National Cemetery on Facebook, a family member messaged me about some old family photos she has. Turns out she has original copies of some I only have photo copies of AND she may have some “new” photos of my 2x great-grandparents! This family member was someone I’ve been in contact with for years. Never rule out a family member you have already spoken to about research. Things turn up. Memories surface. You never know what you’ll uncover if you go back down that path.
What resources have you used to locate World War I photographs for your family? What amazing discoveries did you make when you found them?