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Researching your family's veterans

While looking at photos that belonged to my grandmother, one of them started me thinking about the veterans in my family and Veterans Day.

History of Veterans Day

Choctaw Code Talkers WWI, Fold3 Findagrave
Choctaw Code Talkers WWI, Fold3 Findagrave
Veterans Day honors the men and women who gave their service and sometimes their lives, to protect the United States. The day is a combination of parades and solemn ceremonies. The origin of Veterans Day is World War I (1914-1918). The war was a catastrophic event that killed 8 to 10 million military personnel in combat or disease. Many millions of civilians also died during the war.

The United States joined the war with the Allies in 1917. The United States lost 53,000 in combat and nearly 118,000 personnel overall. The Armistice, an agreement to end the fighting as a prelude to peace negotiations, began at 11am on 11 November 1918. The Treaty of Versailles, signed 28 June 1919, officially ended the war.

In 1921, an unknown soldier was buried in Arlington Cemetery as a remembrance of those who fought and died in the war. Armistice Day ceremonies like this were held around the world at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. U.S. Representative Edward Rees of Kansas proposed a bill that would change Armistice Day to Veterans Day. In 1954, Congress passed the bill that President Eisenhower signed proclaiming November 11 as Veterans Day, honoring all the men and women who have served the United States so faithfully.

Family research

Lucille and her brother Grant in his WWI uniform

Apparently, my great-grandfather loved to have photos taken of his family and of community events. One of the photos, dated March 1918, is of his son Grant and daughter Lucille. She is saluting while wearing Grant's jacket and cap. I’ve looked at that photo for years, but never thought about what he did in World War I. I decided to find out.

I found out my great uncle Grant was a 2nd Lieutenant in Battery D 57th Artillery Coast Artillery Corps. He shipped out from New York, on the USS Ryndam, 10 May 1918. The Purcell Register newspaper reported in the August 8, 1918 edition, his mother received a letter, indicating he was “somewhere over there.” He told her he was able to go sightseeing in Paris, and he was to attend a 6-week artillery school. I got the impression it was a don't-worry-about-me letter. I hope to find out more about him and other vets in my family.

Digital resources

Anne L Monnett World War II · US Army · Sergeant First Class, Fold3 memorial photo

To research the veterans in your family history, the library's genealogy collection has several helpful sources. Our digital collection includes Fold3. It is the premier collection of original U.S. military records from all conflicts and wars. You'll find photographs, war stories, service records and census records. Access Fold3 free with your library card. is a free genealogy website maintained by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that's available to everyone, regardless of tradition, culture or religious affiliation. The library is very fortunate to be an affiliate site, which means you can access all their research at the library. Our library hours make it easy to come in and access these documents free of charge.

Nathanael Greene General Revolutionary War, Fold 3

Ancestry® Library Edition delivers billions of records of census data, vital records, directories and photos. You can use the database to research its military records collection. Ancestry is available only in the library. Library Edition is a great resource to find the stories about your ancestors and their lives. You can research ancestors who fought in any conflict including the War of 1812, Spanish American War, Civil War, both North and South, Korea.

Print resources

Not only do we have a digital collection, we have books and maps. The books are arranged by war. The genealogy book collection in the library has books that cover topics including each state’s veterans, military pensions and militias. A few of the titles in the collection are:

  • Atlas of the Union and Confederate Armies, 3 volumes GEN 973.3 ATL
  • A Compendium of the War of the Rebellion, 3 volumes 979.7 DYE
  • DAR Patriot Index, 3 volumes 973.3 DAU
  • Genealogical resources of the Civil War era: online and published military or civilian name lists, 1861-1869, & post-war veteran lists, GEN 973.7 DOL
  • Index to Mexican War Pension Files GEN 973 WHI
  • Index to Pension Applications for Indian Wars Service Between 1817 and 1898, GEN 973 WHI
  • Kansas Troops in the Volunteer Service of the United States in the Spanish and Philippine Wars, 3 volumes, GEN978.1 KAN

Topeka newspapers on microfilm are for use at the library. They are great sources of war reporting, feature articles of local people in uniform and obituaries.

We look forward to assisting you in your research in finding your veterans and for all your ancestors.

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