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Ancestry Adds West Point Applications, Free Access Until Sunday

Ancestry.com announced yesterday that it had added more than 115,000 US Military Academy Cadet Application Papers (1805-1866) from West Point to its Web site. These applications will be added to its pay service, these papers and the rest of the Ancestry.com US Military collection will be free through Sunday. You can access the collections at http://www.ancestry.com/military.

The collections here that are free until Sunday include World War I and II draft registration cards, U.S. Revolutionary War Rolls, 1775-1783, and U.S. Civil War Soldiers Records and Profiles, but we’re looking at the West Point applications, which are available at http://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=1299.

You can search by first and last name as well as date and keyword. Results include registries of applicants, applicant letters, letters of recommendation, and notifications of acceptance as well as letters of acceptance. After some searching around I looked around the papers for Lewis J Ford. I got a few details about the record but had to go to the image to get an idea of what the record really was. (Registration is required to view records, but it’s free.)

The image showed me what appears to be a recommendation letter; I couldn’t find a transcript and it was kind of hard to read. Other records I looked at included a name index, a registry, and a couple other letters that are almost impossible to read. (Maybe I’m missing the transcripts.)

When it comes to the military records collection I find the draft registration cards a much more usable resource, but I can’t imagine you’d find the application papers/information in the West Point collection available in many other places … and it is available for free until Sunday. Check it out.

Wolfram|Alpha Adds Military Data

Wolfram|Alpha announced on June 1 that it had added information on army, navy, and air force personnel for over 150 countries as well as armament statistics (tanks, nuclear warhead stockpiles, etc.)

I wondered if this new data means you could now do a Wolfram|Alpha search for random army, but it doesn’t. However you can do country army requests and separate them with commas to get a table of results comparing army sizes. For example, you could search for South Korea army, North Korea army.

You’ll get a result page that compares several different data points, including total population, military population, military fit population, and military expenditures. This is interesting, but I liked
taking it a step further and comparing military statistics with non-military data. I could run this search: South Korea army, North Korea army, Luxembourg population and get data about the size of the armies of South and North Korea, and by comparison the Luxembourg population. In case you’re wondering, the population of North Korea’s army is over twice that of the country of Luxembourg.

You can also stack up several bits of data about the same countries and put those together in a table. I did a search for North Korea army, North Korea Population, North Korea GDP, South Korea army, South Korea population, South Korea GDP and got a table of information comparing the two countries. Note when you do a search this way you don’t get all available information about a country’s military.

Finally, you can also do military information math by using military statistics with other data. If I wanted to get the ratio of the population of South Korea to its military population, I could do a search like South Korea Population / South Korea Army and get the answer 86 — in other words, 86 people in the general population of South Korea for every member of the military. There’s also a chart showing how this number has changed over the last 210 years and how it is expected to change over the next 40.

As I’m discovering more and more with Wolfram|Alpha, the data itself is of secondary interest to discovering all the new and interesting ways you can divvy it up.

NY State Military Museum Site Offers More Records

The New York State Military Museum Web site has announced the release of 53,671 pages of New York National Guard records, available on the Web site at http://www.dmna.state.ny.us/historic/index.htm with a direct link to the pages at http://www.dmna.state.ny.us/historic/research/researchIndex.htm.

The new material includes 197 issues of the New York National Guardsman Magazine published between 1924 and 1940, and National Guard annual reports from 1858 to 1955. The documents are available in PDF format but some of them are pretty huge — they range in size from 3MB to over 80MB! The Guardsman documents are listed by year/month, while the annual reports are available by year, with a few of years available in multiple volumes (and a few other years not available.)

These archives are valuable to genealogy buffs because they have a lot of names in them, but I didn’t find an easy way to search them. The site seems to have a Google custom search engine, but there’s no way that I can find to easily search the archives from within the site itself. However, the archives are consistent in where the PDFs are kept, so start with this Google search:

site:dmna.state.ny.us inurl:historic inurl:research filetype:pdf

That’ll find you 199 results from the New York State Military Museum Web site. Just add the name you’re searching to that and you’ll (hopefully) narrow down on what you’re looking for. Try this for an example:

“john smith” site:dmna.state.ny.us inurl:historic inurl:research filetype:pdf

Stunning Archive of Eyewitness Drawings from the Civil War

I am breaking one of my informal rules by covering this site. It’s a support archive for an offline exhibit which I’m not planning to visit as it is several hundred miles away. But I’m covering it here because its contents are just astounding. If you have any interest in military history, especially the American Civil War, do not miss this site.

I’m talking about “First Hand: Civil War Era Drawings from the Becker Collection,” an offline exhibit at the McMullen Museum of Art at Boston College. These are eyewitness drawings from over a dozen different artists that chronicle both the Civil War and life in the mid- to late-19th century. Its Web site is http://idesweb.bc.edu/becker/.

The site has an overview of what the exhibit is all about and there is biographical information on the artists. There’s also a featured images link — this was a slideshow that played really, really fast! (There are controls in the upper corner; the first thing I did was pause it.) Instead you might want to use one of the browsing options; you can view by date, by place, by subject, by artists, or by reference numbers.

I chose to view by subject and got lots of options, including Civil War (camp life, military ceremonies, architecture and townscapes, and ships) as well as non-Civil war (including post-war reconstruction, railroad building, and even the Spanish-American War.) There’s also the option to view battle scenes by site, battle, general, etc. I looked at the Siege of Fort Macon and got 208 images. I don’t know a lot about the naval history of the Civil War so I wasn’t sure how to connect the siege of Petersburg to Fort Macon — the images in these results were all over the place. But it’s a good example to look at if you want to see some of the drawings of battles and the aftermath.

Listings include a thumbnail of the image, image title, and date. Click on the title and you’ll get more information about the image including any notes, and a slightly larger version of the image. Click on the image itself and you’ll get a pop-out window with controls that allow you to zoom in on and pan around the image.

All the images I looked at were pencil sketches. You’d think in this day and age of streaming video and color photography from everywhere that pencil sketches wouldn’t have a lot of impact. But they did. Most of them were very well done and conveyed a tremendous sense of time and place. Some of them I found shocking, like this image of a night attack at Petersburg. Some of them I found very moving — military executions of deserters and traitors, the after images of the Chicago Fire, the release of Union prisoners in Wilmington, North Carolina.

I don’t normally review sites that support an offline exhibit, figuring the offline materials will be only marginally supported by the online sites. That was not so in this case. What an excellent site. As I said in the beginning of this writeup, if you are at all interested in military history, do not miss this site.

Medieval Soldier Service Records Published Online

Researchers at the University of Reading and University of Southampton have developed an online database of just under 90,000 service records for soldiers active toward the latter phases of the Hundred Years War (1369-1453). It’s available at http://www.icmacentre.ac.uk/soldier/database/search.php. As you might imagine this database is proving fairly popular, so it’s running a bit slowly at the moment.

There’s only one search form but you can search for a variety of data types, including surname, rank, commander, year, and activity. I did a surname search for Archer and got 59 results. Results are provided in a table that includes full name, rank, commander, year, and nature of activity. (I suppose you should be able to sort by any of the data columns but I got an error every time I tried.)

There are references in each listing but I can’t find a key to what the references are for. (This is a pilot database so I’m sure it’s not complete.) It seems like some soliders are listed multiple times for different activities, ranks, etc.

Some folks have understood this database way better than I’ve managed to; the site has a selection of soldier profiles. These biographies use information from the soldier database and elsewhere to provide biographical information on a number of different soldiers, from archers to knights to Barons. These make for interesting if somewhat academic reading.

Bear in mind this information is from the 14th century, so beginning genealogists are not going to have a lot of luck here unless some cousin or ancestor has done a lot of spadework. On the other hand, if you’re interested in English or military history, you’ll find this database very interesting just as a historical document.

Stars and Stripes Digital Archive Now Available

Heritage Microfilm has announced a partnership with the military news source Stars and Stripes which has led to an online digital archive for the Stars and Stripes newspaper. The new archive is available at http://starsandstripes.newspaperarchive.com.

At the moment, the archive has European and Pacific editions from 1948 to 1999. (Apparently at some points the Stars and Stripes has had almost three dozen different editions.) This is over one million pages of content. There are also plans to add more content, including the World War II era, Middle East edition, and additional date options for the European and Pacific editions.

Alas, the site is a paid archive. While you can initiate a keyword search with a really basic date range option (you can narrow your results by year) you can’t even see the list of results without a membership. Memberships range from yearly ($47.40) to a day pass for $4.95.

Registry of Retired Military Aircraft With Pix and Commentary

I actually learned about this resource while doing some research for something else, which is one of my favorite ways of finding out about buzzworthy resources. The Warbird Registry describes itself this way: “Over time we would like to develop a database of all military aircraft that have entered civilian hands from World War II to present.” The site itself is available at http://www.warbirdregistry.org/. It’s not a database per se; instead it has a large number of aircraft models on the front page divided into several categories.

Categories include fighters, bombers, transports, etc. While there are some subcategory pages, in many cases the aircraft model numbers are just listed on this one page. You’ll have to know something about military aircraft (I don’t) or just enjoy browsing around (I did.) I looked at the transport category and picked out the “C-119 Flying Boxcar” because it sounded interesting. That model’s page has a list of 13 serial numbers. Click on one and you’ll get information about where that particular aircraft is, some of its history, and in many cases pictures. Good old C-119 Flying Boxcar 51-2566, for example, was at the Museum of Aviation at Warner Robins AFB from at least 1986-2006 (each aircraft’s page shows a “last reported” date) and there are two pictures available.

How much information you get on a particular aircraft just depends on that aircraft and apparently to some extent the model. I took a look at the Spitfires. There were a lot more of them and they had a lot more history and details. For example, Spitfire P9306 has a huge history listed, starting with its construction in 1939.

If you like this resource page you might want to check out the Warbirds Resource Group at http://www.warbirdsresourcegroup.org/, which also has forums, book reviews, and resource centers devoted to various aspects of military aircraft. It looks like some sections of this site are rather old (the link list was last verified in 2001 according to its page) but the forums appear active and there’s enough located on site and in the registry for lots of happy browsing.

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