Just 75 years ago this spring, WW2 came to a close. The Faces of Margraten project, spearheaded by the nonprofit Fields of Honor Database in the Netherlands, is attempting to locate 7500 photos of U.S. service personnel who sacrificed their lives to end the conflict. Between May 2-6, 2020, at the American War Cemetery and Memorial in Margraten, the photos will be displayed at the gravesite or the Memorial Wall for those who were missing in action.
As of today, the organization is only 180 photos short of their goal. Do you know of a family or community member who was interred in Margraten? If so, you can send a photo of the deceased to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I became involved last summer when I received an email from the organization inquiring about a distant relative found in my Ancestry.com tree. I didn’t have a photo but after checking out the organization, decided I needed to help. All it took was an email to the hometown library and a request to check a local newspaper for a photo in the obituary. The following day, I received the photo which I forwarded to the Fields of Honor Database. I then tried to find photos for the Indiana soldiers. I was able to find 21. I don’t live anywhere near Indiana but I remember my high school had a memorial to the alumni who were killed in combat. That memory made me want to help find the Indiana folks. One of those 21 photos happened to be an alumni of my alma mater.
Want to help but not sure how? First, go to the Fields of Honor Database then click on an alphabet letter. For example, I clicked on “A” and then the first entry, AARON, John D. If you see the following:
then a photo is needed. To find a photo I use the same genealogy skills I would to find information about any ancestor I’m researching. Here’s the steps I would take:
1. Review what is known – From the memorial page I see that John D. Aaron was born in Chismville, Logan, Arkansas and he enlisted in Kansas in 1943. He was killed 27 Nov 1944 near Barmen, Germany.
2. Look in the obvious places first (in alpha order) – Ancestry, BillionGraves, FamilySearch, Find-a-Grave, Fold3, MyHeritage, etc. to get more info. I like to start with the 1940 US Federal census because I can get an age and education level for the soldier and discover where he/she lived (1935) prior to enlistment. Why? So I can look at year book photos.
This is what I find for John D. Aaron using Ancestry:
I’m going to check out the third entry because it’s a close match name, age, and places – born in Arkansas but living in Oklahoma. That record is a little disappointing:
because John only went to grade 6, meaning no picture in a high school year book.
If a year book photo is not available, I check out the online family trees for the individual. On Ancestry, he’s found in 23 family trees. If you find a photo, contact the poster for permission to use and then send to the project. If there is no photo but you find a tree naming the individual, contact the owner to ask if they have a photo and explain why you’d like one. But don’t stop there, we all know it can be YEARS before someone will respond to your query.
Interestingly, the first tree I went to on Ancestry has an obit. When I go to Gallery to get the citation, I find a note from the family member who provides his email address with a note that he is looking for a photo to be included in the Faces of Margraten project. Small world! Since I know someone is actively searching for this photo, I’d go back to step 1 and pick another individual to research.
3. Ramp up your search by contacting a local library, genealogy organization, hometown newspaper or high school. Briefly email the organization what you know and why your searching for a photo. Sometimes newspapers put the photos in a special section, other times with the obituaries. Besides newspapers and year books, photos have been located in library clipping files and family donated materials. The local staff can help direct you to another archive if necessary. I’ve even had small town libraries tell me that they know of family members who still reside in the area and they’ve reached out to them for a photo. Isn’t that heartwarming?!
My biggest learning experience with this project was that the American Gold Star Mothers organization, founded in 1928, does not have an archive containing soldier information. That’s a shame since many of the U.S. government records were destroyed in the 1973 fire in St. Louis. Makes me appreciate the Netherlands organization even more for memorializing the fallen.
Now it’s your turn to pitch in and find a photo. I’d love to hear of your success; leave a comment or email me at GenealogyAtHeart@gmail.com with your soldier’s name and how you made the discovery.