Gena Philibert Ortega's Discussions
Started this discussion. Last reply by Declan Chalmers Jul 27, 2009.
|Women and men in uniform, circa 1917. Center for Jewish History.
I've mentioned in previous posts that by the time the US entered World War I, its allies had been fighting for three years. That three years had taken a toll. Obviously, the number of causalities were much greater for those countries and would affect those left behind in the years after the war.
We see this affect with the British loss of an estimated 886,000 lives.* When a country has such a great loss and a great number injured, what happens? That loss affects life after the war including a gap in the availability of eligible men to marry. This gap can be seen in newspaper ads of the time for women looking for husbands and in the 1921 census which shows the gap in the number of unmarried men and women. Arguments over just how many 'surplus women' in the end don't matter as author Virginia Nicholson writes,Whatever the case, it is beyond doubt that the war has a seismic effect on marital behaviours, that all contemporary accounts take the man shortage for granted, and that many women themselves perceived the courtship arena as a competitive background, where defeat was perdition. The press played its usual mischievous part in this, by whipping up a frenzy over the 1921 Census figures, which revealed that there were 1,720,802 more females than males in the population...Hysterical headlines about the "Problem of the Surplus Women - Two Million who can never Become Wives...' were hardly conducive to morale among the husband-hunters of the day. In the event it appears that more than a million women of that generation were never to marry or bear children.**
Women who wanted a husband and family may have had to give up on that dream. Some may have found themselves competing over a small number of single men in their village. Others may have become reluctant mistresses to men who had their pick of women. Other options included emigration or life-long spinsterhood.Additional Resources:
The National Archives (UK) - Deaths in the First and Second World War
World War 1 Centenary - ‘Surplus Women’: a legacy of World War One?
Daily Mail.com - Condemned to be virgins: The two million women robbed by the war
Nicholson, Virginia. Singled Out: How Two Million Women Survived Without Men After the First World War
. Bath: Windsor/Paragon, 2008.
*The National Archives (UK) - Deaths in the First and Second World War
. I've seen this number as low as 700,00 and as high as 1 million.
**Nicholson, Virginia. Singled Out: How Two Million Women Survived Without Men After the First World War
. Bath: Windsor/Paragon, 2008. Page xiii.
We've explored many different roles women took during World War I this Women's History Month. So for this last remaining week I want to explore some of the aftermath of the war. It's my belief that in order to research your female ancestor during the First World War, you need to take a look at her life before and after the war.
What are some of the results of the war? The question of women's citizenship comes up via the fight for suffrage and the end of derivative citizenship. Women's choices in regards to marriage, in one country, are diminished. And of course, the Roaring '20s is known for temperance, jazz, and a "new" woman.
Additional Resources:1914 1918 International Encyclopedia of the First World War
The National World War I Museum
British Library - World War One
Library and Archives Canada - First World War
American losses in World War I were modest compared to those of other belligerents, with 116,516 deaths and approximately 320,000 sick and wounded of the 4.7 million men who served. The USA lost more personnel to disease (63,114) than to combat (53,402), largely due to the influenza epidemic of 1918
The United States entered the war late, nevertheless it would still feel the bitter sting of the loss that happens with war. That loss had different consequences for each country involved. Great Britain lost a generation of men which in turn affected civilian life (more on that later).
It's not unusual for those that suffer a common loss to find each other. Those US women who lost sons and husbands during World War I were no different and their grief would be felt again and again in later wars.
Out of grief, The American Gold Star Mothers was founded. ""Who is a Gold Star Mother?" During the early days of World War I, a Blue Star was used to represent each person, man or woman in the Military Service of the United States. As the war progressed and men were killed in combat, others wounded and died of their wounds or disease, there came about the accepted usage of the Gold Star."**
You can read more about the founding of the Gold Star Mothers at their website
. Some Gold Star Mothers would eventually get a government sponsored trip to Europe to see the final resting place of their son or husband. You can read more about these trips in the National Archives magazine Prologue
- Do you have a family member killed during World War I?
- Have you ordered their military service record?
- Have you conducted a search for Gold Star Mothers in the National Archives Catalog?
- Have you searched the newspaper?
- Was a female ancestor a member of the American Gold Star Mothers?
GenealogyBank Blog - Gold Star Mother's DayAmerican Gold Star Mothers, Inc.
FamilySearch Family History Research Wiki - United States World War I Casualty Records
Graham, John W. The Gold Star Mother Pilgrimages of the 1930s: Overseas Grave Visitations by Mothers and Widows of Fallen U.S. World War I Soldiers
. Jefferson, N.C: McFarland & Co, 2005.
*"War Loses (USA)," 1914-1918-online. International Encyclopedia of the First World War
(http://encyclopedia.1914-1918-online.net/article/war_losses_usa: accessed 23 March 2017).
**"History," American Gold Star Mothers, Inc. (http://www.goldstarmoms.com/About/History.htm: accessed 24 March 2017).
Have you ordered the military records for your World War I soldier? You may be surprised at who else shows up in those records.
There are some surprises in my paternal great-grandfather's military records; he served in the Navy right after the end of World War I. Yes, his service is documented in those records but the names of three women in his life also appear.
He entered the service while living with his parents. Not surprisingly, his mother is listed as the next of kin and the beneficiary of his insurance. Both of his parents were alive at this time but his father's name does not appear on these records.
What other women appear on these records? While my great-grandfather was in the Navy, he met and fell in love with my great-grandmother and they married.
But her name does not appear in these records. Information about their marriage does, but not her name.
However, when it came time to be discharged he wanted to be discharged in California, where his new wife and her family lived. So he wrote a letter to his commanding officer explaining the situation. He also included a statement from two witnesses who verified that his wife lived in California and they had established a home there. The two witnesses? His wife's mother and sister.
Always get the military records. There is often information that you didn't expect to find. If you're lucky, that information may include the women in his life.
National Archives - Research in Military Records
FamilySearch - World War I United States Military Records
Library and Archives Canada - Personnel Records of the First World War
The National Archives (UK) - How to look for records of First World War
Schaefer, Christina K. The Great War: A Guide to the Service Records of All the World's Fighting Men and Volunteers
. Baltimore, MD: Genealogical Publishing, 2006.
|Library of Congress http://www.loc.gov/pictures/resource/ppmsca.50555/?co=wwipos
Let's start to explore women in the World War I era by using records that involve the men in their lives.
Women leave fewer records behind. They have historically lived lives of domesticity, denied full citizenship and rights until well into the 20th century. So they have not left a multitude of official records.
However, women can be found in the records of the men they are related to. Aside from marriage records, you might find them mentioned in a military pension or a mortgage. So in order to exhaustively research a woman you need to research the men she's related to.
The genealogist's most familiar World War I resource is the World War I Draft Registration available on various genealogy websites. The Draft Registration is one of those records that we tend to just use and not study. I highly recommend the book Uncle, We are Ready! Registering America's Men 1917-1918
by John J Newman. This book was published before the WWI draft could easily be searched online but provides historical information about the three draft registrations and all the different types of men who registered (including non-citizens).
Newman begins his book with a history of the World War I draft and then explains that:The means to execute the military census was through use of registration cards. These were designed to determine who was eligible for meeting draft criteria, if occupation or family situation could be cause for exemption, and to determine general physical characteristics and conditions...Men were to be chosen for military service who would impact least the family and society while at the same time proportioning those eligible to the lowest jurisdiction possible.
This "military census" was done via three different registrations and each registration had its own card. Two of the registrations asked for information on the person's nearest relative. The first registration didn't ask for information about the nearest relative but it did ask if the man was married or single. So while the first registration provides a clue if the man was married the other two registrations might list a wife, mother, or other female relative.Additional Resources:
FamilySearch - United States World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918
FamilySearch Wiki - United States World War I Draft Records
National Archives - World War I Draft Registration Cards
Newman, John J. Uncle, We Are Ready!: Registering America's Men, 1917-1918. A Guide to Researching World War I Draft Registration Cards
. North Salt Lake, Utah: Heritage Quest, 2001.