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The Value of Adding Historical Documents To Your Family History Research

Updated on June 21, 2016
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Linda lives in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in central Virginia. She has been researching her family history for over 40 years.

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Holding History In Your Hands

As an amateur family history/genealogy researcher, I have been looking at old documents and photos for a very long time. They always touch my emotions but something amazing happened today. My Dad's military record arrived in the mail. I have been procrastinating for years about sending in the request. It just seemed like a lot of trouble to go to for a piece of paper. Little did I know.

It actually was a bit of trouble. There were a few hoops to jump through but oh it was so worth it. Perhaps I should explain the hoops. It just might help streamline the process for someone else. As is true with most things related to government, the smallest thing can complicate everything. My Dad has Alzheimer's disease and so it was my bright idea, not his, to request a formal copy of his military record. In fact, I didn't even tell him I was doing it because I knew he would either forget or, he would ask me about it every day. I went on-ine to the National Personnel Records Center web site and downloaded the request form. After gathering the information required, I filled out the form and carried it to my brother who has legal Power of Attorney (POA) for my Dad. He signed the form and off it went via my fax machine. One week later, I get a phone call from a delightful young woman explaining that she would need a copy of the POA faxed in order to fulfill my request. No problem. My brother is extremely efficient and I knew he would provide the copy by the end of the day. I was right and only a few hours later, the document was faxed. Hoops completed.

Today, the documents arrived. My hands trembled as I opened them. I don't really know why. I wasn't expecting any surprises. My Dad's service in our military was pretty straight forward. He enlisted. He qualified for submarine service, and, he spent three years, 11 months, and 29 days under the surface of the sea in Hong Kong, China, Hawaii, and California. Simple enough. As I looked at the documents, I realized that I had been right on the money.There were no surprises. Still, there was something awesome about holding those documents in my hands.

Emotions Unleashed

As I read through the DD214 and the military medical record, I was transported back to 1947 How did my Dad feel as he signed the enlistment agreement in 1947. Only 19 years old, he had never been outside the state. Now, he would be alone in the world and so far, far, away from all that he knew. I can only imagine.

There is a lot of information on a DD214 and military medical record. I read that my Dad had received awards and that he actually gained weight in the four years he served our country. I laughed out loud when I read that he was paid $282.00 for his separation from the US Navy and $171 to travel from the West Coast to the East Coast. I even learned that my precious Dad could have gotten a medical deferment because of his flat feet but oh no, not my Dad. He wanted to serve his country and he did. I have always been proud of my Dad but never more than today. Holding this document in my hand, his sacrifice and bravery are more real to me than ever before. He really is a hero and I am crying like a baby.

Invest In Your History

My Dad served our country for four years. Most of his time was spent on the USS Bashaw and the USS Bumper. He has served our family for over 63 years. It took me less than an hour to complete the paperwork required to get this document that is such a treasure to me. It cost me nothing but time. My total investment was simply - time. Today, for just a few moments, I looked through a window in time and saw my Dad as a real hero. I watched as a young boy made a commitment to serve his country and a real man came home.

What an experience this has been. For so many years I obsessed about collecting family history data, not documents. I never really thought or cared about trying to obtain the actual documents that would substantiate my data. I was satisfied to view the information and saw no need to possess it. Today, my Dad's story came to life, I felt his fear and emotionally witnessed the transformation from boy to man. And it happened because I invested an hour of time to get the record.

Something tells me that I have unleashed a monster and the monster has a whole new focus for her family history/genealogy passion. If you haven't yet discovered the value of obtaining the historical documents to supplement the research of your ancestry, I suggest you try it. I hope you will find it as thrilling as I have.

© 2012 Linda Crist, All rights reserved.

Read more of my hubs here.

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  • MizBejabbers profile image

    MizBejabbers 4 years ago

    What a sweet story about your dad, and the importance of documenting records. Sometimes they are difficult to find. My husband's military records are sealed and all we have is what he managed to smuggle out when he was in the air force (Vietnam era). He does have his DD214, which in a coded way explains why his records are sealed. Back to the subject of documenting records, way too many court houses are said to have burned down in small backwoods towns, and sometimes the official records are unavailable. All you can hope for are personal letters, bills of sale, and other every day papers to back up your research. It's a shame. The television show "Who do you think you are" makes it look all too easy.

  • lrc7815 profile image
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    Linda Crist 4 years ago from Central Virginia

    MizB - I laughed and laughed at your comment about "Who Do You Think You Are". Every time I watch I say to myself that I am going to write Henry Gates and tell him just that. If we all had access to professional genealogists around the world, it would be so easy. I want to ask him why they always showcase celebrities instead of us average folks. I know some of our stories are just as interesting. lol

    I really was touched by my Dad's records and obviously anything you have of your husbands is a treasure as well. I have a friend whose brother was an Air Force Pilot F4 pilot and was shot down over Cambodia in 1970. He was never found and therefore declared "dead, body not recovered". I think so often about my friend and how much even a piece of paper would mean to her. We humans are something, aren't we?

  • MizBejabbers profile image

    MizBejabbers 4 years ago

    So sad about your friend. My husband was shot down on an undocumented mission somewhere over there. He was the only survivor of a SAMS attack. There were a lot of "undocumented" missions (secret stuff, you know, where if you get caught, we don't know you), and the men involved are not believed when they try to get benefits, such as disability. They are made out to be liars about their service. At least your friend's brother was acknowledged even if she doesn't have a death certificate. We have the May 1999 issue of Newsweek magazine in which my husband appears in a photo in a story of what was one of those secret missions in the late 1960s, but he isn't identified.

  • lrc7815 profile image
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    Linda Crist 4 years ago from Central Virginia

    MizB- wow ! You hit the nail on the head. I can only imagine what your husband has been carrying around all these years. I hope you wont mind if I try to find the article in Newsweek, based on your info. I would love to read the story. I have always been emotionally connected to the Vietnam experience. Tell your husband I said thank you for his service. I mean that sincerely.

  • MizBejabbers profile image

    MizBejabbers 4 years ago

    Thank you. If you can't find a copy, I can scan a copy of the story with photos and email it to you. It is about a government investigation into a POW going on. My husband says no one knows the real story, and if they did they wouldn't believe it. When I asked him to let me write it, he refused. He said that he didn't want to hurt his fellow GIs by telling the truth.

  • lrc7815 profile image
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    Linda Crist 4 years ago from Central Virginia

    Miz B - listen to your husband on this one. The whole POW issue is cloaked in secrecy and mis-information. Would you mind emailing the story? I would be thrilled to read it. My email addy is lcrist78@comcast.net

    We can take this topic to private emails if you are willing.

  • MizBejabbers profile image

    MizBejabbers 4 years ago

    I tried twice to send you an email, but it failed both times. I'll try again later. There could be some network problems.

  • lrc7815 profile image
    Author

    Linda Crist 4 years ago from Central Virginia

    Not to worry MizB.

  • Judi Bee profile image

    Judith Hancock 4 years ago from UK

    I can completely relate to your excitement on receiving the papers through the post - I love it when records arrive. It's even more exciting now that most records are so instantly available over the internet.

    This is a lovely and touching tribute to your father, thanks for sharing it and as you say, I hope that more people are inspired to invest a little time in their family history.

  • Claudia Tello profile image

    Claudia Tello 4 years ago from Mexico

    I really should invest in my family´s history as it has an interesting combination of Ukrainian and Dutch blood, from my mother´s side, and Spanish, French and Mexican blood from my dad´s side.... it should be a loooong journey but a pretty exciting one. Nice topic, nice hub.

  • lrc7815 profile image
    Author

    Linda Crist 4 years ago from Central Virginia

    Claudia - do it! You will never regret it. It can be laborius but so worth it. Thanks for visiting !

  • PegCole17 profile image

    Peg Cole 3 years ago from Dallas, Texas

    What a delightful story about the thrill of locating your Dad's military records. I can understand completely the excitement of looking through the pages and discovering things about his service and his life never before known. I felt the same way when my package arrived. Thanks for sharing this method of discovery and your success on this worthy endeavor.

  • lrc7815 profile image
    Author

    Linda Crist 3 years ago from Central Virginia

    PegCole17 85, thank you so much for the visit and the delightful comment. This was as you said, a real thrill, and it got even better two months later when I received a second package from the DOD. They had reissued all of my Dad's service medals and included was the China service medal that he never actually got due to changes in his discharge date. I now have them all framed in a shadow box and hanging on his wall in the assisted living facility where he lives. I cannot put a price on the value of that simple letter I wrote. Thank you for sharing and for understanding.

  • delia-delia profile image

    Delia 2 years ago

    What a great story....Thank You for sharing and caring...Vets are too often forgotten, especially family members that never talked about it. I'm glad you got your Dad's information, it's healing.

  • lrc7815 profile image
    Author

    Linda Crist 2 years ago from Central Virginia

    delia-delia, thank you so much. This was one of the thrills of my lifetime. My Dad loved his time in service to our country so that made it even more special. I appreciate your visit too.

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