The Value of Adding Historical Documents To Your Family History Research
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.
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.
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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.