Newly Digitized Series : Initial Burial Plats for World War I American Soldiers

November 11 marks the 100th anniversary of the conclusion of World War I. Fighting came to a close in Europe on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918 when Germany signed an armistice with the Allied forces. At the war’s conclusion, over 70,000 American soldiers lay scatted in graves across war-torn Europe.

In August of 1917, after the United States entered World War I, the government created the Graves Registration Service to provide assistance with handling and recording the growing number of soldiers killed in Europe. Soldiers were initially interred in temporary graves. Combat units typically undertook this duty; graves registration personnel provided assistance by locating, marking, maintaining, and registering the location of graves.  The French government provided land for temporary cemeteries that were far enough away from the battle lines to prevent the graves from being disturbed. In reality, however, soldiers were often buried along the front lines, near where they fell, which led to isolated or small groupings of graves spread over wide areas.

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Plat A-45 shows location of scattered graves of six soldiers in relation to roadways, buildings, and other landmarks. Also shows location of a prison camp. RG 92, Initial Burial Plats for World War I American Soldiers.
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Plat B-206 shows the grave of an American soldier that is in a French civilian cemetery. RG 92, Initial Burial Plats for World War I American Soldiers.
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Plat B-62 shows an area with a larger concentration of graves of American soldiers. RG 92, Initial Burial Plats for World War I American Soldiers. 

After the war’s conclusion, scattered and isolated graves were consolidated into larger temporary cemeteries to make the task of maintaining the graves more manageable for the Graves Registration Service.

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An example of a plan for a temporary cemetery in France. Plan Showing Location of Graves in American Expeditionary Forces Cemetery 388: Plot in French Military Cemetery Chateau Thierry, Aisne. RG 92, Maps and Plans of Temporary American Expeditionary Force Cemeteries, #388.

The United States adopted a policy allowing for the next of kin to determine the final resting place of each deceased soldier, either repatriating the body to the United States or other area for re-interment in a local private or national cemetery or re-interring the body in a government owned, permanent cemetery in Europe. By 1923, eight permanent cemeteries had been created, six in France, and one each in Belgium and England, to act as the final resting place for those soldiers who were to remain buried in Europe.

The Cartographic Branch holds numerous records relating to World War I, and specifically the activities of the Graves Registration Service.

One series, Initial Burial Plats for World War I American Soldiers, consists of blueprints of survey maps and field drawings created by the 29th Army Corps of Engineers for the Graves Registration Service. The maps detail locations of scattered and isolated soldier grave sites. Each grave is identified by the soldier’s name, rank, serial number, and unit, if known. The plats also show surrounding landmarks, buildings, and other markers that could be used to identify the location of the burial.

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Plat D-27, showing a grouping of soldier graves. The soldiers are identified by their name, unit, rank, and serial number, if known. RG 92, Initial Burial Plats for World War I American Soldiers.
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Plat A-2 shows a grouping of 47 soldier graves that are located near a chateau, barn, and stone retaining wall. RG 92, Initial Burial Plats for World War I American Soldiers.

The survey dates to 1919 and is arranged into four Plat Books labeled A, B, C, and D. A partial finding aid is available for the plats, which lists the soldier’s name and other information, along with the Plat Book and Plat Number. The listing includes data for approximately 18,000 soldiers, but is incomplete. It can be downloaded as a Microsoft Excel Spreadsheet by clicking the following link:  RG 92 Grave Registration by Name.

The Initial Burial Plats for World War I American Soldiers series has recently been digitized and is now available online through the National Archives Catalog. To browse the plats, click the blue hyperlink that says “4 file unit(s) described in catalog” once you are on the main entry page for this series.  This is circled on the image below:

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Screenshot from catalog. Click on “4 file unit(s) described in catalog” to browse plats.

Next, click on Plat Book A, B, C or D (text is a blue hyperlink). The images will now display at the top of the catalog entry for the selected Plat Book. You can scroll through them, or click on individual images to enlarge them for viewing. To ensure that you see all of the small thumbnails of the scans, click load all (see arrow below). You can also download images from the catalog.

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Screenshot from catalog of main entry for Plat Book A. Click Load All to see small thumbnail images of all pages of the Plat Book.

A second related series held by the Cartographic Branch is Maps and Plans of Temporary American Expeditionary Force Cemeteries. This series consists of maps and plans showing graves at temporary World War I cemeteries. A finding aid is available, which lists the temporary cemeteries for which the Cartographic Branch holds plans. It is also available at the following link: RG 92 – Maps of Temporary American Grave Sites Overseas, WWI. This series has not been digitized at this time, but these maps are available to view in person in the Cartographic Research Room at the National Archives at College Park, Maryland.

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Three maps from this series have been digitized and are available to view in the catalog. The rest of the series has not been digitized, but can be viewed in person at Archives II in College Park, MD. Plan of American Expeditionary Forces Cemetery 579; Belleau-Aisne, FranceRG 92, Maps and Plans of Temporary American Expeditionary Force Cemeteries, #579.

These two series represent only a tiny portion of World War I and Graves Registration Service records available at the National Archives.

See other blog posts about World War I records held by Special Media at the National Archives:

Maps of the Great War: Army Cartography in World War I

Accessing World War I Photos in the Digital Age

Shooting World War I: The History of the Army Signal Corps Cameramen, 1917-1918

And many others!  

For more information on other closely related records that have recently been digitized, see The Text Message’s blog post on Burial Cards of World War I Soldiers.

Works Cited:

Hatzinger, Kyle J. Establishing the American Way of Death: World War I and the
Foundation of the United States’ Policy Toward the Repatriation and Burial of Its Battlefield Dead. Thesis. University of North Texas. August 2015. Accessed November 2, 2018.
https://digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc804852/m2/1/high_res_d/thesis.pdf

Hirrel, Leo P. “The beginnings of the Quartermaster Graves Registration Service” Army Sustainment. (July-August 2014). Accessed November 2, 2018. https://www.army.mil/article/128693/the_beginnings_of_the_quartermaster_graves_registration_service

“History.” American Battle Monuments Commission. Accessed November 2, 2018. https://www.abmc.gov/about-us/history

Potter, Constance. “Graves Registration Card Registers, 1917-22.” The United States World War One Centennial Commission. Accessed November 2, 2018. https://www.worldwar1centennial.org/index.php/commemorate/family-ties/documenting-doughboys/2223-graves-registration-card-registers-1917-22.html

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