Spotlight: The Launch of Sputnik 1

Sixty years ago today, October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union sent into orbit the first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1. The beach ball sized satellite, weighing 183.9 pounds, took 98 minutes to orbit the Earth on its elliptical path. Sputnik’s launch captured the world’s attention and caught the American public off-guard. They feared the Soviets’ ability to launch satellites would increase their ability to launch missiles from Europe to the United States.

The launch of Sputnik 1 propelled the world toward new political, military, and scientific developments, marking the beginning of the United States and U.S.S.R. space race. On January 31, 1958, the United States launched its first satellite, Explorer 1.  And by July 1958, Congress passed the National Aeronautics and Space Act creating NASA as of October 1, 1958.

The Universal News newsreel below, released 3 days after the launch of Sputnik, responds to the launch by explaining how a satellite is sent into space and what it does once there.  Instead of focusing on the launch of Sputnik, which may have caused more panic, the newsreel focuses on the future launch of a U.S. satellite.

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Posted in Films, Motion Pictures, Space, Uncategorized, Universal News Collection | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Operation Hi-jump: Exploring Antarctica with the U.S. Navy

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In August of 1946, a year after the end of World War II, the United States Navy mounted an expedition to Antarctica officially titled The United States Navy Antarctic Developments Program, 1946-1947. The mission, more commonly referred to as Operation Hi-jump, was organized by Rear Admiral Richard E. Byrd, Jr., USN (Ret) and led by Rear Admiral Richard H. Cruzen, USN, Commanding Officer. For Byrd, Hi-jump would be his fourth Antarctic expedition and was expected to last six to eight months. The primary goal of the mission was to establish an Antarctic research base, Little America IV.  The navy also spent time training personnel, testing equipment in the cold conditions, and determining the feasibility of establishing and maintaining bases in the Antarctic. Continue reading

Posted in Films, Military, Motion Pictures, U.S. Navy, Uncategorized, Universal News Collection | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

The Digitization of 26-LG

Many different factors are considered when selecting a series for digitization. Records that are particularly fragile or have high intrinsic value might be digitized to help preserve the originals by reducing the amount of physical handling each item receives. Records that are of high historical value might be digitized for posterity in order to ensure that the images are easily and perpetually available for generations to come. Records that have exceptionally high research value might be digitized to increase access, ensuring that any and all who wish to interact with our nation’s history are able to do so regardless of their ability to visit us in person here in College Park, MD.

Digitizing for public access is absolutely a priority at NARA. More than anything else, we want the public to have access to the records we work so hard to protect and preserve. These images represent who we are as a people, and We The People have not only a right to our history but a responsibility to it as well.

Earlier this year, Still Picture Branch completed the digitization of the series 26-LG: Lighthouses, 1855 -1933. This is a mid-sized series for Still Picture Branch, being just over 84 linear feet, and was a particularly good candidate for digitization due to the age, condition, and research value of the photographs therein. The photographs are Coast Guard records and were created and collected by the Bureau of Lighthouses. Because they were taken between 1855 and 1933, the Albumen, Gelatin-Silver Printing Out, and Gelatin-Silver Developing Out photographic processes are all represented in the series. There are also a few Cyanotypes. Most of the photographic prints were mounted, and mounts often contain caption information that was transcribed during the digitization process.

Images (Including Cyanotypes) of Esophus Island, New York

As of this summer, 26-LG is available in digital form on the National Archives Catalog. To access these images right now simply click here and search or browse for photographs by location. The series was arranged by district number with each district corresponding to a geographic area. Within these districts, 26-LG photos were then arranged in loose alphabetical order according to the name of the lighthouses. This arrangement is reflected in our catalog, where the file units are listed numerically by box number.

If you are starting your search from our catalog homepage and not from this blog, there are two ways to find photographs in 26-LG. The first is to browse by file units as you would following the direct link provided above, and the second is to search the whole series using keywords. To browse by file unit, you must search for “26-LG” in the catalog. Navigate to the 26-LG landing page and click on the link: “1124 file unit(s) described in the catalog.” This will take you to the file unit page that automatically groups the photos by location. When you select the location that interests you, a file unit landing page will provide you access to the images you wish to see. For example, if you click on “Maine — Egg Rock,” you will see a page that contains specific information about the photos of Egg Rock in Maine. Typically there will be nothing extraordinary here. However, you will be able to see that there are 7 Egg Rock, Maine images housed in our catalog. By clicking on either “7 item(s) described in the catalog” or the “Search within this file unit” button, you will be able to access all 7 Egg Rock, Maine photos at once.

Images of Egg Rock, Maine

To search the entire series by keyword, you must again start at the 26-LG landing page on our catalog. This time, select the “Search within this series” button. This will take you to a page where you can search every image in 26-LG at once using keywords in the search bar. You will see that *:* is already in the search bar at the top of the page. This is very important – it tells the catalog to only look at records for the series you have selected. In this case you have selected 26-LG. If you know the name of the lighthouse or location you are looking for, type it in the search bar to the right of the *:* provided. For example, if you wish to look for Egg Rock photos, your keyword search will look like this: *:* Egg Rock. This will take you to all the photos in 26-LG related to Egg Rock. It is important to notice that your search results using this method will often be different – there is an Egg Rock in Massachusetts as well as in Maine, and using the keyword “Egg Rock” returns photos from both locations.

Images of Egg Rock, Massachusetts

The digital images from 26-LG were scanned at high resolution and may be downloaded directly from our catalog. They are not subject to copyright. Researchers are encouraged to access and engage with these images. Please remember to cite them to the Still Picture Branch of the National Archives using the Local Identifier number, which is unique to each photograph and can be found in the National Archives Catalog below the image download button.

New series’ and photographs are continuously uploaded to our catalog. We are excited to share these records with you, and hope you will enjoy these images as much as we do!

Posted in Digitization, Photographs | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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

One of the most illuminating groups of records found in the Cartographic Branch at the National Archives is Record Group 120: Records of the American Expeditionary Forces (World War I), 1848 – 1942 (seen in our catalog here). These records cover many different aspects of the war. Included are maps from various United States army divisions as well as maps created by cartographers in other allied armies, including France, Britain and Italy. Subjects covered in the records consist of trench layouts, road maps, situation maps, topographic maps and enemy information maps, among others.

RG120_E61_01

RG 120, Entry 61, 11/11/1918. This map, showing the military situation on Armistice Day, is included in a series of situation maps that show daily activity of the French and American forces between September and December 1918 and various days between January and May, 1919.

Depending on what you’re looking for in these records, and especially if you’re just browsing, it’s easy to get lost and explore a number of different threads. There are so many places to look and so many ways to search through the records. You can search by army, division, corps, services and country. The records are organized into entries, which each have a description of what they hold and what types of maps you’ll find there. The record group contains 540 entries, all of which have varying numbers of maps.

RG120_E225_01

RG 120, Entry 225, 1/1/1919. A G-3 situation map showing the locations of units of the 6th, 77th and 81st divisions.

Maps related to transportation are often found throughout the records, including roads and railroads.

RG120_E164_01

RG 120, Entry 164, 1/6/19. This map shows railroads in the area of the 3rd army.

Maps made by foreign allied armies were retained by the United States army and are found in these records. These maps show a different aspect of the types of records used by the allied forces and provide insight into other armies’ cartography.

RG120_E486_02

RG 120, Entry 486, 10/12/1918. This map is part of an entry that includes Italian maps showing enemy information. These maps were produced by the Instituto Geografico Militare (Military Geographical Institute).

Continue reading

Posted in Cartographic Records, Digitization, Graphic Materials, Maps, Military, Photographs, World War I | 1 Comment

Mapping the Civil War: Antietam and South Mountain

The Cartographic Branch holds many maps relating to Civil War battlefields. Today we’re highlighting some maps relating to the battles of Antietam and South Mountain. The battle of South Mountain took place just east of Sharpsburg, Maryland, on September 14, 1862, only days before the larger and better known battle of Antietam. At South Mountain, Northern troops pushed their way through three mountain gaps blocked by Confederates, resulting in a Union victory. However, the fight at South Mountain allowed valuable time for the Confederate Army, which was split into two sections, to reunite and strengthen its position along and near Antietam Creek.

RG77_G443_VolIX_p.10

Map of Antietam Battlefield. RG 77, CWMF, G443, vol. 9, pg. 10

The battle of Antietam is remembered as bloodiest single day in American history. By the end of September 17, 1862, after twelve hours of intense fighting, over 23,000 soldiers were dead, wounded, captured, or missing. Both armies remained in position after the fighting subsided. Although most historians view the battle as a draw, Confederate forces retreated from the battlefield on the night of September 18, allowing the Union Army to claim victory. President Abraham Lincoln used this Union victory as an opportunity to issue a preliminary version of his Emancipation Proclamation, a document which altered the purpose of the war from just preserving to Union to also include ending slavery.

Many of the Cartographic Branch’s Civil War maps, including those focusing on Antietam and South Mountain, can be found within various series of Record Group (RG) 77, Records of the Office of the Chief of Engineers. Battle maps can be found with the Civil Works Map File (CWMF) series. The maps within the CWMF series are filed according to the agency’s filing scheme. Maryland maps are mainly filed under the letter “F.”  This includes several maps of the Antietam battlefield that were annotated from information obtained from commanding officers to show battle lines, locations of regiments and artillery, and headquarters.

RG77_CWMF_F73(1)

RG 77, CWMF, F73(1). Annotated map of Antietam Battlefield.

RG77_CWMF_F73(4)

RG 77, CWMF, F73(4). Annotated map of Antietam Battlefield.

RG77_CWMF_F73(5)

Reconnaissance map of the ground occupied by General Hooker’s First Corps at Antietam. RG 77, CWMF, F73(5).

Civil War battlefield maps can also be found within the War Department Map Collection (WDMC)  of RG 77. Some of these maps were prepared after the Civil War, often for the preservation and development of Civil War battlefield parks. The map below was created for the Antietam Battlefield Board in the 1890s. It shows important battlefield landmarks like “Bloody Lane” and also shows wartime residents, tree cover, and land use at the time of the battle.

RG77_WDMC_MD24

Post-war map of Antietam Battlefield. RG 77, WDMC, 24 -MD

Another map is from a post-Civil War publication and was colored to show Union and Confederate positions and the location of artillery pieces during the battle.

RG77_WDMC_MD33

Map showing troop and artillery locations at Antietam. RG 77, WDMC, 33 – MD

Many Civil War maps can also be found in the Colonel W.H. Paine Collection of Civil War Maps. Paine, who served with the Union Army of the Potomac during the C, drafted and annotated many maps, especially for battles in Virginia. He also worked on or collected several maps relating to the battles of Antietam, South Mountain, and Gettysburg. We highlight one map below of the South Mountain Battlefield.

PaineCollection_A-7-9

South Mountain Battlefield. Paine Collection, A-7-9.

To view additional maps related to the battles of Antietam, South Mountain, and many others, try searching our catalog to view digitized items or plan a visit in person to the Cartographic Research Room in College Park, Maryland.

For additional information about Civil War Maps at the National Archives, see A Guide to Civil War Maps in the National Archives (Washington, DC: National Archives and Records Administration, 1986).

Posted in Cartographic Records, Maps, Military, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 13 Comments

Now You See Me, Now You…..Still See Me? Hand-Painted British Dazzle Camouflage Templates from WWI

Record Group 19, Camouflage Design Drawings for U.S. Navy Commissioned Ships, U.S. Merchant Ships and British Ships contains some of the more colorful ship designs to ever sail in a military fleet. It is in this record group is where you will find the color and design templates for British Dazzle Camouflage.  There are over 300 hand-colored drawings in this series, each of them unique in color scheme and pattern layout.

RG19_British_Type2_DesignA_Port2

RG19_British_Type3_DesignC_Starboard.JPG

RG; 19, Camouflage Design Drawings for U.S. Navy Commissioned Ships, U.S. Merchant Ships and British Ships.  Shown above are the design templates for Type 2, Design A, Port Side (NAID 46740252) and Type 3, Design C, Starboard Side (NAID 46740253).

During WWI, 1914-1918, the Fleet Admiral of the British Navy had a problem.  German U-Boats were sinking British ships at an astonishing rate.  Something had to be done to halt the destruction of the fleet and the loss of life, and that something was what would come to be known as Dazzle Camouflage.  Unlike other types and styles of camouflage, it was not intended to hide the ship, but rather to visually disrupt the outline of the ship to the degree that an observer would have no idea what they were looking at.

RG19_British_Type8_DesignA_Starboard.JPG

RG; 19, Camouflage Design Drawings for U.S. Navy Commissioned Ships, U.S. Merchant Ships and British Ships.  Shown above are the design templates for Type 8, Design A, Starboard Side (NAID 46740258) and Type 9, Design B, Starboard Side (NAID 46740259).

To torpedo a ship during WWI, a series of three steps had to be followed to successfully hit a ship.  First, the location of the ship had to be ascertained and its course plotted.  Second, the ships heading and speed had to be determined, and finally, the torpedo had to be fired not at the ship, but rather where it was calculated that the ship would be when the torpedo made contact.  The German Navy had a well-deserved reputation for having a very low margin of error when it came to sinking British ships, but it was reported that dazzle camouflage could throw an experienced submariner’s aim off by multiple degrees, meaning a harmless miss rather than a devastating hit.

RG19_British_Type11_DesignC_Starboard

RG19_British_Type14_DesignE_Port
RG; 19, Camouflage Design Drawings for U.S. Navy Commissioned Ships, U.S. Merchant Ships and British Ships.  Shown above are the design templates for Type 11, Design C, Starboard Side (NAID 46740261) and Type 14, Design E, Port Side (NAID 46740264).

Dazzle camouflage was pioneered by British naval officer Norman Wilkinson and was based on the theory that, just like stripes on a zebra and spots on a cheetah, stripes and odd patterns on a battleship would make it harder to target by breaking up its outline.  Dazzle camouflage utilized oddly angled lines and very bright colors including green, yellow, pink, purple, blue, and black to make it impossible to determine the size, shape, speed, or heading of a ship.  Also, for added confusion, no two ships were painted alike so that the Germans would have nothing to latch onto as a template for the patterns on the ships.

RG19_British_Type17_DesignB_Port

RG19_British_Type17_DesignC_Port.JPG

RG; 19, Camouflage Design Drawings for U.S. Navy Commissioned Ships, U.S. Merchant Ships and British Ships.  Shown above are the design templates for Type 17, Design B, Port Side (NAID 46740267) and Type 17, Design C, Port Side (NAID 46740267)

This type of camouflage enjoyed great success and was eventually adopted by the United States navy, prompting an unnamed American journalist at the New York Times to write, “You should see our fleet, it’s camouflaged to look like a flock of Easter eggs going out to sea.”

By WWII, this type of camouflage was becoming less and less effective because of inventions like radar and range finders and the fact that torpedoes were no longer hand guided.

All of the images shown above in addition to the over 300 other templates in the National Archives holdings are available for viewing online at https://catalog.archives.gov, search “British Camouflage Type” and then choose which “type” (1-20) you wish to view.

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

60 Years On: The Little Rock Nine

September 2017 marks 60 years since the desegregation of Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, a key event of the American Civil Rights Movement.

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NARA Holdings Relating to the Desegregation of Central High School

The Motion Picture, Sound and Video Branch at the National Archives has in its holdings several reels of unedited footage shot in Little Rock while the 101st Airborne Division was present.

111 LC 41033 Operation Arkansas, Little Rock, Arkansas

111 LC 41036 Operation Arkansas, Little Rock, Arkansas

We also have, as part of our Universal Newsreel collection, an outtake of President Eisenhower’s address to the nation. In the speech, he explains his decision to deploy the 101st Airborne to Little Rock. A transcript of the speech can be found here.

The Eisenhower Presidential Library has several items relating to the Little Rock school integration crisis and President Eisenhower’s response. Those documents are available here.

History of the Event

As a response to the landmark 1954 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, which directed that “separate but equal educational facilities for racial minorities is inherently unequal violating the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment,” the Little Rock School Board adopted a plan for gradual integration of its schools beginning with high schools in September 1957. Applicants for the integration process were vetted by members of the Arkansas NAACP and its president Daisy Gatson Bates. The students selected ranged in age from 14-17 and would come to be known as the Little Rock Nine.

Continue reading

Posted in African American History, Films, Military, Motion Pictures, Uncategorized, Universal News Collection | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Through an American Lens: The Russian Civil War

Note: Some images are of a sensitive nature.

In 1919 the United States was entering a decade of prosperity after the success of World War I. The country benefited politically and financially from the experience and while things were by no means perfect, there was reason to hope. However, other countries did not fare as well. Inflation and unemployment rates across Europe, and especially in Germany, climbed. The end of World War I for Russia also had consequences, it sparked another kind of war– a civil war.

Czar Nicholas II returned home in 1916 when the need to deal with food shortages and rebellions became overwhelming. The Russian Empire pulled out of the war soon after in 1917. In addition to these concerns, there was a growing political movement led by the Bolsheviks to overthrow the monarchy, which the Imperial government hoped to subdue. Nicholas failed. He abdicated the throne in 1917 and a year later he, and his wife and children, were executed.

Starting with the February Revolution and the abdication of Nicholas and ending with the October Revolution in 1917, these revolutions caused a civil war to break out in Russia. This put the White Army, who were anti-communist supporters of a monarchy, against the communist Red Army. With no strict geographical boundaries for either side, the war raged for over five years with both soldiers and civilians fighting for their lives.

This brings us to our United States connection. In the summer of 1919 a young Naval Intelligence officer named George F. Zimmer was sent by then head of the United States Food Administration (precursor to the FDA) Herbert Hoover to photographically document the need for food relief.

Zimmer spent time on the front with Army Colonel Stanislav Bulak-Balakhovich who was working as a White Army Administrator of the northern city of Pskov at the time. While there, he photographed the city, people, and Army activities.

The photographs show a state of desperation from the people. The images show the faces of people, starvation, and suspected cannibalism.

The Army engaged in combat during Zimmer’s visit. These battles resulted in deaths, injuries, and prisoners of war.

While some of these images seem almost unbelievable, a letter written by Colonel Stanislav Bulak-Balakhovich is included in the series confirming their accuracy.

Local Identifier: FLAX-GZ-41

This series took almost 100 years to get to the National Archives by way of a donation. Though they are difficult to view, they convey the realities of war and its effect on everyday life. To learn more about the series and see more images (coming soon) please see the National Archives Catalog at this address.

Posted in Lantern Slides, Photographs, Russian Civil War, U.S. Navy, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Planning America’s Best Idea: Master Plans for National Parks

On August 25, 1916, Woodrow Wilson signed into law the Organics Act, creating the National Park Service (NPS), a new federal bureau responsible for protecting the existing 35 national parks and monuments. In 1933, the National Park Service greatly expanded when all parks, monuments, and historical areas overseen by the government were transferred to the National Park Service’s administration. Today, over 400 diverse units make up America’s National Parks, protecting areas of scenic, natural, historical, and cultural significance.

During the 1930s, a series of acts and executives orders expanded the reach of the National Park Service and  planning began to develop many of these national park areas. The NPS’s Branch of Plans and Design began creating master plans that showed proposed developments of areas of the parks. These master plans included both a textual descriptive statement and a set of maps and drawings showing the proposed developments.

The Cartographic Branch holds most of the National Park Service Master Plans within a series called Master Plans of Parks and Monuments, 1931 – 1941 (NAID 591991). They are part of  Record Group (RG) 79, Records of the National Park Service. Plans exist for some of the most popular national parks that had been created by the 1930s, including the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Yosemite, the Great Smokey Mountains, and Shenandoah. Plans also exist for many notable historical parks, including Civil War battlefields like Gettysburg, Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania, Vicksburg, and Antietam, along with other historical sites like Fort McHenry, Abraham Lincoln Birthplace, and Colonial National Historical Park. Many smaller and lesser known parks also have plans within this series. Plans also exist for parks that have since changed names or become parts of other national parks.

Master Plan sets typically consist of a decorative cover, an index, and various plans relating to the existing and proposed developments within a park. The covers are often very artistic, featuring drawings and photographs that are often hand colored.

Cover sheet showing Old Faithful at Yellowstone National park

Yellowstone National Park Master Plan cover sheet, 1933.

 

cover sheet showing Fort Pulaski

Fort Pulaski National Monument Master Plan cover sheet, 1937.

While the covers are often the visual highlight of the plans, the sets of plans also contain valuable information about the development of our national parks. The plans include both existing developments and proposed roads, trails, and facilities. Most plan sets include maps showing roads and parking areas designed to allow visitors to easily access points of interest by car. The plan sets also typically include maps showing hiking or walking trails, which are common elements in both natural and historical parks.

Plan for the parking area and visitor facilities near Old Faithful at Yellowstone National Park. Old Faithful is depicted in the upper right corner.

Plan for the parking area and visitor facilities near Old Faithful at Yellowstone National Park. Old Faithful is depicted in the upper right corner.

Facilities shown on the plans include things such as museums and visitor contact stations, along with lodging options for visitors such as campgrounds, cabins, hotels. Many also show dormitories or housing used by park employees. The plans also include proposed developments associated with the administration and operation of the parks, such as park headquarters offices, utilities, maintenance buildings, and other support structures.

Plan for the South Rim Village area of Grand Canyon National Park, including an employee housing area and services such as a hospital and post office. Visitor facilities are also shown, including a campground and other lodging choices.

Plan for the South Rim Village area of Grand Canyon National Park, including an employee housing area and services such as a hospital and post office. Visitor facilities are also shown, including a campground and other lodging choices.

Plan for Death Valley National Monument's headquarters buildings and employee housing areas.

Plan for Death Valley National Monument’s headquarters buildings and employee housing areas.

Master plan sets also include items relating to the physical landscape. Plan sets include maps showing land cover and vegetation, reforestation efforts, and fire control plans. Many of the sets also include topographic or landform maps. Plans for cultural or historical parks also often include photos of historic structures or maps showing troop positions and earthworks on battlefields.

Vegetation Map for Colonial National Historical Park showing vegetation types present.

Vegetation Map for Colonial National Historical Park.

Fire Control Map for Yellowstone National Park.

Fire Control Map for Yellowstone National Park.

The plan sets date from 1931 until 1941. Many parks have multiple editions of plans. Some have plans for almost every year, while other parks may only have one edition of plans. Each edition can show changes to the master plan for a park. Sometimes, the covers changed along with the plans for facilities and infrastructure.

Vicksburg National Military Park Master Plan cover sheet, 1936.

Vicksburg National Military Park Master Plan cover sheet, 1936.

Vicksburg National Military Park Master Plan cover sheet, 1939 showing cannon along river

Vicksburg National Military Park Master Plan cover sheet, 1939.

We invite you to take a closer look at RG 79, Records of the National Park Service. Cartographic not only holds the Master Plans, but also many other maps and architectural plans relating to the National Capital Region Parks and other records relating to the development of America’s National Parks. Other special media branches also hold records on the National Park Service. You never know what you might discover!

Dinosaur National Monument Master Plan cover sheet, 1940, showing large dinasaur

Dinosaur National Monument Master Plan cover sheet, 1940. NAID 70991709.

 

 

Posted in Architectural and Engineering Drawings, Cartographic Records, Graphic Materials, Maps, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

How to Research: Photographs Relating to World War II Navy Ships

When it comes to research in the Still Picture Branch, our staff would agree that World War II photographs are by far some of our most requested records. Given their popularity, our How to Research posts are intended to be a quick reference guide, with some tips and examples of how to effectively search through our WWII military photographs. In this third post of a four part series, we will be providing an example of the type of search path one would follow when attempting to locate photographs related to WWII Navy ships.

Similar to the Army and Air Force photos, the WWII Navy photographs have been indexed by subject. However, the type of information needed for photographic research slightly differs from branch to branch. The important information to have on hand prior to searching the Navy photographs includes:

  • Ship name and hull number (predecessor hull numbers are also useful)
  • Names of prominent personalities affiliated with the ship
  • Ship locations, including dates
  • Notable characteristics, accomplishments, and facts regarding the ship and/or crew members

To illustrate the search process for Navy photographs, we have chosen to focus on the USS Mason. Before starting our research, we gathered the following information:

  • There have been three Naval ships under the name the USS Mason. The hull number for the WWII USS Mason we are interested in is DE-529. DE stands for “Destroyer Escort.”
  • The USS Mason holds an important place in U.S. history as the first Naval ship to have a predominantly African American crew.
  • The Mason was constructed at the Boston Navy Yard and was commissioned on March 20, 1944.
  • Lt. Cmdr. William “Bill” Blackford was the USS Mason’s captain.

It is crucial to note that the subject headings used to index WWII military photographs were defined by the individual military branches and not by NARA archivists. Furthermore, the military indexed and cross-indexed their own photos, which was not always consistent. Therefore, researchers may need to look under multiple subject headings and must try to think about the terminology or vocabulary that would have been used at the time the photos were indexed. For example, it is pertinent to know if a location you are searching ever changed names and if so, what name was used during WWII. Additionally, it is important to remember that the military remained segregated throughout WWII and the terminology used to index photographs is reflective of the time period (it wasn’t until July 26, 1947, when President Truman signed Executive Order 9981, the the Armed Forces was officially desegregated).

The easiest and first place to begin your research is by looking under the ship hull number in Record Group 80, G series (80-G). The Navy index, which is an analog card catalog located in the Still Picture research room, begins with photographs listed alpha-numerically by the hull number.

Stock photos taken at A2 to update "Guidelines for Using Historical Records in the National Archives"

This is the card catalog in the Still Picture research room that researchers use to locate Army and Navy photographs.

Looking under DE-529, we find multiple index cards, which look like this:

DE-529 (2)DE-529

The photographs themselves are arranged numerically by the photo ID number. Once a researcher has their ID numbers written down, they will then use a box list to guide them to the correct box where the photograph is located. When researchers receive the box, they *may* find additional photographs which were not included in the card catalog index. Here are the images that were filed under “DE-529”:

After searching under the hull number, we then searched under the subject headings cross-referenced on the above index cards. We also tried searching under “training” and “searchlights.” We were able to locate the following images:

Beyond the 80-G card index, researchers may also try searching Record Group 80, GX series (80-GX), which is the WWII Navy personality index. Essentially, if a person’s name appears in the caption of an 80-G photograph, then their name should be included the 80-GX personality index. So, in other words, the personality index only includes a person’s name if their name happened to be written within an original caption. It is important to remember that we have many photographs of military personnel who are not identified in the caption, therefore, their names would not appear in the personality index. For the purposes of this blog post, we checked 80-GX for the Captain of the USS Mason, William “Bill” Blackford. We located the following index card (the image numbers are the same as those that we already found by searching 80-G):

80-GX-blackburn

In addition to 80-G, photographs of WWII era ships can also be found in Record Group 19, LCM series (19-LCM). When we looked in 19-LCM, which is organized alpha-numerically by hull number, we found approximately 15 photos of the USS Mason. While some of the photographs in 19-LCM were the same as those found in 80-G, there were some additional views of the ship, including photos of the bow and astern:

19-N-69484-D

USS Mason

19-N-69696

There are, of course, additional series of records related to the Navy that can be found outside of 19-LCM, 80-G, and 80-GX. The following links will guide users to additional series descriptions of photographic records relating to WWII Navy research:

The Naval History and Heritage Command is also an excellent source to gather information prior to beginning photographic research. For those specifically researching the U.S. Navy during WWII, the following publications posted on their website may be of interest:

Click here to read more about the USS Mason on the National Archives Rediscovering Black History blog!

For information about researching WWII Army photographs and WWII Air Force (Army Air Corps) photographs, please go back and take a look at How to Research part 1  and part 2. The last post in this series will cover WWII Marine photos.

 

 

Posted in Photographs, Reference | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments