What did you do in the war, Grandpa?

In honor of Veterans Day, today’s blog post comes from Nathan Jordan, an Archives Technician at the National Archives at Atlanta.  Nathan recently presented his family’s history of military service using resources from the National Archives.

Greetings from Atlanta!  Thanks for allowing me to blog in honor of Veterans Day.

When I began working as a student Archives Technician at the National Archives at Atlanta in January 2010, I quickly realized that the public craves military records – anything and everything military.  I plunged into navigating the “old war” microfilm records and our military-related textual records.  I learned how to obtain records from significant military collections held in Washington and St. Louis, and I discovered unconventional avenues by which patrons can uncover our Nation’s military past and the official memory of its participants.

In the spring of 2010, a staff discussion on upcoming public programs, particularly the Veterans Day Program in November, piqued my interest.  I knew that my family had participated in America’s armed conflicts as far back as the Revolutionary War.  Could I speak to the public’s fascination with military records, affirm my own family’s military service, and contribute to the Archives’ tribute to veterans?  The answer, emerging from productive staff collaboration, was the National Archives at Atlanta’s Veterans Day 2010 Program – From Bunker Hill to Kabul: The Search for Family Stories at the National Archives.

Using my family’s history as a case study, I was able to build an exhibit displaying personal military artifacts previously seen by a limited audience of moths and mold spores in the attics and garages of my family.  I also developed a presentation detailing my use of NARA’s military records to construct stories of service accompanying the exhibit.

The sources I referenced for two of my ancestors in the Revolutionary War were the standard microfilm records now available on footnote.com (M860, M881, M804). They corroborated the stories that I had heard and presented paths for continued research.  These records were especially meaningful because no family artifacts from that time remain.  Wartime experiences common to so many veterans are represented:  promotions, pay stubs, movement from camp to camp, and capture by the British.  Pension files revealed additional genealogical information, as most do, via wills and the naming of heirs.

The records of the Creek War were not as forthcoming, with only an index available on microfilm (M629).  This, however, produced an index card with my ancestor’s name and unit information.  Another ancestor’s widow completed a pension application, the card for which I found on microfilm (T318).  This offered an opportunity for me to present the practice of ordering such records online.

The most compelling story I found, created from complementary family and NARA records, was that of Fleming Jordan, my great-great-grandfather’s older brother.  Using Fleming’s compiled service records (M266), I corroborated the story I had been told:  Fleming enlisted in the 4th Georgia Infantry, was wounded and captured in Jubal Early’s raid on Washington in July 1864 (M598), later succumbed to his wounds, and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.  Another ancestor was captured at Spotsylvania Courthouse, died of typhoid fever at Camp Delaware, and is buried at Finn’s Point Cemetery in New Jersey (M918).  Aside from the obvious stories of tragedy and loss conveyed in these records, there are applicable lessons on the successful collaboration of NARA records with family artifacts.

M266 - Compiled Service Records of Confederate Soldiers Who Served in Organizations from the State of Georgia
M266 - Compiled Service Records of Confederate Soldiers Who Served in Organizations from the State of Georgia
Preserved family documents detailing Fleming’s death and burial – June 30, 1866
Preserved family documents detailing Fleming’s death and burial – June 30, 1866
Letter with original blades of grass enclosed– September 6, 1866
Letter with original blades of grass enclosed– September 6, 1866

Two of my great-grandfathers served in World War One, so this gave me the opportunity to exploit our own Record Group 163 holdings to discover both of their draft cards and other information.

RG 163 - Draft Card for James Nathaniel Walker – Monticello, GA
Record Group 163: Draft Card for James Nathaniel Walker – Monticello, GA
RG 163 - Draft Card for E. Glover Jordan – Monticello, GA
Record Group 163: Draft Card for E. Glover Jordan – Monticello, GA

Also in RG 163 I found the local board draft order for Jim Nat Walker, which provided an important piece of information:  the location of his reporting station as Camp Gordon in Chamblee, Georgia.

RG 163 - List of Men Ordered to Report to this Local Board for Military Duty
Record Group 163: List of Men Ordered to Report to this Local Board for Military Duty

This information was important because knowing the location of Jim Nat’s reporting station/basic training post provided clues to his unit of service during the war using old newspapers on footnote.com and other sources.

The Atlanta Journal - January 4, 1918
The Atlanta Journal - January 4, 1918

Using the The Atlanta Journal from January 4, 1918, I determined that Jim Nat Walker served in Company M, 328 Infantry, 82nd Division.  From there, I researched this outfit’s wartime service in unit history books and newspapers.

History of the 328 Infantry and The Atlanta Journal, September 12, 1918
History of the 328 Infantry and The Atlanta Journal, September 12, 1918

My grandfather, E. Glover Jordan, Jr., served in the Navy in World War II and his military service records are held at the Military Personnel Records Center in St. Louis.  Since I am not the next-of-kin, I used the SF 180 to request his records, and received some unexpected surprises.  Along with his enlistment records, there were civilian artifacts, including his college transcript and a list of references that included some employment history – excellent references for genealogists and family historians.

College transcript from Emory University and Employers and Character Reference
College transcript from Emory University & Employers and Character Reference

My great-uncle Phil Jordan also served in the Navy in World War II.  He shared Navy Deck Logs that he ordered years ago from the USS Chevalier with me, though he didn’t remember from where he had ordered them.  Ironically, I stumbled across a post on the NARAtions blog from July 2010 describing these logs.   I included the ordering procedure to obtain them in my presentation.

Finally, my family’s military service in our nation’s armed conflicts concluded – for now, at least – with my own deployment to Afghanistan in 2006-2007.  Will my great-great-grandchildren be curious about our own historical context?  Perhaps they will tell my stories and participate in this fascinating endeavor themselves.

Good luck in your search and Happy Veterans Day!

For more information on the selected NARA microfilm publications that have been digitized by our partners, please visit our website.

12 thoughts on “What did you do in the war, Grandpa?

  1. Bravo! Excellent! I very much enjoyed reading this, and thank you, Nathan, for your service to our nation, and protecting all of us.

  2. That was the most moving presentation of records that I have had the pleasure of being able to see and being that my son has joined the military if gave him a new way of looking at what it really means and the pride that comes from serving our country. And yes Thank you for your service to keeping us safe.

  3. Wow, Nathan! Thank you for sharing the highlights of your amazing presentation with us, and thank you for your service to our country. I’d love to see this content more extensively featured on archives.gov as I’m sure that there are other records (federal and personal) that you weren’t able to include here. What a great case study and example for our researchers.

  4. Thanks so much for reading the blog. I hope that it inspires others to uncover their own family’s military stories at NARA and elsewhere.

  5. Thanks so much Nathan. Phil forwarded this to me. Congratulations on a wonderful job. I love my geneology, and have my Lane and mostly Persons line traced back to about the early 1700’s. You probably remember my mother Elizabeth Persons Ballard..my grandfather J.D. Persons – my wife Sunny Banks – Clydie’s sister…I love Clydie and Phil…come up from Macon to see them about twice a month..
    Thanks again ! !
    Sonny Lane

  6. Dear Nathan, I’m one of those Jordans from Atlanta ! Phil sent me your info. It’s great, and I wish I had more family history. My father: Nevin White Jordan; grandfather: Alexander Hunter Jordan; great Aunt: Ree Jordan Henderson. When I often visited my grandfather, I also visited Aunt Ree. Always had a grand time. They shared a wonderful vegetable/fruit garden between their adjacent homes. I remember Aunt Ree’s wonderful fig tree fondly ! Also, walking down the red Georgia earth from grandpa’s house to the First Presbyterian Church in Monticello. There’s a Library now where Grandpa’s house stood, but Aunt Ree Henderson’s house is still there. Some few years back, it was for sale, and I wish I could have bought it ! Been in Texas 42 years now, but am still a Georgia Cracker – and proud of it. You have to be born in Texas to be a Texan. Keep telling myself that I need to visit Phil and Clydie, and cousin Henry Jordan, Atlanta, before I get too old to travel. I’m just 85, so have a lot of good years ahead of me. Thank you so much for sharing those family histories. And thank you so much for your service to this great country, so that we might be safer here. Keep in touch, will you? Thanks again. jeannette

  7. Nathan, I am so proud of you for your service to our country and your interest in helping others to learn about their ancestor’s-in-service. Great job.

  8. Nathan, Phil sent me your aarticle and It is wonderful. Iwish it had encluded your Fish and Phillips history. I went into DAR on the service of James Phillips. I published a book on the “McCallay, Phillips, Fish, McGee families. I think it is in the Atlanta Library. I know it is in the National Archives.
    Best Wishes and keep up the good work.
    Claudine Dollar

  9. I am the grand son of Alexander Hunter Jordan and Zadie Ezell. I have research our family and have genealogy I would be glad to share with you.

  10. It’s great to see so many relatives reading NARAtions! This process made me realize that I only scratched the surface when it comes to my family’s military history. Perhaps I’ll write a follow-up detailing the stories of additional ancestors – including the Fish and Phillips line – in the years to come…

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