Monday, January 20, 2014

John Joseph O'Hara's WWI Service Record and a Plea for Help

Although WWI Navy records were supposed to have fared better than Army and Air Force records in the 1973 fire at the National Personnel Records Center, I still received no results when I requested a search for my great-grandfather John O'Hara, despite his Navy service. (This was probably due at least in part to the fact that I couldn't include his Social Security Number on the request, as I just can't find him in the SSDI, no matter how hard I search, and despite knowing when he died.)

For whatever reason, not being able to get records I thought would be available led me to research alternatives - which I had never done to try to find the Army records I knew probably weren't available for my other 3 great-grandfathers. I discovered that the NYS Archives holds state-level versions of military service records - and for the low, low, price of just $1!

I figured I could splurge enough to spend $4 and order the records for all four great-grandfathers at once, which I promptly did.

WWI Service of John J. O'Hara
World War I, Navy, 303 Vanderbilt
WWI Military Service Record of John J. O'Hara, NYS Archives

According to this service record, John J. O'Hara enrolled at the Navy Recruiting Station on 4 June 1918.

World War I, 303 Vanderbilt, Anaconda Copper Company
WWI Draft Registration Card for John J. O'Hara,
According to his draft registration card, obtained from, he registered for the draft on 5 June 1918 at Local Board No. 45 at the YMCA at 55 Hanson Pl.

Something seems funny here. He registered for the draft the day after he enrolled in the Navy? My husband and I started coming up with theories:
"Maybe when he enrolled he was told he needed to be registered for the draft, so he went home and did that the next day?"
"Maybe he knew he was going to have to register for the draft, and wanted to sign up first to make sure he ended up in his preferred branch (the Navy)?"
However, the fact is that neither of us knows enough about military history or the rules and regulations of wartime conscription to know whether we were making any sense. (I first wrote this post using "enlisted" as a synonym for "enrolled," assuming they meant the same thing. Then I noticed that both were options on the service record, and "enlisted" was crossed out. If "enrolled" doesn't mean "enlisted," what does it mean?)

Beyond that, the service record doesn't provide much information about John O'Hara's military career. It seems that he spent the entirety of it in the Naval Training Camp at Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx - at least, that's the only place that's mentioned. However, the dates of service and the number of days served don't match up exactly, so I can't help but wonder if something is missing or incorrect. Based on the 4 service records I received, only 1 of my 4 great-grandfathers (not this one) served overseas during WWI, though all served in the military.

Plea for Help
Needless to say, that this is an area in which I have very little knowledge is severely hampering my interpretation of this document. (I understand the Army service records I received for the other 3 great-grandfather better . . . or else so poorly that I don't know what I don't know!) I've run into this problem before, when I realized I didn't know how to interpret a Civil War Service Record well enough to figure out whether it belonged to my 3x great-grandfather. That question is still just as open as it was in 2009, because I still don't know how to interpret a Civil War Service Record, or where to find out how to interpret a Civil War Service Record.

So here's my plea for help: What resources are available to help me learn to interpret these and other military records? I can find the records, but I'm not doing anything more than accumulating papers if I can't understand them. Are there websites that focus on this type of thing, blogs run by experts in military history, books I should be reading, or a guy your cousin knows who's made interpreting service records his life's goal? Please tell me in the comments! (And if you're someone who knows about this stuff, an "explaining and interpreting military history" genealogy blog might really fill a niche!)


Ralph Poore said...

The "enrolled" designation would seem to indicate that your ancestor was a member of the state naval militia and that the unit was brought under federal authority. State naval militias enrolled in National Naval Volunteers during World War I. These terms strike me as more bureaucratic than military.

Ralph Poore said...

Also have you requested your ancestor’s final pay voucher from the National Archives? These can include such information as: Name, service number, date when last paid, rank at discharge and overseas service. I was able to get a final pay voucher for one of my ancestors even though I did not have a military service number of or Social Security number.

Kathleen Scarlett O'Hara Naylor said...

Thanks, Ralph! I'll have to check out the NYS naval militia. And I didn't even know that final pay vouchers were available - I'll definitely look into that!

Marta said...

Kathleen, I showed this my husband, who is a military historian. We think that the first document is a record made after the fact. It summarizes his service. Enrolled may be the equivalent of what we would call pre-enlistment today. Note that his dates of service start in July.

All men between the ages of 18 and 45 were required to register for the draft, but it was not a rolling registration. According to this info (link below), he would have been too young for the first draft, but would have been required to register in the second draft which was held on June 5, 1918.

Kathleen Scarlett O'Hara Naylor said...

Thanks for the help, Marta! Can I ask, though - what does "pre-enlistment" means? It's not a term I've heard before.

Marta said...

It's a program where you sign up to go in the military but you don't go to basic training immediately. For instance, when I went in the army in 1983, I signed up for a six year term - four years active duty and two years of inactive duty or Reserve duty. I think it was June when I signed up, but I didn't leave for basic until November 1. The time between signing up and actually going to basic counted toward my two years of inactive/Reserve time. It probably is done to help with planning out training schedules.

Ralph Poore said...

To Marta's comment, pre-enlistment would not have been an option during World War I.

Kathleen Scarlett O'Hara Naylor said...

Thanks for the extra information, Marta and Ralph!