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
|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.
|WWI Draft Registration Card for John J. O'Hara, Ancestry.com|
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!)