Tuesday’s Tip/Disasters: Flat Roofs Always Leak

This post is part of 52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy & History (focus this week on natural disasters) and the Geneabloggers Tuesday’s Tip blogging prompt.

Here is the 52 Weeks question: “Week 10: Disasters. Did you experience any natural disasters in your lifetime? Tell us about them. If not, then discuss these events that happened to parents, grandparents or others in your family.”

The closest I’ve come to living through a natural disaster was last year’s Snowmageddon in the D.C. area. If you’re interested in reliving that, please see the story, starting here.

This week’s topic got me thinking about what to do to prevent damage to your family history records and artifacts in the case of a natural disaster.

I concentrated on archives and preservation for my MLS degree. One of the classes I took was fascinating — we studied the various ways different types of materials can deteriorate — my professor actually collects damaged books and other items on purpose and brought them in by the cart-load to each class so we could see how problems develop and the effect different types of damage have on documents, etc.

Of course, we also talked about how to prevent such damage. Keeping valuable documents out of harm’s way is a biggie. Here’s the number-one tip the professor impressed upon us constantly throughout the class:

Flat Roofs Always Leak

And it’s true. They have not developed a fool-proof system for draining the top of buildings with flat roofs. I work in a relatively new building and they’re constantly chasing down the sources of leaks during heavy rainstorms. Once they patch one problem area, the water just travels to the next one. It always finds a way.

So how does this affect you? Consider where you’re storing your precious family photos, documents and heirlooms. Are you in a building with a flat roof? I suppose you could move, but let’s say you don’t have much choice in the matter — how can you protect your valuables from the inevitable?

There are plenty of protective containers for items like photographs, papers and books. Make sure you are storing items in waterproof containers. Are they in the attic? If yes, bad idea. Not only does that put items first in line for water damage in the case of a roof leak, but most attics do not have the temperature and humidity controls of other areas of a building. This also can lead to damage caused by moisture (the same goes for basements).

Let’s say you have scanned everything as an added precaution. Where is your computer? What would happen if it got wet and your hard drive was fried — make sure you are backing up regularly and in multiple ways. I recommend having an online back-up in the cloud, a back-up to an external hard drive and a back-up of items to CD or DVD. Now, let’s take it a step further.

Let’s say you’ve done all of that. What happens if even those DVDs get damaged? Consider making duplicates of your DVD copies and sending one or more to relatives in far-flung locations. This was a tip shared by Brewster Kahle of the Internet Archive at Rootstech. His advice was to send your back-up copies as far away as possible.

RootsTech, Day 2.2 – Digitization of Irish Records

Brian Donovan of Eneclann presented a session on efforts to digitize Irish records. He began with a brief history of the records in the country, covering the 1922 destruction of the public records office, which resulted in the destruction of pre-1851 censuses, more than half of the available parish registers and pre-1700 records.

The destruction didn’t stop there. Bureaucratic decisions destroyed later census records. Irish apathy also led to the disappearance of value genealogical resources.

Then Donovan turned to more hopeful news about current efforts to digitize those records that are still available.

The Irish Genealogical Project at www.Irish-roots.ie provides and index only, no images, of many parish registers, civil and census records, tithe books, primary valuation and more.

Irishgenealogy.ie, an initiative of the Department of Tourism, also is working on parish registers, but not all counties are represented.

The National Library, at www.irishorigins.com, has the Griffiths valuation for 1846 & 1852 available.

There are several new initiatives coming along. FamilySearch may have tithe records from 1823-1837. A tithe was a religious tax collected by then established church of the time. Household list akin to census enumerations are provided in theses records.

The National Library has a RFP out to digitize microfilm records. The ETA on this is unknown.

Eneclann has several projects in the works. Sign up for their e-newsletter to find out how to access the below databases as they come online. Their web site is www.Eneclann.ie.

In May, records from the landed estates court, which sold land from bankrupt estate owners, will go online. These records include mortgage and “portions” from the mid-19th century (1848-1852). The list of renters numbers 600,000.

Prison registers, which give details about relatives and victims, will go online on this summer. Ireland had the most prisons per population in Europe and millions of prisoners.

Petty Sessions, which are just like it sounds (think the Judge Judy of 19th-early 20th century Ireland), included criminal and civil cases. There are 15 million cases to 1910. These I’ll be available in about a year.

Dog license books! More pertinent than they sound. Every farmer had a dog and had to have a license. These records include their name, address and more. I missed the ETA on this project.

The Irish Revolutionary period was 1912-23. Of course, it was a very emotional period for Irish. The police records from the period are fascinating (they tracked everyone). They include mug shots, Volunteer records (private army raised against revolutionaries), and Army records (including search and raid records, court martials, intel files). Also missed the ETA on this one.

Eneclann is launching a new site on 3/17. Stay tuned!

One important reminder that Donovan mentioned: Many Irish changed religious affiliation for economic, legal reasons and many Protestants reverted back to Catholicism after impediments to owning land, etc., were lifted. Don’t let assumptions about your ancestors limit your searches!

History of the 81st Field Hospital, Page 7

This is the seventh in a series of posts in which I’m transcribing a document that belonged to my father titled “History of the 81st Field Hospital.” It details the hospital’s preparations in the U.S. before deployment and operations in Germany during WWII. This field hospital eventually reached German concentration camp survivors. Read from the beginning here.

[Page 7]

Early Monday morning, 30 April, an advance party of two officers and nine enlisted men left for Kaufburen, Germany, to make contact with the 54th Field Hospital, to which Unit A was to be attached as a fourth platoon to go into combat in support of a division. One officer and an ambulance returned to Weinsburg.

After many difficulties and after travelling 1500 miles, a total of six 2 1/2-ton trucks were secured from 132nd Evac Hospital to move our equipment and personnel. Authority to use these trucks was Seventh Army Advance Surgeon. On the whole, the organic transportation of field hospitals was found inadequate. We had six 6×6 trucks and one 10-ton tractor-trailer over and above the T/O & E and even so, vehicles were still insufficient in number to move the whole hospital at once. However, our excess transportation was used upon many occasions in helping move other field hospitals. In action, it proves most difficult to secure aid from QWC Trucking Companies since the field hospitals move as the line moves and when the line moves, unit with the greatest priority receive the QWC trucks.

On Thursday the advance party moved on from Kaufburen with the 54th Field Hospital Headquarters to Garmisch-Partenkirchen and secured five homes for living quarters. By Sunday evening, after much travail, all equipment and all personnel had been moved from Weinsburg to Garmisch-Partenkirchen.

Running water, electricity and central heating systems were available at our location. One ward and one squad tent were pitched to store equipment. One squad tent was pitched for mess. While Unit A was in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, the war ended and the 54th Field Hospital’s need for a fourth platoon no longer existed. No hospital was set up and the move had essentially proved to be nothing but a week’s vacation in the Bavarian Alps. No patients were treated.

Unit C Moves to Heilbrunn

An advance party of three officers and 18 enlisted men left Bad Mergentheim on 24 April. ON 25 April, the main body proceeded to the new area — a modern and very complete German hospital at Heilbrunn, (WS 0462) Germany.

The advance party labored under difficulties as the German occupants were being evacuated — German staff and German military patients under armed guard.

The hospital itself was found to be a very fine building built only a year before Germany went to war, and it’s equipment was complete in every detail. At first there was some difficulty due to lack of electric power, intermittent supply of water, and the fact that some of the facilities were out of order, but this was shortly remedied through assistance of AMG officials.

The problem of help in such a large plant was a big one, but we acquired a staff of German civilians for the kitchen, laundry and general cleaning, at which four Italian displaced persons also proved very useful.

Language difficulties were largely solved through the efforts of certain of our own personnel with the additional aid of a female interpreter, an American citizen, sent to us by the AMG Heilbronn. The arrival of a Russian nurse to [continued on Page 8]

History of the 81st Field Hospital, Page 5

This is the fifth in a series of posts in which I’m transcribing a document that belonged to my father titled “History of the 81st Field Hospital.” It details the hospital’s preparations in the U.S. before deployment and operations in Germany during WWII. This field hospital eventually reached German concentration camp survivors.

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[Page 5]

We found all our buildings dirty with personal belongings left behind by the former occupants. Within 24 hours, and with the help of DP labor, we had all our facilities in working order and ready for operation. We found it more convenient and practical to secure our rations, water and gasoline through local distribution points. Our supplies (Medical and General) and also all hospital laundry were taken care of by our own headquarters.

It was found by the officer in charge of the blood unit servicing our platoon to be impractical for them to deliver blood each morning as is customary to field hospitals operating under normal conditions. It was agreed that whenever the need for blood should arise we could obtain some, and also keep enough blood on hand for our anticipated needs. It was further agreed that we should return all unused blood three days before expiration date and exchange it for fresh blood. We were serviced by a blood dispensing unit presently attached to the 132d Evac Hospital at Neckarsulm, 10 miles from our location.

Due to the difficulty of obtaining large size x-ray film from Medical Depots, we experimented with captured German x-ray film. We worked in close liaison with the French dispensary located in the DP Center. We agreed that all DP patients must first pass through the French dispensary. If they required hospitalization or further dispensary treatment which could not be obtained at the French dispensary for lack of proper equipment and supplies, they were then admitted to our hospital, and if the patient was a member of the DP Center at Weinsburg, they they passed through the French dispensary also.

We received patients from the 93d, 95th and 132d Evac Hospitals as well as from the Weinsburg DP Camp. Our capacity was 100-beds but could have been expanded to 150-beds if necessary. We had our own electricity throughout the entire area generated by our own generators. Also telephone communication was established from the administrative building to the various wards through field phones. Aside from the water we got each day, all other water was obtained through the town water supply which was very irregular. However, ample water was obtained for hospital use and also for the washing machine, which was used for all personnel laundry. Our mess facilities were in a tent and we had three latrines in the field to supplement the ones in our living quarters and hospital buildings. This was done to combat the irregular water supply necessary for proper sanitary methods in maintaining building latrines.

We didn’t have much captured material along medical lines to use in the hospital, but made the maximum use of desks, lamps, chairs, typewriters and other office equipment. The dispensary handled emergency cases in addition to our personnel. The Dental Clinic did a lot of emergency work from the DP Center. We had a visitor in the person of Lt Col Elder who was Chief Sanitary Inspector in charge of DP Centers for the Seventh Army.

We used to the maximum all the DP labor here for miscellaneous duties in wards, washing, general labor and maintenance work. This proved very satisfactory and also helped carry the load as far as our mess was concerned. 90 patients passed through the hospital while Unit A was at Weinsburg.

History of the 81st Field Hospital, Page 4

This is the fourth in a series of posts in which I’m transcribing a document that belonged to my father titled “History of the 81st Field Hospital.” It details the hospital’s preparations in the U.S. before deployment and operations in Germany during WWII. This field hospital eventually reached German concentration camp survivors.

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At this point we would like to note the immense help to our water problem when an engineer company attached to us a driver and 750-gallon water truck. Our three water trailers, one per unit, was far inadequate for our needs. The large water truck solved our problem very satisfactorily.

A few days after Unit B moved on to Hammelburg, Germany, to set up separately, Unit A departed for Weinsburg, Germany.

Unit B Moves to Hammelburg

Four days prior to our arrival, American infantry and tanks had liberated the area and the Germans had fled, taking with them several hundred American prisoners. Our mission was to set up a 2,000-bed hospital for displaced persons.

We had available an administration building, two hospital ward buildings, a large modern apartment building and two smaller ones, a stucco house, and a warehouse. This constituted the hospital compound but there were a great many other buildings and facilities in the surrounding area, the sum total of which had recently housed a large German military officer corps and 10,000 prisoners.

At the time we arrived the buildings were still occupied by German civilians and prisoners. We quickly evacuated the civilians who attempted to take everything but the walls with them. One-hundred German civilians from the town of Hammelburg were utilized for several days to aid in the cleaning of the looted, ransacked buildings. A detail of 15 MP’s arrived to guard us against an expected SS attack. These MP’s were later replaced by a battery of MP’s who took over policing the entire area.

Some of the buildings adjoining the hospital compound which had previously housed the German officers were very lavishly appointed and recreation facilities were luxurious. Much material which they had gathered by looting allied countries were left behind.

Our mess was overloaded with guests, including the British officers who ran the prison compound.

Work was completed for the handling of 112 patients and the quartering of all personnel of the 81st Field Hospital. Near the end of our stay, orders were received to increase our bed capacity first to 150 and then to 500, but this work was shortly interrupted by the news that the Third Army was to take over the area. We moved out without ever having officially admitted a single patient.

Unit A Moves to Weinsburg

When our unit arrived a Weinsburg, we found at our disposal for living quarters five private homes, procured by our advance party through the local AMG. Three houses were utilized for enlisted personnel, one house for officers and one for nurses. We also secured through the AMG three buildings for our hospital. These buildings were located in the DP Center which was adjacent to our hospital. The entire area was part of a German prison camp for allied officers. These had been moved out only a few days before we arrived.


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History of the 81st Field Hospital, Page 3

NOTE: This post contains details that may be considered graphic to some.

This is the third in a series of posts in which I’m transcribing a document that belonged to my father titled “History of the 81st Field Hospital.” It details the hospital’s preparations in the U.S. before deployment and operations in Germany during WWII. This field hospital eventually reached German concentration camp survivors.

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Two days later, on the 30th of March, the unit learned it was attached to the Seventh Army instead of the Fifteenth Army. In a conference with the Surgeon, Seventh Army, Major Banks learned that platoons were being reduced to a capacity of 40-patients. Reorganization began to conform with this. Excess equipment was turned in and Headquarters was enlarged to 32 enlisted men and 6 officers.

On the 5th of April, the unit departed Trier WM 2211, 3-miles southeast of Dreisen, Germany, for the new location. With transportation our chief problem as usual, we used shuttle service, the first motor convoy departing at 1000 and the last at 2300. Transport to the new site, WM 8643, one-half mile northwest Deiberg, Germany, was completed at 0300. Platoons were set up.

Major Banks contacted the advance Surgeon and was informed that all units were to unite and operate as a station hospital and prepare to receive liberated allied prisoners, Russians, Poles, Serbs, French, etc. Bed capacity was set at 450.

Reorganization was completed and the hospital was ready to function the 7th of April. Just after evening chow the unit received it’s [sic] first patient, a Russian soldier liberated by the advancing American troops.

The following day the hospital officially began to receive patients. The 127th Evac Hospital transferred 171 patients to us, most of them suffering from malnutrition and TBC. During the night a sanitation problem arose. The practice of urination and defecation was being carried on in any area between the ward tents and the latrine. The ward boys, unable to speak the language of the patients, could do nothing except lead them to the latrine and point out the boxes. This was solved by finding proper interpreters among the patients and laying down the law.

A new problem developed when the patients’ mess discovered they were feeding nearly 800 at each meal while we only had 200 patients. It was found that the patients, starved so long in Germany prison camps, were each going through the chow line three and four times per meal. This was remedied by issuing meal tickets before they left the ward.

Evacuation of patients was begun when orders came that British Colonials and French, who did not have TBC, were to be evacuated by air through the 57th Field Hospital at Darmstadt. Russians and Serbs not requiring further hospital care were to be sent to the PWX Camp at Mannheim, while Italians were to go to the DP Center there for screening.

Admissions and dispositions were carried through satisfactorily, the only interruption being “Bed-Check Charlie”, who gave the highway adjoining a nightly strafing. Our location proved wise, for we were close enough to take advantage of the facilities of the highway, yet far enough away to escape physical danger of the road strafing.

The Platoons Separate

On the 14th of April, the advance Surgeon ordered one platoon to Hammelburg to operate a hospital in a former German prison camp, now captured by the Seventh Army. The hospital was to close, all patients to be evacuated to a railhead at Ludwigshafen where they would be placed on a hospital train. The move was made by ambulance and trucks — the 15 ambulances making two trips each. Our hospital at Dieberg had been in operation 9 days, handling 800 patients.


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History of the 81st Field Hospital, Page 2

This is the second in a series of posts in which I’m transcribing a document that belonged to my father titled “History of the 81st Field Hospital.” It details the hospital’s preparations in the U.S. before deployment and operations in Germany during WWII. This field hospital eventually reached German concentration camp survivors.

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Registry No WD 84


Organization enroute to the European Theater of Operations on the first of the year 1945. It was a rough lengthy voyage with subs trailing the convoy a good part of the trip. On the 7th of January we entered the English Channel, arrived at Southampton and received orders to proceed to the French port of Le Havre. Other units aboard ship were ordered to disembark at Le Havre, but port authorities had no orders for our unit this date. We headed back across the Channel to England and lay at anchor outside Southampton. Rumors persisted that a sub pack was operating near port waters. Upon sealed orders, the ship lifted anchor and continued the voyage back to the Atlantic mouth of the Channel and around the western coast of England. On the 11th of January the ship put in temporarily at Wilford Haven, Wales, due to increased submarine menace. We attempted to leave harbor during the night, but were forced back by U-boats. Sub activity and heavy depth charges were heard during the night. At noon the following day, with strong corvette and destroyer escort, the Vollendam made a run for it, travelling at full speed through the Irish Sea, entering the Firth of Clyde, and docked at Gourock, Scotland, on the 13th of January.

The next day the unit arrived at its new station, Oulton Park Camp, Cheshire, England, and began operations under administrative jurisdiction of Headquarters, XV Army. Medical personnel and technicians were assigned on detached service to the 68th, 109th, 129th and 137th General Hospitals. From the period of 6 February to 4 March, the assigned personnel remained on detached service. Good Conduct Medals were awarded qualified enlisted personnel under GO #1, 81st Field Hospital, dated 3 February 1945.

In these hospitals, the men received their first beneficial training. Here they had contact with actual battle casualties and actually worked at their jobs as they have to under own operations.

On the 15th of March, vehicles loaned to the unit, tractors, trailers, 6×6’s and vans, were loaded and departed for the continent. During the next few days, TE equipment was loaded and on 21 March the 81st Field Hospital departed Oulton Park Camp, Cheshire, England, for a staging area in Southern England. Personnel travelled eight hours by train, arriving at Salisbury, England, then moving by truck to Staging Area C-5.

A convoy of borrowed vehicles, with equipment, departed 23 March for transportation on LCT across the Channel. The remainder of the personnel moved to port the following day and boarded the Sobieski, a Polish steamer, which transported the unit across the Channel to Le Havre.

By rail, via Paris, the unit travelled to Luneville, France, near the German border. Arriving in the middle of the night, we were billeted with the 51st Station Hospital.

In Germany

Departing Luneville by truck the next morning (27 March), the unit headed for Mannheim, Germany. We arrived within seven kilometers of Mannheim before we learned that orders had been misinterpreted and we were to proceed to Marsheim rather than Mannheim. Mannheim at this time remained in German hands. At 0400, just before dawn, we found the 27th Evac Hospital and billeted in their area.

We selected a bivouac site about 1-mile north of 127th Evac Hospital, which was also in that area. Our equipment convoy, which had divided at C-5, arrived in tact. Each of the three platoons set up completely, including individual messes.


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Military Monday: The 81st Field Hospital (WWII)

My dad posing for a picture with concentration camp buildings in the distance.

This is the first in a series of posts in which I’m going to transcribe a document that belonged to my father titled “History of the 81st Field Hospital.” It details the hospital’s preparations in the U.S. before deployment and operations in Germany during WWII. This field hospital eventually reached German concentration camp survivors. The document I have was typed using a typewriter. I’m unaware of any other copies in circulation (at least among the public) besides those in the possession of my family.

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Registry No. MD 84


The 81st Field Hospital was activated at Camp Ellis, Illinois, on 21 September 1944. Initial strength of unit was 186 enlisted men assigned from Medical Training Regiment, Medical Group, Camp Ellis, and 5 officers, under the command of Major Gerald F Banks.

Administration of the unit began functioning and all eligible men were granted POM furloughs effective immediately. Equipment began to arrive and supply tent was put up for storage.

During the first two weeks of activation, several medical officers joined the organization and a training program to begin 9 October was drawn up by headquarters. An inspection by the Sixth Service Command Adjutant General to determine if the unit had sufficient qualified men to fill the T/O was adjudged satsifactory.

Not apparent in the inspection, but noticeable throughout our preparatory stages was the low morale due to the fact that most of the strength had been transferred from other branches of services and had little desire to become medical personnel. There was no groundwork for pride of service in this particular setup where large groups of men had been pushed around for weeks and months, being transferred from one company to another, poorly fed and poorly housed in the chaos and confusion of hasty activation of the Medical Training Regiment, never knowing in what barracks they might sleep tomorrow.

The medical training program began upon return of all personnel from furlough. The enlisted men in general felt then and feel even stronger now that they derived little benefit from training classes. Monotonous repetitious lectures were conductive to sleep and even men with sincere desire to learn found themselves dozing and their thoughts taking flight.

More practical was the field training. Several night problems gave the men their first familiarity with actual tent-pitching. In a two-day bivouac, a model 100-bed hospital unit was set-up and run staged.

An organizational change was made on 26 October, breaking the unit down into a three-platoon set-up. On the 8th of November, the unit left for Camp Lee, Virginia, via troop train. Here the organization moved out to a bivouac area at Swift Creek, 25-miles from Camp Lee, and set up a fully equipped hospital ready for operation. Three moves of station during the week’s bivouac showed satisfactory progress in the men’s field ability.

Packing and crating for port movement, and classes on basic and medical subjects continued until the 27th of November when 105 enlisted men began parallel training at Regional Hospital, Camp Lee. Here, in the next two weeks, most of the men made their first actual contact with a hospital.

On 16 December the unit departed for Camp Kilmer, New Jersey, where it completed final training for overseas movement. On 24 December we arrived at New York POE, boarded troop transport HMT Vollendam and were quartered aboard ship, awaiting sailing orders.

At dawn on the 26th of December, the transport hoisted anchor and sailed from New York.


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Maritime Monday: Mystic Seaport

Several years ago, I performed my first research project for someone other than me — I researched ships built in Greensboro, Md., for the Caroline County Historical Society. One of my goals was to gather as much information as I could regarding a schooner called the George Churchman for a museum exhibit. Amid my research, I stumbled upon a gold mine at the Mystic Seaport website.

The Museum of America and the Sea is located in Mystic Seaport, Connecticut. You can perform research about individuals involved with maritime history on the museum’s web site (anyone from ship captains to marine artists). I used the web site to search for ship registers with details about the Churchman. Here is such a register (the Geo. Churchman is listed about halfway down). From such records, I was able to find out the ship’s dimensions and other physical characteristics.

Did you find out that one of your ancestors arrived in the United States after a voyage at sea? If you know the name of the ship, you may be able to find out more about it by searching for it on the Mystic Seaport web site or one like it. Visit the Immigrant Vessel section of the Mystic Seaport web site for some inspiration.

This museum focuses heavily on the northeast United States. Other museums may focus on different geographic areas. The Mariner’s Museum in Virginia in Newport News, Virginia, is one to investigate if you have Southern sailors in your family history. Smaller museums like the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michaels, Maryland, offer intimate details about what life was like for seafaring ancestors.

If you have an ancestor who was a sailor or a ship builder, or even if you just enjoy maritime history, I highly recommend checking out sites like the Mystic Seaport web site and/or visiting such museums in-person, if you can.