World War I Burial Maps and Citizen Archivists

World War I Burial Maps and Citizen Archivists

Preparing for the upcoming Memorial Day holiday next week, the National archives has released a valuable new set of digitized maps. These are maps of the original burial locations of World War I soldiers.

During the war, there was often no time to send soldiers’ remains homes, or to bury them in cemeteries. Many soldiers were buried in the areas where they fell. The locations were noted and marked so that their remains could be retrieved at a more appropriate time. 

These maps are from Record Group 92, Records of the Office of the Quartermaster General, 1774–1985. They were created by the Cemeterial Division between 1920 and 1922. After the war ended, surveyors used the information reported by various units and went out to create these plat maps, verifying and documenting the burial places of American soldiers. The maps were later used to repatriate soldiers remains, or relocate them to American Military Cemeteries in Europe. 

The maps are blueprint and plane table survey maps and field maps. In addition to mapping out the burial locations, each soldier is identified by name, serial number, and unit when known. There are four Plat Books, A, B, C, and D. The catalog states that there are 1,329 maps, but there are only 1,298 images in the files. 

The best part about this database is that it is one of the projects in the Citizen Archivist program. This program allows individuals to help provide greater access to materials in NARA’s collections by transcribing and tagging digitized materials. Registration is free and open to everyone. Collections are of historical as well as genealogical importance. Among the collections of genealogical importance are 65,000 handwritten memoires by American soldiers who served in World War II and transcribing the records of more than 200,000 African Americans who served in the Civil War. And now the WWI Burial Plats. 

Each of the plat maps has location names and soldier’s names among other information. Tagging this information makes it searchable in the NARA catalog. This is, obviously, a work in progress, so not finding your soldier’s name in a search does not mean the soldier’s name does not appear in the maps. 

When I saw the database for the first time, I looked for my great-uncle Eloi’s name, but got no results. So, as I was looking through the maps, I tagged the names I found. This will hopefully make it easier for others to find their family members. One of the benefits of volunteering as a Citizen Archivist is knowing that you are helping to make records more accessible on a website that will be free forever for people to access. I strongly encourage you to think about volunteering some of your time for this worthy project. 

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