When I tell folks that I am posting information about the National Archives and Records Administration website and the microfilms available for viewing at different locations (specifically, the Pacific Region Facility in Riverside County, California), I am asked, "How do you find anything on that website?" I agree, it can be a challenge; but it is said that the things most worthwhile are difficult to attain. At least, that can be the case here, until one gets used to the system.
I have already discussed how to find out what films are located at which facilities (see the first blog in this series), but here I am going to explain how to get more information on the holdings at the Archives as well as articles on much, much more.
From the home page, click on "genealogists" (lower left hand corner under "Information for . . ."). This gives you an information page that is worth getting to know. While many are distracted by the four categories in the middle of the page, look slightly down to the center heading below those four: "Genealogy-Related Articles." Click that link. The list appears limited, but each heading provides a wealth of articles. For purposes of our discussion, click "Headstones."
The first and only article, published in Prologue Magazine, is titled "Honoring Our War Dead: The Evolution of the Government Policy on Headstones for Fallen Soldiers and Sailors." It is six pages of historic information on the metamorphosis from wooden placard markers to marble, granite, or bronze stones/plaques provided by the Veterans Administration to the deceased veterans of various wars. (Note: at the bottom of the article is a link to another Prologue piece dealing with Confederate Headstones.)
The military headstone documents constitute NARA Record Group 92 and, at least in the Riverside location, are found in four film series. To see these, go to the "Resources for Genealogists" page and focus on the fourth of the four topics in the middle of the screen: "Tools for Genealogists." Click on "on-line research tools" and go to "Microfilm Catalog." That takes us to the "ordering" screen, but let's see what we can find.
In the top left of the screen is the "information" box to begin your search, but next to that is the "advanced search" option. Click that. Under "Record Group Number" enter "92" and, if desired, the location for the film (there is a drop down menu titled "Viewing Location"). For the Pacific Region, Riverside (listed in the advanced search as simply "Pacific Region"), there are only four options (entering no location or different locations will yield different results):
Film Series M1845 (1879-1903) - these are on Ancestry.com . . . I'll explain how to see those in a moment
Film Series M1916 (1925-1941)
Film Series M2113A (1941-1949)
Film Series M2113B (1941-1949 . . . continuation of A)
Let's look at M1845 first.
On the Ancestry homepage, scroll down, under the Search box, to the heading "More Collections." Click on "all databases" and, in the search box, enter "headstones" under "keyword." The first option provided (as of the date of this posting) is "Headstones Provided for Deceased Union Civil War Veterans, 1879-1903" (AKA NARA Film Series M1845). An alphabetical index (by last name) is provided when you click on that record collection link. Granted, the index is only alphabetized by first initial of the last name, so once in that section (say, the "Ys"), you need to browse; but at least all (well, almost all) of the cards are alphabetically listed (I've found only about five that have been miss-alphabetized . . . but I haven't done a whole lot of searching, so you may need to be creative if you are unable to find someone you know should be there).
As things often are in genealogy, sometimes people don't read the directions or specifications for a collection so it was pleasingly surprising to find my fourth great-granduncle, Jacob Youker (AKA Yuker) in the list. He died on 10 March 1847 in Oppenheim, Fulton, New York but is listed as dying in February 1948 (it is possible that that is when his body was removed to the cemetery location: Mosher Cemetery, AKA Youker-Mosher Cemetery, Lotville, Oppenheim, Fulton, New York). Why would someone who died in 1847-48 (a Revolutionary War veteran who served in the New York Militia) be listed in a compilation of records covering ca. 1879 - ca. 1903? A check of the card explains that the stone was provided by Vermont Marble Company in a contract dated 25 August 1902 (within the time period specified on the records; his stone was obviously obtained long after his death).
Point: Even if your ancestor died before the record group was created, that does not eliminate him/her from the collection. Obviously, if he/she died after 1903, there is little likelihood that his/her name will appear on this listing (I hesitate to say "no chance" because the record collection does indicate "about" 1903), but there are many to follow, so don't give up!
While I am most interested in this earliest series (see my articles on headstone acquisition in Family Chronicle, Jan/Feb 2011, pp. 17-19; and Family Tree Magazine, May 2011, pp. 30-32), I am also interested in more recent wars. Therefore, I will look at some specific entries for World War II burials and headstones in the coming weeks. If you have an ancestor (who is a WWII veteran), let me know and I'll see if a headstone was erected for him/her and listed in the appropriate database (not found on line).
Meanwhile, best wishes in your roots pursuits.