Select Page

WWI NARA images

This definitely is turning into Resource Week!

First, on Monday, The Legal Genealogist highlighted the return of the interactive county formation maps at the Newberry Library’s website.1

Then, yesterday, we all celebrated as Legacy Family Tree Webinars not only hits a major milestone — its 500th webinar — this week, but also gives us all the gift of the entire weekend (Friday through Sunday) to access the entire webinar library free.2

Today, we return to the issue of resources for World War I.

Last week marked the 100th anniversary of the entry of the United States into this “war to end all wars,” and both general resources3 and my own family’s peculiar situation in that war were discussed.4

What I overlooked then — and want to highlight now — is how those two intersect in a way I couldn’t have imagined… and how much there might be for any family researching a World War I ancestor.

The World War I resources mentioned included a new research portal at the U.S. National Archives website, its newly-launched World War I Centennial pages. And I did mention that there was a collection of images there: the American Unofficial Collection of World War I Photographs.

Then I went on to talk about how glad I was that my German-born grandfather — who served in the German Army’s anti-aircraft corps — had never met my American-born grandfather — who served in the American Army’s balloon corps.

What I didn’t expect was to find these:

Yes, those are the pilots of the balloon hanging in that tiny basket underneath that balloon.


These images are from the Army Balloon School at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. From Record Group 165, Records of the War Department General and Special Staffs, 1860 – 1952, held at College Park, Maryland.

But digitized, along with more than 110,000 other photographs and nearly 300 reels of film related to the “Great War.”

According to the National Archives:

The “American Unofficial Collection of World War I Photographs” (165-WW) was originally maintained by the Committee on Public Information (CPI). During WWI, the CPI collected photographs from private photographers and federal agencies in order to sway public opinion in favor of the war. Following the war, the CPI disbanded and the War Department’s Historical Branch obtained custody of the photographs. The War Department later transferred these photos, among others, to the National Archives in the early 1940s. Prior to this digitization project, these images were only available to researchers via microfiche in the Still Photos research room.5

The range of images available through this digitization effort is stunning: alphabetically arranged, they span the gamut from Airplanes – Accidents through Medical Department – Hospitals – Nurses to Women’s Activities – Miscellaneous.

And, yes, balloons. Balloons – Accidents & Wrecks. Balloons – Equipment. Balloons – Flights. Nineteen subcategories through to Balloons – U — the new U-type balloons like this one:

The American Unofficial Collection of World War I Photographs, 1917 – 1918, at the National Archives.

If you have World War I era soldiers in your family, you definitely want to check this out.


Images: Record Group 165 (Records of the War Department General and Special Staffs, 1860 – 1952), National Archives & Records Administration,Archives II, College Park, Maryland; digital images, “American Unofficial Collection of World War I Photographs, 1917 – 1918,” World War I Centennial, ( : accessed 12 Apr 2017).

  1. See Judy G. Russell, “They’re back!!,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 10 Apr 2017 ( : accessed 11 Apr 2017).
  2. See ibid., “The Big 5-0-0,” posted 11 Apr 2017.
  3. See ibid., “To end all wars,” posted 7 Apr 2017.
  4. See ibid., “They never met,” posted 8 Apr 2017.
  5. Richard Green, “Accessing World War I Photos in the Digital Age,” Unwritten Record Blog, posted 5 Apr 2017, The National Archives ( : accessed 11 Apr 2017).
Print Friendly, PDF & Email