… a research work-around system

So, as a suggestion for Veterans Day research, The Legal Genealogist posted on Friday about the U.S. National Archives’ collection of the burial cards of soldiers who died during World War I, many of whom are buried overseas.

That was along with information about free access — still available today, the officially-celebrated holiday this year since Veterans Day fell on a Sunday — to collections at FindMyPast, MyHeritage, and Ancestry,1 none of which posed any problems for readers.

The same — alas — can’t be said for those burial cards.2

Sigh… big image collections at the National Archives (NARA) website are often wonky to access, and these surely fall into that category.

So let’s review how to access them as best we can.

First off, understand that they’re not individually indexed. Despite the fact that the button on the collection page says “Search within this series,” you can’t search for a surname and have it come up. But you still have to hit that button so go ahead and start there:

Burial card 1

What comes up next may very well depend on what browser you’re using. In every case, you’re going to see a series of links to an alphabetical range of surnames: the first one begins with Aaby and ends with Ahearn, for example; the last one begins with Youngberg and ends with Zyk. Using the Chrome browser this morning, each of those links has a little thumbnail showing in front of the link. Using Firefox, there was a Missing Thumbnail Image icon instead.

No matter, you still need to find and click on the link for the range of surnames in which the surname you’re looking for falls. So, for example, looking for my family name of Cottrell, I clicked on the link for the range of surnames starting with Conner and ending with Coty:

Burial card 2

Now I need to find the number of the image where the surname Cottrell appears. Again depending on the browser you’re using you’re going to see either a blank space at the top or, perhaps, an image, but in either case you’re looking for the navigation links to the bottom right:

Burial card 3

Use those to try to hone in on the image you need. Cottrell is going to be a lot closer to the ending surname of Coty than to the starting surname of Conner, so I entered 1500 in the box to go to image 1500 of 1618. Hit enter and…

On both browsers, the image window was blank. But I then clicked on the down arrow in the blue background on the left hand side:

Burial card 4

And — using the Chrome browser — I then got the full-sized image, Using Firefox, I sometimes got an error message. So using Chrome is better for this.

The problem: Image 1500 is for John Costror, killed 18 July 1918. Not far enough into this image set for my Cottrell research.

So I closed that page, went back to the opening page for this set of surnames, and jumped to image 1550 using this same system. Better — that’s a cross-reference under the name Tom Cotter to the actual death of a Tom Coster. Still a ways to go. So add another 25 and jump to image 1575. Nope, not yet. Rufus Cotton, who died 12 September 1918. Add another 25 to image 1600 and — bingo! Glenn Cottrell, who drowned 21 August 1918.

Now I can go forward or backward to review all the Cottrells. I went back by 10 to image 1590 and found the actual start of the surname: Albert Cottrell, killed in action 7 September 1918. And forward to the last, at image 1611, William Cottrell, killed in action 6 October 1918.

I tried this again, looking for the burial card of Malcolm T. Robertson of New York, a Silver Star winner. The surname range began with Richardt and ended with H. Robinson. There were 1720 images in this set, so I started with image 1700. Nope: first I had to back up to image 1699 to see the front of the card, and it was for Harley G. Robinson, killed in action 12 October 1918.

I then went 200 backward to image 1500. That got me into the Robertsons, but it was for Frank H. Robertson, who died of accidental gunshot wounds on 9 December 1918. Not far enough. So now I’m going to try to bracket the card I need.

I’ll go forward to image 1600. Nope, that’s a Robinson again: Aubrey E. Robinson, killed in action 26 September 1918. Back to halfway between the last card and this one and try image 1550. Still too far: that’s Frank Robeson, who died of pneumonia 17 October 1918. Again halfway between this card (1550) and the one I know is a Robertson (1500), so I’ll try image 1525.

I had to back up to image 1524 to see the front of the card, and it’s for Joseph A. Robertson, who died of pneumonia 13 November 1918. Now I can go forward card by card: image 1526 is Lewis H. Robertson, killed in action 26 July 1918; image 1528 is a cross-reference from Luke Robertson to the actual soldier’s name, Luke Robinson; image 1529 is Luther J. Robertson, killed in action 10 November 1918; and then — bingo! — image 1531 is Malcolm T. Robertson, killed in action 30 July 1918.

Is this clunky? Yeah. But it works — at least depending on the browser we’re using — and gets us the images we need.


  1. Judy G. Russell, “Starting our Veteran’s Day research,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 9 Nov 2018 (https://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : accessed 12 Nov 2018).
  2. You can read more about this collection in the NARA blog, The Text Message. See Suzanne Zoumbaris, “Now Available Online: Burial Cards of World War I Soldiers,” The Text Message, posted 8 Nov 2018, U.S. National Archives (https://text-message.blogs.archives.gov/ : accessed 12 Nov 2018).
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