WWI mothers, wives visited graves

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DEAR SUN SPOTS: You recently said that now is the time to ask something I always wanted to know, so here goes.

Post World War I, from 1930 to 1933, the U.S. government sponsored Gold Star Mother Pilgrimages to bring mothers and widows to visit their sons’ and husbands’ graves in American military cemeteries overseas. Do you know if any local Maine mothers or widows took part in the pilgrimages? — No Name via email

ANSWER: Sun Spots is very pleased that so many readers have responded to her request for questions and will do her best with some very challenging queries (please be patient if your question has not been addressed yet!). History questions can be particularly tough, since Sun Spots relies heavily on the Internet and not all historical events are addressed online.

Fortunately, Google has archived many old newspapers, so Sun Spots was able to turn up a couple of items.

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At http://tinyurl.com/ptevncx, you can read an Aug. 5, 1932, Lewiston Evening Journal story, “Two Maine Women Gold Star Mothers,” about their trip to France.

An earlier story, Feb. 18, 1930, in the Daily Sun announced the pilgrimages: http://tinyurl.com/qjugpwz. A separate story on the same page talks about possible trips for fathers as well.

A Pittsburgh Post-Gazette story from Aug. 25, 1933, barely mentions Maine (http://tinyurl.com/pop7hdn) but is worth reading. It’s a touching piece about a mother whose son’s remains weren’t found.

Sun Spots also found a 2005 book on the subject: “The Gold Star Mother Pilgrimages of the 1930s: Overseas Grave Visitations by Mothers and Widows of Fallen U.S. World War I Soldiers” by John W. Graham. It is not in Maine libraries, but is available at Amazon.com or through the publisher (www.pilgrimageofremembrance.com). (Both of those sites misspell pilgrimage.) Your local bookseller could also order it for you. Or perhaps Artios has a used copy (786-4007).

A two-part article in Prologue Magazine from the National Archives (part one is at www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/1999/summer/gold-star-mothers-1.html) talks about the origins of the Graves Registration Service (during the Civil War) and how the pilgrimages were conducted. It also offered a link to another website with information on World War I records, which includes this paragraph:

“For each soldier who died overseas, the Graves Registration Service created a file. These files also contain the records of the Gold Star Mothers. The records are arranged alphabetically by surname. There are no published indexes to the records, and none of the records have been microfilmed. For a list of eligible mothers and widows, see List of Mothers and Widows of American Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines Entitled to Make a Pilgrimage to the War Cemeteries in Europe, 71st Cong., 2d sess., House Document No. 140 (GPO: Washington, DC, 1930). To consult a copy of this publication, contact a Federal Depository Library.”

(The regional federal depository library for Maine is in Orono, but Bates College has a “selective” one you could check.)

However, just because a woman was eligible doesn’t mean she went. And the article says you must know the name of a soldier to make a request for the records. If the name is fairly common, the unit and other identifying information such as the date of death, names of immediate family, and place of residence in the United State are also necessary.

If that is your goal — to look up an ancestor — you can address your request to Military Textual Reference Branch (NWCTM), National Archives, 8601 Adelphi Road, College Park, MD 20740-6001. When writing, include a daytime telephone number.

The Guide to Federal Records in the National Archives of the United States, which is available on the NARA website (www.archives.gov/research/guide-fed-records/index.html) has mountains of information, too much for Sun Spots to weed through for the column, but if you have the time, it may be useful.

DEAR SUN SPOTS: I have been getting phone calls about my request for special blankets for Central Maine Medical Center patients. Thank you so much for all your help.

I’m sorry I made a mistake on the email address. It should have read HedricSu@cmhc.org. The original phone number, 795-2472, is correct.

We will take any size and color blankets. A good lap blanket size is 46 by 56 inches.— Sue

This column is for you, our readers. It is for your questions and comments. There are only two rules: You must write to the column and sign your name (we won’t use it if you ask us not to). Please include your phone number. Letters will not be returned or answered by mail, and telephone calls will not be accepted. Your letters will appear as quickly as space allows. Address them to Sun Spots, P.O. Box 4400, Lewiston, ME 04243-4400. Inquiries can also be emailed to sunspots@sunjournal.com.

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