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While on a recent walking tour of the Old Wheelersburg Cemetery with the Local History Department of the Portsmouth Public Library I came upon the stone of 1st Lieutenant Robert C. Lemley. Aside from the simple grave marker unadorned with the trappings typical seen with the headstones of service members there was the last line that read, “Killed in Action Hannover, Germany.” This young officer, several years younger than myself, had crossed the Rhine into Germany. I quickly thought to myself “when was VE Day?” A quick internet search later I learned that Victory in Europe was May 8, 1945. This young man had died on April 9, 1945; less than a month of hostilities remained when he perished.
My knowledge of the Second World War is limited to the broad view of how the war unfolded. I understood about large armies and divisions moving across multiple continents and even some of the smaller groups and their various battles, but to learn about a man who died over 70 years ago and a world away made me feel as though my reach to understand was beyond my grasp to research.
Fortunately, and unfortunately, any branch of government is a paperwork machine. The actions of not only armies and divisions are well documented, but the actions of battalions, companies, and platoons were also well documented during the Second World War. Through resources such as the National Archives and Military Associations who work to preserve unit histories, we can come to understand in minute detail the actions of these units. After deciphering Lieutenant Lemley’s unit from his marker (C Company, 771st Tank Destroyed Battalion) I thought that a quick search of the National Archives would unlock who he was, how he had served, and how he had died on the foreign field. However, my search was much too broad; four years of war had generated mountains of paperwork, right down to the ammo expenditures of individual tanks. At that point I decided to go simple, and a simple Google search yielded the information I needed. TankDestroyer.net is a historical military enthusiast site that is an unofficial repository of official documents, personal documents and stories. Here the 771st has it’s own unit history and access to offical documents such as Department of Army After Action Reports and Casualty Lists.
Once seeing that After Action Reports (AARs)were available for the period in which 1 LT Lemley died I carefully read them from beginning to end. These documents record the actions of the battalion and its companies. Information such as when and where they conducted their operations, actions against the enemy and the results of those actions, as well as casualties sustained. Below is excerpt from one of these AARs and the original can be found here.
Bracketed is the information that details the demise of Lieutenant Lemley. From it’s reading it appears that while in the A Co Command Post, Lt. Lemley and his Company Commander came under indirect artillery fire which resulted in the death of Lt. Lemley and the wounding of Captain Beaver. This excerpt does not name Lt. Lemley by name so further verification is required.
The TankDestroyer.net website also provided documents from the Dwight D Eisenhower Presidential Library which included the official 771st Tank Destroyer Battalion History. Below is an excerpt from that document, and the full document can be found here.
As we can see from this document, 1st Lieutenant Robert C. Lemley was the only member of the 771st TD Bn Killed In Action on April 9, 1945.
The point of this post wasn’t to inform the reader of Robert C. Lemley’s genealogy, to whom he was related, or where and whence he came; it was to reconcile the story only partially written in stone. At the heart of our work in genealogy, outside the excitement of how expansive our family trees grow, is a much deeper purpose. That purpose is to gain an understanding of the people who were before us, and to better understand the “dash” between the dates of birth and death.
Two photographs, by all regards of the same currently unknown woman, purchased from an antique store on 2nd Street in Portsmouth, Ohio. The card stock frame indicates that they were produced at the studio of William Gillett, a photographer, active in Portsmouth (Scioto) in 1900. He was a native of Ohio, born in 1860 (Source: 1900 Scioto County Census #1319).
Saturday, August 12, 2017
Speaker: Kelli Bergheimer
Topic: Putting the Gene in Genealogy
Location: Portsmouth Public Library, Robert Copley Room
Time: 1:00 pm
Putting the Gene in Genealogy_handout
How often have you came across a photograph in your collection and the people in it don’t seem familiar. You interview family members and they do not recall who it is either. Who are these mystery people? When was this picture taken? Where was it taken? The book “Family Photo Detective” by Maureen A. Taylor is a great resource for learning how to find genealogy clues in old photos and solve family photo mysteries.
I recently checked this book out from the Portsmouth Public Library and after flitted through the pages I found it to be more than just the typical fluff filled book filled with common-sense advice such as reading the back of the picture or to interview living relatives. This text delves into the technical aspects of photography and print to provide the reader with information that helps limit the scope of their search as well as detailed information in how to preserve priceless heirlooms. The book does not stop at merely analyzing the photographs but expands into contextual clues including letters, stamps, family records, hair and clothing styles, all of which help to estimate a date and location and ultimately, hopefully, help identify those in the photograph.
This book is an excellent desk reference for those that are interested in photo preservation, genealogy, and anyone who really wants to find who who that mystery person is staring back at them in the picture from long ago.
“When my husband’s cousin passed away, two old photo albums were given to us. Most of the pictures were labeled. This picture was loose and stuck inside of one of the albums. It was not labeled. This is a beautiful family picture and we would love to know who they are. The cousin’s name was Roberta Wrightsel and her parent’s were Ralph Victor Wrightsel and Hazel Dell Huffman. This picture could be on either the Huffman or Wrightsel side. If you recognize any of them, please let us know! Thank you.”
“The photo was found in my father’s trunk after his passing. His family has a direct connection to Scioto county with my great-great-grandfather, great-grandfather, and grandfather being from the area. I’m told that Thomas Katon, my great-great-grandfather, is listed as the county’s first blacksmith. The Katon name has been spelled Caton, Keton, and finally Cayton…..there may even be some other spellings that I haven’t run across yet.
The photo has an embossed matte with the name Harris’ Art Gallery, Portsmouth. If I could find the time that the Harris Art Gallery/Photo Studio was in operation, I might be able to narrow the time frame, but I haven’t been able to find the right Portsmouth records yet. The type of clothing design may also help. The apparel seems to be before the 1900’s and suggests even Victorian collars, etc.—possibly 1880-90’s. I have both aunts and uncles from that time frame so I can’t narrow the search from that standpoint. If anyone recognizes either of these faces from this or other photos, I would appreciate a name…….my source for such information is gone.
I would be willing to share digital copies or computer printed images with anyone interested. I can be contacted by snail mail at
24477 Dixie Highway, Perrysburg, Ohio, 43551
or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
WebAdmin Note: The Harris Art Gallery in Portsmouth was in operation circa 1903 as evidenced by the 1903 Photo Era Magazine where the gallery was an award winner. There are also several references to this establishment in the Portsmouth Public Library Digital Collection. Research of Portsmouth City Directories for this time period would help establish it’s location and time-frame.
“This photo that has a notation on the back “Miss Moore’s 6th Grade Class”. I am guessing that it may be of a group of students in the Valley School District (Lucasville). I would guess from the dress that it was taken in the early 1930s. I am hoping that someone will be able to identify persons in this photo.”
Donald H. Caudill
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