Genealogists have a greater reason than most to pay attention to Veterans Day. We are the keepers of history, the scavengers of memorabilia, and the scribes of remembrance. We, more than many understand that we are making history this very moment.
One hundred years from now someone will be wanting to know what we did today. Will you be the one who wrote it down? This year, and in all others that follow you can set the lead, know the history, and record what happened for the future.
1. Fly the American flag. Today is a day to celebrate, and to honor, not to mourn. In addition to the American flag, did you know that all citizens are encouraged to fly POW/MIA and flags of the military branches to show their support to our veterans? Flags should NOT be flown at half-staff unless specifically instructed (the term “half-mast” is often misused). In New Hampshire you can sign up to receive flag status alerts.
2. Thank a living veteran today, and every day. This veteran could be a member of your own family, a neighbor, or someone you don’t know who is in uniform. If you don’t know any, you can always write a letter to a member of the military. Veterans are people who served in the military (United States Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, and Coast Guard) in both times of war or peace. From a statement as simple as “Thank you for your service,” to a more lengthy and specific demonstration of appreciation–its up to you.
3. Remember the history behind today. The very first Veterans Day was called Armistice Day. On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month a document was signed, declaring the end to the World War (WWI). With the centennial of that war soon upon us, it may be time for you to brush up on your WWI history. Discover your family’s past to see who participated, when and how. According to the United States World War One Centennial Commission, “Almost five million American families sent their fathers or mothers or sons or daughters to serve in the Armed Forces during World War One.” Document your family’s service on your tree or genealogical chart.
4. Leave the apostrophe out of the word Veterans. Veterans Day does not include an apostrophe but does include an “s” at the end because it is not a day that belongs to veterans. It is a day for honoring all veterans.
5. Attend a parade and document it. Today we gaze at photographs of parades dating back to the Civil War with awe. 100 years from now your photographs and stories will be looked at in the same way. Today the event is not just another parade. It is about people who witnessed and participated in our military history. Write a blog or web site story about this year’s parade, and include as many names as you can to identify those people in your photos or videos. Share these with your local historical society.
6. Preserve veteran history. Transcribe a monument, or organize your family’s personal war archives. All it takes is one visit to an online auction house to see the thousands of military artifacts being sold each day, now separated from the originating family. You can have an important part in preserving history by transcribing and publishing the names of a local war monument, or by organizing, archiving and labeling your own family’s war memorabilia. Sit down with your children or grandchildren and talk about what you have organized.
7. Discover old traditions and make new ones. Learn how your family celebrated Veterans Day, and set some new customs. Observe a moment of silence at 11 A.M. (the eleventh hour). Involve your family in making sure an American (or other previously mentioned) flag is flown at your home. Remember that no veteran lived in a vacuum. Their military lives affected their families, and continue to do so.
8. Support living veterans in need. It is good to thank, but better to support. There are over 50,000 homeless veterans, representing 8.6 percent of the total homeless population. Some restaurants serve free meals to veterans on this day, so be sure to let them know you appreciate their support of our troops. Support the local non-profit and veterans groups that help our living veterans through difficult times, or provide social, economic or health benefits to them. Locate an American Legion near you, stop in and ask how you can help. In you are a DAR member, participate in your chapter’s projects aimed toward living veterans. Support veteran-owned businesses. Visit your local VA or military hospital and volunteer.
9. Don’t forget women veterans. There are over 2 million female veterans in the United States and they are often overlooked. Research and write about one woman from your family, or from your home town or state who served in the millitary, as a Red Cross Nurse, or other capacities.
10. If you are a veteran, share your experience. A first person point of view is always the best. If you have not written down your own personal experiences as a veteran, today is the day. The Veterans History Project has a great starter list of questions to ask yourself, or any veteran you might interview. Members of the American Legion can share their stories at Legiontown.
P.S.: Although this story is mainly directed to American genealogists, other countries remember similar days. Australia and Canada observe “Remembrance Day,” on November 11th. Great Britain observes “Remembrance Day” on the Sunday nearest to November 11. Many of the suggestions in this article would apply internationally, only the local flags, resources and contacts would change.