Now What? Cross Wise

By Christine Crawford-Oppenheimer Premium

Q. In 1908, my grandfather left Sicily for America, then returned when WWI started. It’s said he served as a medic with the International Red Cross. How can I locate Red Cross records?

A. Many countries have national Red Cross or Red Crescent organizations, each of which maintains its own historical materials. Since your family tradition says your grandfather was with the International Red Cross, try contacting its archives first. But he might’ve been sent to Italy by the American Red Cross or joined the Italian Croce Rossa, so you’ll want to pursue all those possibilities.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has few records from before 1919, when it was created. IFRC files generally aren’t name-indexed, so details about individuals must come from correspondence or reports. It’s difficult to access this information without knowing when or where a person worked for the IFRC.

IFRC records on your grandfather might give details of his service, but likely won’t hold genealogical clues. The IFRC doesn’t have staff to conduct research for the public — so unless workers can find something quickly, you’d have to go to Geneva to do the research yourself. You can reach its archivist, Grant Mitchell, at; learn about the archives at <>. The site also links to other Red Cross organizations’ archives.

The American Red Cross sent many missions overseas during World War I. Most of that organization’s archivalmaterial from 1881 to 1982 is in the Red Cross Collection at the National Archives and Records Administration(NARA) <> in College Park, Md. (contact Tab Lewis, Additionally, the American Red Cross has some information at its headquarters archives. If NARA can’t help you, e-mail American Red Cross archivist Susan Watson at (research fees may apply).

The International Committee of the Red Cross<> maintains files of information only about victims of 20th-century conflicts (prisoners of war and civilian internees). Staff will conduct short searches for about $60 an hour; photocopies are additional. You could also contact the Croce Rossa <> to find out about its archival materials.

From the May 2007 issue of Family Tree Magazine.