On Memorial Day, Americans traditionally place flowers on the graves of ancestors and others who died in military service. (Read how this holiday, originally called Decoration Day, began.) Canadians observe Memorial Day on July 1.
Another way to honor ancestors who served is to do genealogy research into their wartime experiences. If it’s been awhile since you learned about the wars your ancestors fought, it might be time to give it another go. Technology offers new ways to explore historic wars with these tools:
Military Battle Maps
If you know the military unit and battles your relative served in, military maps let you trace his movements and even where he would’ve been during battles. The Library of Congress has a Military Battles and Campaigns map collection, which you can search by keyword using the search field at the top of the page. The one above is from a WWII series showing the 12th Army Group from D-Day through July 26, 1945.
For the Civil War and American Revolution, explore the animated and historical maps at the Civil War Trust website. They include overviews of the entire war and for individual battles.
Your smart device can help you access military history information from anywhere. Try searching your device’s app store for “military history,” “[name of war] history” or “[name of battle] history.” A few I found include:
- Civil War Today ($2.99, iOS): This History Channel app shows you a daily newspaper article about the war.
- Civil War Trust Battle Apps (free, iOS and Android): These let you virtually tour Civil War battlefields for major battles like Chancellorsville and Antietam, and they’re good companions if you’re visiting the battlefield.
- Military History (.99, iOS): This reference has 1,200 entries for important military events; search by date and keyword. It also has a “this day in history” feature.
- 20th Century Military Uniforms (about $4, iOS and Android): View uniforms used by various countries throughout the 20th century.
Military History Videos
The Civil War Trust comes through again with educational videos from history experts, including a Civil War In4 series that delves into a topic in four minutes or less.
The National Archives’ YouTube channel has playlists including WWI Films, Tuskeegee Airmen and D-Day. The Library of Congress has a YouTube playlist on the Spanish-American War. YouTube also has videos from Ken Burns’ documentaries about the Civil War and World War II.