Last fall when I began digging into my great great uncle's military story, I had very little to go on. These are the steps I took to find information to write his story.
1. I looked at the information I had from birth, census, World War I Draft Registration Card, cemetery records. This is what I had: Michael Kokoska b. 9/28/1891 in Chicago and d. 6/27/1918 in Alsace, France. Buried in Bohemian National Cemetery 5/29/1921. His military information: Army Co. L 127th infantry, 32nd Division. Why did it take three years to bury him there? During both World Wars, men and women who died overseas were buried overseas. The families, after the wars, had the option to leave the remains buried overseas or brought home. There is a book that describes this process called Soldier dead: how we recover, identify, bury, and honor our military fallen By Michael Sledge.
2. I learned about a World War II death file called the IDPF, Individual Deceased Personnel File. Through some online research I discovered World War I had a similar record called a Burial File. The IDPF was a slightly expanded version of the Burial File. Ancestry.com has a great article about Burial files here: http://www.ancestry.com/learn/library/article.aspx?article=1372
3. I wrote a letter to the National Archives requesting his file. This is the letter I sent, modified.
Military Textual Reference Branch (NWCTM)
8601 Adelphi Road
College Park, MD 20740-6001
December 28, 2009
Pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act, I hereby make a request for the "Burial File" for my below listed family member who died or was killed-in-action while serving in the military during World War I.
Name: Michael Kokoska
Branch of Military: Army
Military Service Number: Unknown
Division: 32nd Division 127th Infantry Co. L.
Date of Birth: September 28, 1891 in Chicago, IL
Date of Death: June 27, 1918 near Alsace, France
Burial site in U.S.A.: Bohemian National Cemetery, Chicago, IL
Buried: May 29, 1921
Relationship to deceased: Great Grand Niece.
Please be advised that I will be responsible for any costs incurred for photocopies over the allowed limit of free photocopies.
Very truly yours,
The Burial File contained a statement about Michael's death; dental records; burial records from France; disinterment records from France; handwritten correspondence from his father, Joseph, to the government asking and pleading for their son's remains to be returned; records from the Quartermaster regarding Michael's remains arriving in the United States; information on the undertaker and where the remains were to be taken and buried. This file is a gold mine of information.
4. When I received the burial file it contained Michael's Army Serial Number. Using this number I was able to send the Standard Form 180 obtained from the National Archives website here: http://www.archives.gov/research/order/standard-form-180.pdf I mailed the form to the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis hoping to obtain his Army records. Unfortunately there was a massive fire at the facility in 1973 and over 80% of the Army records burned. I had no luck getting his records. It was worth a try though.
5. My next step in locating some other service records was to search the Illinois State Archives. I discovered they had World War I Bonus Applications and Payment records. Majdalena and Joseph Kokoska, Michael's parents were able to fill out forms to receive monies after Michael's death in France. When I received these records I was happily surprised to find a handwritten affidavit from my great great grandfather, Jan Zajicek, vouching for Majdalena and Joseph as the parents of Michael. There was another affidavit signed by someone I did not recognize. The application also contained Majdalena's signature, something I had never seen. She and Joseph were Bohemian Immigrants in 1880 and she could barely write her own name.
6. Upon further research I discovered some states have "Statement of Service Cards" for World War I. These records, if they exist, are held with the Adjutant General for the State. There is an interesting article about these cards here: http://www.lksfriday.com/Column/COLUMN-013.htm The state of Illinois does not have these records. I confirmed this with both the Illinois State Archives and the Chicago Branch of the National Archives.
7. Knowing the Division Michael was in, I have been able to obtain and read several Unit History books about the 32nd Division. While these books did not specifically mention Michael, except in the death lists, they did give great background information on the history, movement during the war and homecoming of the Division. There is a set of books called "The Order of Battle", see my Bibliography page for more information on these books. There are five for World War I. They contain all the movements of each unit in the War. I was able to trace where Michael's Division, down to his company, moved through the time period he was in France.
8. I also searched major Chicago newspapers for information. I was able to locate a couple of articles and photos of Michael, one which included the names of three of his brothers and which Army units they were serving in, stateside.
All of this information put together has given me a great start to writing his story as part of my family history. I hope the steps I followed aid you in your search.