Saturday, April 25, 2009

Red Cross Records of War Casulaties

A relative/genealogist in Arizona called this to my attention.  I think it is great news for genealogists.

The original Red Cross records of World War I and some of World War II casualties have been found in Geneva, Switzerland at the Red Cross Headquarters.  For many years they have been in storage. 

British historian, Peter Barton, was commissioned to research the identities of World War I casualties that were discovered in a mass grave at Fromelles in Frances.  He was allowed into the basement of the Red Cross Headquarters in Geneva and there discovered the records. Barton estimates there could be 20 million sets of details, entered on card indexes or written into ledgers.  

These records deal with the capture, death, or burial of service men from over 30 nations that were drawn into the conflict.  They include the personal effects of the soldiers, home addresses, along with grave sites.  Before the information was sent to the soldiers' home countries, volunteers logged the information by hand.  

According to the Red Cross Headquarters, Peter Barton is the first researcher who has asked to see them.  The paper records he discovered will be conserved and digitised, beginning this fall. More than 2 million pounds has been set aside for the project.  It is estimated that the digital phase of the project will cost around four million Swiss Francs.  The Red Cross hopes to have the archive of information online by 2014 which marks the 100 year anniversary of the beginning of World War I.  

In addition, Barton discovered that careful record-keeping extended through World War II and to more recent conflicts.  He viewed rows of metal shelves containing millions of personal stories and more index cards in boxes.  

With the opening of dusty cardboard boxes and the use of modern technology, we may eventually know who these soldiers were and where they are buried.  We should be thankful that the Red Cross painstakingly recorded the information and more so that they did not destroy the records with time and age.  You can read the complete story about this in the BBC News.  

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