Archive | December 2015

The sad story of Frederick McReynolds

On Boxing Day we tweeted about the sad story of Private Frederick McReynolds who committed suicide at Trentham Camp on Christmas 1915.

A couple of other World War I twitter accounts picked up on the timely story (see the conversation here on Storify), and raised the question of when Private McReynolds passed away. The Commonwealth War Graves commission lists the date of his death as 26 December 1916, not 1915. One thing we’ve learned in our work with demographic data (and military records are demographic data) is that dates can be wrong. It’s easy to write one date down wrong, and propagate errors through many sources.

Looking at the whole of Private McReynolds’ file supports our initial story that the date of his death was 26 December 1915, but also hints at what must have been an incredibly sad story.

Frederick Thomas McReynolds was born in Auckland on 11 September 1882 to Mary Ann and Thomas McReynolds (you can find his birth certificate details at the NZ Births, Deaths and Marriages site under registration 1881/10210). A brother, William Higgins McReynolds, was born to the McReynolds 4 years later (registration 1885/604). searches show him in the New Zealand electoral rolls, living in Onehunga in Auckland in the early twentieth century, and working in a workshop, and then as a “carter” in 1914. There is no record of a marriage in New Zealand, and the electoral rolls show him living with his parents in 1914, on the eve of the war. His brother meanwhile had married in 1907.

On Christmas Eve 1915, Frederick McReynolds attested for service. FL23619967

He was still living on Trafalgar St in Onehunga, and working as a driver, a natural extension of his previous job as a “carter.”

His attestation was voluntary, with conscription yet to be introduced, though it was being vigorously debated at the time. When McReynolds enlisted a national war census had just been taken, requiring all men between 17 and 60 to register. The pressure on men to enlist was heavy, though we do not know what it was like for any individual man. But the fact that McReynolds was single made him more likely to be a target of pressure to enlist voluntarily.

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Although just overweight (161 pounds on a 5′ 7″ frame) McReynolds was otherwise judged healthy and fit to serve, after examination on the 20th of December.

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The details of McReynolds’ suicide are scant. The file notes that his death was due to “suffocation caused by self-inflicted wound,” having cut his own throat.

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A telegram was sent to the family, apparently by Captain William Edward Vine. Although the file does not give any other details of Vine, there was only one man named Vine in the NZEF who reached the rank of Captain and was present in New Zealand at the time of McReynolds’ death. Several pictures of Vine later in the war can be seen in PapersPast, the National Library of New Zealand’s excellent digitized newspaper collection.

There are no named mentions of McReynolds in the New Zealand newspapers, nor in official papers. But the official reports from the Defence Forces show several other suicides in New Zealand’s military camps in 1916 and in 1917. We know little about these sad stories. Military authorities were understandably not keen on publicizing them at the time, and like other stories of suicide, suicide in military service may be hidden by family members as well. There is little scholarly literature on suicide during service in World War I, despite official attention to the question of soldiers’ suicides in nineteenth century Britain (see this chapter by Janet Padiak).

As we progress with Measuring the ANZACs we will uncover the stories of the other men who took their own lives while in the New Zealand Expeditionary Forces, just as we will uncover the stories of all others who served. Let us remember Frederick McReynolds.


Measuring the ANZACs Tutorial 5: Attestations

In our first four tutorials (One, Two, Three, Four) we covered classification, and marking of Death Notifications and History Sheets, including the Statement of Services. Today we move along to the last key document in the files: the attestation (Check out the Field Guide for a shorter synopsis)

We’ve emphasized in previous posts how Measuring the ANZACs is trying to create an efficient index to the documents. We’d love to transcribe everything right now, but it’s more realistic to think we can do some key information that tells us the kind of people we have in the files, who they are, and the types of things that happened to them.

You can think of the three different types of form we’re collecting in this way

  1. Attestations describe who men were when they arrived in the New Zealand Expeditionary Force. It’s a snapshot of their life at the start of their engagement with the war. We call this “cross-sectional” data in our analyses.
  2. The History Sheet and Statement of Services describes key events that happen to men in service, and after. We call this “longitudinal” data in our analyses.
  3. The Death Notifications are a memorial to those who fell in service, and tell us something about men’s post-war lives. Ultimately the research team want to study how men’s lives and health before and during the war influenced how long they lived.

So the Attestations are like a survey of men before their lives were changed by the war. New Zealand burned its census records after the results were published. While family historians and social scientists have used the censuses in Canada, Britain, Scandinavia, and the United States to study social life in the nineteenth century and early twentieth century, New Zealanders can’t do that. The military attestations are like a census of 10% of the New Zealand population in the early twentieth century, telling us about men’s occupations and birthplaces and education.

Because the attestations are cross-sectional, they are a little easier for the research team to analyze. We don’t need to order a series of events like we do on the Statement of Services or the History Sheet. The Attestations are also mercifully free of the sticky notes that were a design challenge for the History Sheets.

But there was a design challenge with the attestations. The form changed significantly over the course of the war. The research team has a database of 23,000 men from World War I , so we selected two attestation dates from each month of the war. We looked at the questions asked in each month, and found there were more than 30 different versions of the form. It’s really hard to predict what will be on each form! That’s where you, the citizen scientists of Measuring the ANZACs come in. You have to recognize what’s on the form, match it to the questions we’re expecting, and draw the boxes for transcription.

A final design challenge with the attestations was that some questions are conditional or multi-part. They ask, for example, “Have you served in the military before”. If you have they sometimes ask, what branch, and how were you discharged? Across the various versions of the form we have seen two, three and four part questions. They’re the hardest to recognize.

With that background, lets look at how we identify an attestation and then mark it.

Identifying an attestation

Screen Shot 2015-12-22 at 2.14.30 PM.pngOne way to identify an attestation is that it says so right up the top! A lot of the forms are also labeled E.F. Form No. 2 (E.F. stands for Expeditionary Force). Many of these forms will appear to be of poor quality. The original paper copies were microfilmed in the the 1960s, and some of the original destroyed for some files. New paper copies were printed from the microfilm, and inserted into the files. These copies were then scanned in the 2000s to create the images used in Measuring the ANZACs. But you will see some original attestation forms, and in some files you’ll notice two versions. Please identify and mark both! It’s better to have too much information than not enough.

Another way to recognize the Attestation (General Form) is the initial sequence of questions which often starts with the recruits’ name, and questions about his birth date, birth place and next-of-kin. The questions about kin vary tremendously in form across the war. Screen Shot 2015-12-22 at 2.19.43 PM.png

Marking the attestation

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The first thing you’ll be asked to identify is the serial number which is written in the header of the page. The location of this can vary tremendously. Sometimes it’s in a specified place and labeled serial number or regimental number. Other times it’s just written in the header. We’re asking you to transcribe this as a check that we’re getting the right serial numbers associated with the right person.

We then ask you to identify the various questions, with slightly different dialogs for the format of the question. Screen Shot 2015-12-22 at 2.24.07 PM.png







Here are some examples of one-part questions marked. Notice that the boxes can overlap a littleScreen Shot 2015-12-22 at 2.25.52 PM.png

The next questions (below) are two part questions, asking the same thing about the recruits’ father and mother. These are quite obviously two part questions because they ask about two things, and there are two lines.

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But there are more complicated two part question as seen in these examples

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Lets take a closer look: The first question has the form “Did something happen”, and the second part has the form “If so, tell us more”

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We go all the way down the page marking sections where there are questions or text, making sure to conclude with the date and place of attestation, which is at the bottom (Christchurch, 24th day of August 1917 in this example, it’s hard to read).Screen Shot 2015-12-22 at 2.35.15 PM.png

How does this work when we get to transcription?

Because there are so many different forms of the question we, unfortunately, have to solicit your help in transcribing the questions too. Screen Shot 2015-12-22 at 2.46.56 PM.png

Luckily the question text is printed, and easier to read! You don’t need to transcribe the number of the question.

Here’s the next entry for which we’re doing the same thing. Note that we’ve transcribed the birthplace here exactly as written “Ch Ch”. We know this is Christchurch, and we’ll be able to classify it as such without you needing to correct the abbreviation.

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If you think a mark has been placed around the wrong place on the page you can select “bad subject”. Sometimes in marking people draw erroneous boxes. This is our way of handling them.

If you can’t read the text please mark “Illegible.” This is more helpful than a bad guess. If it’s marked Illegible it’ll be offered up for someone else to transcribe. This is the power of the crowd! We try to distribute the work to someone who can do it.

In our next tutorial we’ll turn the page again, and look at the medical part of the attestation. This is a really important part of the researchers’ data collection, and it turns out to be one of the simplest pages to mark and transcribe. The information and layout didn’t change much, and the writing is often much better.

Happy marking and transcribing, and thanks for Measuring the ANZACs with us!


Measuring the ANZACs Tutorial 4: Statement of Services

In our first three tutorials (One, Two, Three) we covered classification, and marking of Death Notifications and History Sheets. Today we turn the page (literally!) from the front of the History Sheet to its other side, the Statement of Services.

Before we dive into the details of the Statement of Services, lets recall our research goals. The research team are interested in how wartime service and experiences affects people’s health after the war. We know that other historians are interested in various ways in questions like “Who served in which battles, and with who, and what happened to them”. Knowing who was where when can tell us a lot about the connections between people in New Zealand society before, during and after the war; and it can tell us a lot about the military history of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force.

The Statement of Services helps us with these diverse research questions by summarizing the units in which men served, and for what periods of time. Operational histories of the units that have been published by the New Zealand Electronic Text Centre at Victoria University of Wellington will allow us to attach further detail about where men were serving on any given day of their service.

In short, the Statement of Services, like the front of the History Sheet is a very efficient way of summarizing the material in a man’s file. We can’t transcribe everything in a man’s file, so we are concentrating on material that will help you, and help researchers, zero in on the people they’re interested in for further exploration.

1. How do I recognize a Statement of Services?

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Most of the time, it says so right at the top of the page, and you can jump over to the right hand of the page to classify this as a Statement of Services.

If the title is obscured you can recognize it from the data elements or columns that are listed

  • Regiment or Corps
  • Promotions, Reductions, Casualties
  • Rank
  • Unit
  • Authority for Entry

2. Marking a Statement of Services

First mark the page as a Statement of Services, and then click NEXT.

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Although we have multiple fields (columns) here, we ask you to mark whole rows. This means that when you (or someone else)  transcribes the entries the material from each row is associated with each other. This is incredibly important in letting us create an accurate database of what happened to each person, with the correct dates for each change of status.

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Click on “Transfer” and then mark a row. It will now look like this. Screen Shot 2015-12-15 at 1.09.39 PM

Then mark another row.

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and so on, until you have marked all the rows. Screen Shot 2015-12-15 at 1.12.22 PM.png

Once you have marked all the rows you can click Next. Then we ask you to scroll down and mark the Particulars of Marriage if there is any information there. This will be really useful information for family historians.

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As with the Transfers, you should draw across the whole row.

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If there are any children, mark each child separately. Screen Shot 2015-12-15 at 1.16.08 PM.png

Finally, we ask you if anything is on the Conduct-Sheet section of the page. Our goal here is to index the men who had conduct incidents (really, misconduct) and re-sample those pages for transcription later in the project when we’ve transcribed everything we’re starting with. Screen Shot 2015-12-15 at 1.16.56 PM.png

And that’s marking a Statement of Services. The key to doing it correctly is marking the whole row, and marking each row of information separately.

3. Transcribing the Statement of Services

Switch to the Transcribe mode, and you will see how your work interacts with the data. Remember, you marked each row, but now we’re dividing up the data into the fields you see there.

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Type what you see in each box.

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You can move the boxes around. With the dates it’s especially important that you type what you see, and being careful not to omit the punctuation between the day, month, and year.

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Once every row is transcribed and in our database, we can calculate how long a man was in each “status” by sorting the transfers by date, and calculating the difference between each sequence of events.

You are welcome to transcribe the original entry instead of the “ditto” marks. But if we have all the events in place we can actually work out what the ditto marks are by looking “up” the electronic version of the data to see what the ditto mark is referring to.

Now we’ve completed looking at the documents describing what happened to men during the war, our next tutorials will look at the attestations which have different information and different challenges.

Evan Roberts


Measuring the ANZACs Tutorial 3: Marking History Sheets

In our last blog post we covered the basics of Marking. Marking is fundamental to capturing the information off the personnel files, as it structures the information that will be transcribed into “fields” or “variables.”

You can think of the fields as equivalent to columns in a spreadsheet. Every row describes a person, and every column has the same kind of information in it: a name, a birth date, a birth place, etc …  The structure of the data gets a little more complicated than that because some things can appear multiple times for the same person. For example, people could get sick, or be wounded multiple times. This means the data is hierarchical (a future post will look at how we process the data for research).

The History Sheets (see the Field Guide) are a vital part of our research because they describe the “exposure” that soldiers had to sickness, wounds, and battle. They are also vital in making the Measuring the ANZACs database a platform for other researchers to do further research in the personnel files. With more than 4 million pages for 140,000 personnel files it’s unrealistic to think we can transcribe all the information (but if every New Zealander transcribed three pages we’d be done …) in a short time. The History Sheets summarize the key events that happened to men, and will help us create a highly refined index of the men who served according to many different criteria including where people served, when they served, where their hometown was, whether they were injured, and who their next of kin were. The importance of an index like this might be appreciated with this example: at the moment we have no way of identifying the personnel files of those who served at Gallipoli.

In short, the History Sheets are valuable because they summarize so much about a person’s service. This will let researchers, including you (!), delve into the stories in other parts of the file. The History Sheets are like a menu to what else we might find in a man’s file.

As we noted in one of our first blog posts, the History Sheets were working documents for the administration of an army and a welfare system for returned soldiers (veterans). Their history as working documents is reflected in the “sticky notes” that are affixed to many of them, particularly ones that record a long history of service. This was a particular challenge in designing the interface you are using to mark and transcribe.

As we noted in an earlier post the way Archives New Zealand dealt with the challenge of the sticky notes was to scan the same page multiple times to capture the information on the sticky note, and what was hidden below. It is very important that you classify all views of the same page as a History Sheet, and mark the fields on it, even if there is some duplication.

Identifying a History Sheet: Most of the time you can identify a History Sheet because it says so at the top of the page.

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But not always … Because these were working files, and the History Sheet often appeared at the top of the file it was more likely than other parts of the file to be covered up with tape, like this …

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So you need to be able to identify a History Sheet from the key elements that nearly* always appear at the head of the page: Unit, Rank, Surname, First Name, No., Occupation, Last Employer, Religion, and Last New Zealand address. These are key pieces of summary information that were often taken from the attestation. Another way of identifying a History Sheet is that they are often a beige or tan color. (* Citizen scientists have seen other examples of the History Sheet. If you’re unsure, click on “Discuss this personnel record” in the lower right corner of your screen, and find out from the researchers, moderators and other citizen scientists over in Talk.)

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1. Identify the page as a History Sheet.

In the Mark workflow, you’ll click on History Sheet, and then click “Next”

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2. Tell us if there are any sticky notes  on the page. 

After you’ve identified this as a sticky note you’ll be asked are there any sticky notes, and in this case we click “Yes”.

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and then click “Next”Screen Shot 2015-11-30 at 9.41.47 PM

3. Now you’re onto the Marking of the individual fields

There are a lot of fields on the History Sheet, and it presents you with the options in the order we expect to see them. Screen Shot 2015-11-30 at 9.46.28 PM

Select a field in the list on the right, and find the corresponding space on the form where the answer to that question is written. Draw a box around the answer, and when you’re satisfied with the box, click “Done”.

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Now your box will show up ready to be transcribed by you or someone else from our great force of citizen scientists.

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You do the same thing for all the other fields for which the answers are visible on this page. 

Scrolling down the page you’ll notice that the “question” for Service is visible, but the “answers” are hidden by the Sticky Note. Don’t mark any fields on the Sticky Note, or fields which are obscured by the Sticky Note.

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If you want to see what the next page looks like you can navigate to the next page by using the page navigation tool on the left side of the screen. Click on the this icon to see the next pages.

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4. Marking Service, Wounds, and Sickness rows

Our next view of the same page shows what’s under the Sticky Note. Here we come to the information that summarizes a man’s service. The key thing about marking this section is that you make multiple marks, one for each row in which there is information.

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Note the instructions about which parts of the row to select. The next three screen shots show us doing the first three rows here. You’ll note that the boxes can overlap, because the writing sometimes spilled over the lines.

1. First row of service marked

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2. Second row marked

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3. Third row marked, notice how it overlaps the second row

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These same principles apply to marking Wounds and Sickness, which could happen multiple times to people. Mark each separate instance with a different box. This is very important, because it helps us create a count of the number of “events” that happened to people. Eventually we will use the separate information from each row to compile an electronic history of each man’s service. We will be able to calculate things like how long a man was sick during the war, and how long he was suffering from wounds.

5. End of service

Finally we come to some fields that often describe the end of a man’s service in various ways: death, missing in action, being taken prisoner, and discharge; and some information on pensions.

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Some of this is obscured by another sticky note, so lets hop over to the final version of this page to see what’s there. We have some information in the “Injuries row”, some information on a final discharge date, and an entry in the pension row.

For the discharge fields we are most interested in the dates of discharge. Here you’ll see that he leaves on 20.8.19 (20 August 1919). We’ve noticed some people have included the intended address in these fields, and that’s OK. It’s quite easy to identify what is an address, and what is a date.

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And then we’re done with marking this page. You can click on “Transcribe this page now!” if you want to transcribe, discuss it in Talk, or share your find on social media.

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Or if you just click Next you’ll move to another page for marking.

This covers the basics of marking a History Sheet, and will hopefully get you through most of them. Some are more complicated, so join the conversation in Talk by clicking “Discuss this personnel record” if you have any questions to ask about a particular page. All questions are good questions, and we have a great force of researchers and citizen scientists who want to help. Thanks for joining the forces to Measure the ANZACs!

(Here’s a link to the file we were using for the screen shots)