About the World War I History Commission Questionnaires Collection
On 7 January 1919, Governor Westmoreland Davis created the Virginia War
History Commission whose goal was “to complete an accurate and complete
history of Virginia’s military, economic and political participation in the
World War.” The Commission consisted of sixteen leading citizens appointed
by the governor, and Arthur Kyle Davis, president of Southern Female College
in Petersburg, was named chairman.
Local branches of the Commission, consisting of a chairman and two associates, were established in Virginia’s 100 counties and 21 cities to collect records of their community’s military and civilian activities. The Commission created a fifteen-topic outline of subjects to be included in the statewide history. Some of the topics included Virginians of Distinguished Service, Virginia Churches, Economic Conditions, Red Cross, and War Letters and Diaries. An editor assigned to each topic would then write the narrative. This material would then form the basis of the Commission’s proposed four-volume history of Virginia during the World War.
Unfortunately, poor or nonexistent leadership by the local branches, apathy, and a lack of time and money hampered the Commission’s collection of war records. The quantity and quality of records collected varied widely. In 1921 the Commission published four War History Supplements in the Virginia Magazine of History and Biography listing the source material collected by the local branches. Very few records were collected after 1921 and interest in the Commission’s work quickly waned.
In addition to the magazine supplements, the Virginia War History Commission published seven volumes. Volumes I–IV are summaries of source material compiled by the commission. These volumes include lists of distinguished soldiers; newspaper clippings chronicling the war; a guide to war letters, diaries, and editorials; and a series of sketches of civilian war agencies. Volumes V–VII are specific chronicles of Virginia wartime activities. Volumes include military unit histories and locality histories that describe the location of the communities, their resources, prewar conditions, economic conditions, relief, and institutional war work. Preliminary manuscripts for a narrative history of Virginia’s role in the war were prepared as well. By June 1928 all of the source materials and manuscripts were transferred to the Virginia State Library, but, because of various difficulties, the narrative history was never published. The War History Commission submitted its last annual report to the governor and General Assembly on 18 January 1928 and had ceased all operations by July 1928.
The Commission also conducted a survey of World War I veterans in Virginia through the use of a printed questionnaire. Local branches tried a variety of methods and techniques to get soldiers to complete the questionnaire with mixed results. In Stafford County, local churches were asked to get members of their congregations to complete the questionnaire, but had little success. The city of Richmond branch enlisted the police department in its quest for completed questionnaires. In Shenandoah County, where the local branch had great success, high school boys and girls were offered prizes for the greatest number of questionnaires turned in. Many soldiers refused to submit a completed questionnaire, fearing that doing so would subject them to future military service.
The World War I History Commission Questionnaires Database is a fully searchable database of more than 14,900 records, one for each questionnaire respondent, accessible by name, city/county, and race. Each record is also linked to digitized images of each page of the questionnaires, as well as any accompanying material such as photographs and additional pages submitted by the respondents.
Each questionnaire has four pages:
- The first page records information about personal background,
including the full name of the soldier; date and place of birth; name of
mother and father (and their places of birth); race; religious
affiliation; names of wife and children; fraternal orders and college
fraternities; education; occupation prior to entering the service; name
of employer; residence before and after time in service; and present
- The second and third pages record details of the veteran's
war record, including date of induction, rank, military branch and ID
number; military company, regiment and division; where trained or
stationed before going to Europe; port of embarkation and debarkation;
experiences in action; citations for and details of distinguished
services; details of any injuries; discharge; and occupation after the
- The fourth page contains several questions designed to elicit information about how the war affected the serviceman and how he perceived his experiences during the war. The questions deal with the effect of disabilities on occupation and employment; the serviceman's attitude toward military service; the mental and physical effects of United States camp experiences and of overseas experiences; how the experience affected his religious beliefs; and the effect of all of these experiences as contrasted with his state of mind before the war.
In many cases, the soldier submitted one or two photographs with the
questionnaire, one taken before entering the service and another taken
afterward, often in uniform, signed and dated. Questionnaires with photographs
are indicated in the database by a keyword-searchable note.
A separate two-page questionnaire was prepared for nurses. These questionnaires are also included in the database.
In preparation for its first source volume, Virginians of Distinguished Service of the World War, the Commission removed all questionnaires for soldiers receiving citations, decorations, or other honors. The Commission then created an alphabetical reference file consisting largely of questionnaires but also including photographs; letters from the soldiers, family members, or next-of-kin; newspaper clippings; and certified copies of citations. Questionnaires do not exist for every soldier in the reference file and in a few cases the only record is a copy of the soldier’s citation. This reference file (including questionnaires) has been microfilmed, but these records are not included in the database. The microfilm is available at the Library of Virginia or may be requested through Inter-Library Loan. See Miscellaneous Reels 4694–4701.
This database was derived from an original database created in the File Express format by Library of Virginia staff members. The images of the questionnaires were scanned from 60 reels of microfilm held by the Library.
Davis, Arthur Kyle, ed. Virginians of Distinguished Service in the World War. Richmond, 1923.
Davis, Arthur Kyle, ed. Virginia War History in Newspaper Clippings. Richmond, 1924.
Davis, Arthur Kyle, ed. Virginia War Letters, Diaries and Editorials. Richmond, 1925.
Davis, Arthur Kyle, ed. Virginia War Agencies, Selective Service and Volunteers. Richmond, 1926.
Davis, Arthur Kyle, ed. Virginia Communities in War Time—First Series. Richmond, 1927.
Davis, Arthur Kyle, ed. Virginia Communities in War Time—Second Series. Richmond, 1927.
Looney, J. Jefferson. “‘I really never thought war was so cruel’: The Veterans’ Questionnaires of the Virginia War History Commission.” Virginia Cavalcade, 50, no. 3 (Summer 2001): 124–133.
Virginia War History Commission, Records, 1915–1931. Accession 37219. State Records Collection, The Library of Virginia, Richmond, Va. 23219.
Virginia War History Commission. Virginia War History Commission Supplement, No. 1–4. Richmond, 1921.
Punctuation and capitalization are disregarded. Entries in this database are arranged in letter-by-letter alphabetical order. In addition to the regular searches, you may click on any highlighted element of a database record (such as a county name) to initiate a search on that element.
Each entry in the World War I History Commission Questionnaires database consists of:
- the name of the veteran
- the race of the veteran
- a photograph note indicating that a photograph was included with the questionnaire
- county/city of residence
- a link to the digitized images of the actual questionnaires.
Names in the database are in the form of last name, first name. A Browse search on the Name index retrieves records in an alphabetical listing by last name, beginning with the word or words used in the search. You can then scroll higher or lower in the list.
Example: A Browse name search on "harrison" retrieves an alphabetical listing of surnames starting with the search term:
- Harrison, Adam
- Harrison, Charles Linden, Jr.
- Harrison, Elvin Bernard … [etc.]
A Basic (keyword) search, or an Advanced search, retrieves records
with occurrences anywhere in the record of the search term. A Basic
search using the field "Names in Subject" on "harrison" retrieves all of the
records for the surname "Harrison," but it also retrieves all records with
"Harrison" as the first or middle name as well:
- Harrison, Katherine
- Armel, Benjamin Harrison
- Price, Harrison … [etc.]
Each record contains a note giving the race of the respondent. While the original questionnaire asks the question "Are you White, Colored, Indian or Mongolian?," the File Express database from which this database was created denotes race in only two categories: "White" and "Non-White." If the question was not answered on the questionnaire, the term "Not given" was used in the database.
Records with the term "non-white" can be retrieved using a Basic search on the field "Words Anywhere" for "non-white" (hyphen included). A Basic search for "white" will also retrieve all records with the term "non-white."
If the questionnaire included a photograph of the veteran, the note "Photograph available" appears in the record. The word "photograph" is keyword-searchable, either alone or in conjunction with other search terms such as name or place.
Example: Basic (keyword) searches (Field to search: Words Anywhere):
- bloxom photograph
- photograph richmond
County/City of Residence
Every record has a subject heading for the place of residence of the veteran. While most of these are counties or cities in Virginia, some respondents also lived in other states. The county or city name can be searched as a Browse search (with the index "Subject begins with …") or as a Basic search (using the field "Words in Subject").
The following subject heading appears in every record and should not be searched:
- World War, 1914–1918 — Virginia
Click on the URL at the top of the full record display to view a screen containing links to the digitized images of each page in the actual questionnaire.
For veterans, the first three links are always links to images of the four pages of the questionnaire. The second and third pages of the questionnaires were microfilmed together and thus appear as one image:
- The link "Questionnaire Page #1" goes to the first page of the questionnaire.
- The link "Questionnaire Page #2" goes to the second and third pages of the questionnaire.
- The link "Questionnaire Page #3" goes to the fourth page of the questionnaire.
Any other links go to images of any material accompanying the questionnaires, such as photographs or other papers with additional information submitted by the respondents.
Note: The photographs were scanned from the microfilm, not from the originals, and thus the quality of the photograph images varies greatly. Prints of the original photographs may be obtained from the Library of Virginia's Photographic Services.
For nurses, the first two links go to images of the two pages of the nurses' questionnaires. Any other links go to images of any material accompanying the questionnaires, such as photographs or other papers with additional information submitted by the respondents.
For more detailed help with searching, click on the Help link on the main search screen and scroll down to Search Functions and Search Tips.