Author: Matthew M. Peek, Military Collection Archivist
I in my job as Military Collection Archivist at the State Archives of North Carolina get asked frequently for “official” lists of dead North Carolinians—whether by state or by specific counties—for all wars or military conflicts from the U.S. Civil War to the Persian Gulf War. This has particularly become a common question throughout the World War I commemoration efforts over the past two years, and I wanted to address this a little bit.
The state of North Carolina has no official numbers or list for those North Carolinians killed in WWI, as the records and information for the war dead were kept at the federal level. The state had no jurisdiction to inquire as to military information on casualties for federal military service. Especially during war periods, specifics and dates of deaths are often restricted by the military; and often individuals reported as being killed end up later found in POW camps or in military hospitals. Newspaper reports of deaths in WWI and WWII are notoriously very inaccurate looking back.
In order to answer this question, the North Carolina WWI Centennial Committee has a list they have compiled since 2013, which includes all known North Carolina deaths in WWI. It is not 100% accurate or an official North Carolina state government list. It has taken us that many years to compare deaths with official published records, the North Carolina WWI service cards, or county war memorials. Yet, it is the best-available death index for North Carolinians in WWI. It includes the names, home towns, dates of death, units and ranks, and miscellaneous other information about those 2,188 North Carolinians who died or were killed the war.
While the number 2,188 might sound small for the whole war, it is important to note that the U.S. was only involved in WWI from April 1917 to July 1919, and in combat from the summer of 1917 through November 1918. 116,516 American military service individuals were killed during WWI from 48 U.S. states [Hawaii and Alaska were territories at the time], with an average number of deaths during the war per state at 2,427.
The list was compiled by our committee’s president LeRae Umfleet, and researched with the help of interns and volunteers over this span. It is organized chronologically by death of the individuals, and not alphabetically by name of service individual or arranged by North Carolina counties. The list is in a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet that you can download in the attached file.
Please note: This list was a volunteer effort by multiple people to compile this data from numerous official U.S. War Department war-time records and casualty lists, many of which contained inaccurate information that cannot be confirmed or proved incorrect from official military reports. With the absence of the original service records for individuals at the National Archives due to the 1973 fire in the St. Louis repository, there are no readily-available means to confirm reliably details of a North Carolina service individuals' service and wartime death without their own personal wartime papers.
Any inconsistencies in names of units or ranks for specific individuals may refer to the units they served in the longest or last, and the ranks listed may be the last rank they held or the rank reported on casualty lists or service cards. Counties and home towns were taken from the official records or as listed on North Carolina WWI service cards for the locations the people claimed to live at the time they entered military service. As such, disputes by researchers over county boundaries or locations for specific individuals is not relevant for this list, as the list is intended to have the information provided at the time of the war.
This list will not be corrected, as it was initially intended as an in-house reference work for the N.C. WWI Centennial Committee to have rough numbers and death dates for North Carolinians killed in the war. If you wish to correct any information on the list, you are welcome to download it and correct the information for your local genealogy groups, libraries, communities, etc. However, without anyone with the committee now available with the end of the WWI centennial commemorations to research ever entry referenced for correction, or lack of access to specific records, or the inability to corroborate specific family information with available public records, we will not be attempting to correct the data. To check information or to have access to more reliable information on deaths in WWI, check out the North Carolina WWI Service Cards searchable database on FamilySearch.org, accessible with a free account.