World War I Military Portraits, Milwaukee Public Library

At the centennial of the start of World War I, the Milwaukee Public Library has launched an extensive new digital collection documenting the men and women of Milwaukee County who served in the war. The bulk of the collection consists of more than 30,000 handwritten service record cards compiled by the Milwaukee County Chapter of the American War Mothers. In 1921, this organization asked soldiers and their families to submit information about their time in service and their lives following the war. The War Mothers recorded an impressive amount of detail about each soldier, including parents’ names, where they attended school, religion and occupation, date entered service and date mustered out, branch of service and battles fought.

To digitize the World War I Military Portraits collection, a team of more than 30 volunteers, interns and library staff scanned the original cards and transcribed the handwritten records. Also included in the collection are portraits of service men and women in military uniform and informal snapshots of individuals at their homes or serving in the theater of war as well as records from the eleven volume set titled A Record of the Heroes of Milwaukee County Who Answered Their Country’s Call in the World War prepared by the Milwaukee County Chapter of the American War Mothers.

The digital collection brings online one of the library’s most highly used research collections. These materials are an invaluable resource for genealogists with ancestors in Milwaukee County. They also provide a candid look into average soldiers’ experiences and perceptions of the First World War. The notes that appear in the “Remarks” section of the service record cards are especially revealing. Some soldiers provided personal stories of meeting their wives abroad, or heroism on the battlefield. Others simply said “War is hell.”

Sergeant Paul Aloyains Idzakowski's information card includes the remark "It was a hell of a war." Milwaukee Public Library.

Sergeant Paul Aloyains Idzakowski’s information card includes the remark “It was a hell of a war.” Milwaukee Public Library.

C. M. Lichtenberg, one of dozens of servicewomen documented in the collection. Milwaukee Public Library.

C. M. Lichtenberg, one of dozens of servicewomen (most of whom served as nurses) documented in the collection. Milwaukee Public Library.

Hughes R. Gant. Milwaukee Public Library.

Hughes R. Gant was a private in the 93rd Division of the 372nd Infantry. After the war, he worked as a railroad porter. Milwaukee Public Library.

Albert L. Bork was just a few weeks shy of his nineteenth birthday when he enlisted in the Navy. Milwaukee Public Library.

Albert L. Bork was just a few weeks shy of his nineteenth birthday when he enlisted in the Navy. Milwaukee Public Library.


Explore the World War I Military Portraits collection from Milwaukee Public Library.

Read more about the collection: “New database brings World War I home to Milwaukee,” Bobby Tanzilo, OnMilwaukee.com

Discover more WWI materials available through Recollection Wisconsin:

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