Yesterday, I mentioned that Norma Flowers Stevens and her two young children arrived from Southampton, England, in the New York City port on Christmas Eve, 1952. I still have no idea where Frank is at this point, nor where Norma is headed, but I have some guesses, based on family stories.
Being in this predicament of flying by the seat of my, er, undocumented self, I thought this might be the perfect time to recall some promises I made to myself not so long ago. You may remember my reticence at making New Year’s Resolutions; you may also remember that I did mention hoping—some time—to track down the military records for Norma’s husband, Frank Stevens.
Well, this is that “some time.”
I pulled up those links I had referred to in a post at the end of December and got to work. In the process, I found out a few things and made a few observations. Think of it as my Guinea Pig Report, in case you’d like to follow suit in requesting military files from the National Archives at Saint Louis but don’t wish to be the “experimentee.”
The first think I noticed is that the links I mentioned in that December post seem to focus on military personnel who are requesting the barest minimum paperwork (the "DD 214") in order to qualify for those special perks reserved for the men and women who have served our country in the military. As you can imagine with a grandmother who saved every paper remotely attached to her beloved family, my husband has already been the recipient of his father’s DD 214 (the current form number, which applies to his Air Force years) and its predecessor, the NavPers 553 (for the Navy years, which incidentally, in Frank’s case, ended on the publicly-available side of the Archives dateline). So, the first step to accessing the request forms for Frank’s military papers meant asking for stuff I already have—that’s just how the online request system is formatted.
I chose to use the Archives website’s online request form, as we qualified to use it by virtue of my husband being the surviving next-of-kin. By choosing that route, I noticed a few things. First, the National Archives website for the Saint Louis center almost provides the viewer with information overload. There were so many links to helpful friendly descriptions, video reports, lists, FAQs and more that I sometimes felt like I was finding conflicting directions (like where to access Frank’s post-1940s Air Force records which do not fall within the public domain date range), or that I couldn’t backtrack to a point where I found something that I didn’t know I needed until later.
A second problem—no fault of the Archives—is my computer’s recent malevolent whim in permitting Firefox to take a dislike to the Google search engine. For whatever reason this nastiness has cropped up, it seems to also be connected to the fact that, once I clicked on “Launch the eVetRecs System,” it basically brought up the screen, but with no clickable buttons after the first page. The thing just sat there dumbly while I fumbled around, trying to figure out why it “wouldn’t go.”
A quick detour to a second browser, the clunky but salvageable Internet Explorer*, brought up the fully operable screen, and I was merrily on my way.
I had already been warned—thanks to some kind souls who answered queries I had posted on genealogy forums—to ask for the full personnel file, so when I found the comment section on the online request form, I was sure to make that note.
Although the website indicates the cost of photocopying the documents in the Official Military Personnel File (I’m figuring I’m in for $60—but that’s just the Navy side of the equation, as it only lets me request one branch per order), it never brought up a secure page where I could make an online payment. That mystery has yet to be resolved—though I’m sure the slow-but-steady government agency will not neglect its duty in informing me in due time of my pecuniary responsibility.
After submitting our electronic request, the final page in the process required the signature of the properly-qualified recipient of the personnel file. Although the page the Archives provides (coded for their use) may be printed, signed and then mailed to them, another option was to fax the completed form. We took the fast route.
Before we even managed to get that signed paper in the fax machine and dial the long distance number to Saint Louis, we had already received an email from the Archives, confirming their receipt of our request. Not bad for turn-around time.
Here’s hoping they work that same magic on their turn-around time for the completed package. As far as the saga of Frank Stevens goes, his son and daughter-in-law are looking forward to reading the rest of the story.
*Ever the source of off-beat trivia, my husband one day happened upon this picture coupled with the caption, "While Firefox and Google fight for world domination, Internet Explorer sits in the corner and eats paste." Of course, neither of us can relocate that ephemeral source of internet humor in its captioned form, but Chris was able to identify the originator of the sketch. For some strange reason, that kept coming to mind during today's online difficulties. Leave it to the poor lil guy with the glue jar to be the slow-and-steady one who got the job done for me today.