Thursday, May 5, 2011

Discovery of Five Brothers Serving in World War I

In the Special Collections Department we are nearing the completion of a large scanning project to digitize a collection of photographs of World War I soldiers. The collection was given to the State Library by the Boston Globe in the 1930s and contains approximately 9,000 photographs. So far we have scanned 8,180 photographs. There is also a corresponding collection of about 30,000 index cards that contain biographical information on individual soldiers, often with newspaper clippings glued to the back. The data from these cards has been entered into a spreadsheet along with the information from the photographs and their envelopes. This spreadsheet contains a wealth of information on New England soldiers who served during World War I.

Occasionally, when scanning the photographs, we come across interesting individuals and unique stories. A previous post by intern Samantha Westall describes the discovery of two men with the same last name who looked nearly identical. Just this past week, I came across the photographs of Paul G. Watts, Robert E. Watts, Seymour H. Watts, and William H. Watts, Jr., four brothers from South Boston who were all serving at the same time. In the folder for Seymour H. Watts' photograph there was also a newspaper clipping from the Boston Globe with the title "Five Sons in United States Army." The subtitle explains the story further: "Mr and Mrs William H. Watts of South Boston Have Another Boy Who Longs to Be of Draft Age." Besides the four sons whose photographs are in the collection, the newspaper clipping mentions another son in service and a 6th, a 16-year-old, who is waiting until he is old enough to join the army.

One might wonder how their mother feels knowing that she has six sons serving in the army. Having just one family member fighting in the war would be difficult to deal with, but according to the paper: "The mother is also very patriotic and did not hesitate to allow her sons to step forth to battle, knowing that the country expects every man, woman and child to do their bit." "Stand by Uncle Sam" is the motto of this family, according to the paper. I don't think anyone could doubt their patriotism!

This is just one of dozens of unique stories that have come to light through the World War I photographs digitization project. Stop by the Special Collections Department to view these amazing photographs for yourself!

- Katie Trexler, Special Collections Intern