Updated March 15, 2016
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 home address.
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 war.
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.
This database was created from the World War I History Commission Questionnaires. The database is sorted by Given Name.
|Willie Gilliam||Black||17 Mar 1892||Lunenburg County|
|Henry Frank Gilliam||Black|
|Scott W. Gilliam||Black||12 Sep 1896||Cumberland County|
|Henry Gilliam||Black||13 Feb 1885||Cumberland County|
|Nathaniel Gilliam||Black||20 May 1893||Warfield, Brunswick County|
|Archie Edward Gilliam||White||3 Feb 1892||Farmville, Prince Edward County|
|Randolph Moore Gilliam||White||27 Oct 1895||Walnut Town, Albemarle County|
|Frank Johnson Gilliam||White||22 Apr 1895||Lynchburg|
|Alexander Gillum||Black||4 Jul 1896||Clifton Forge, Alleghany County|
|Carroll Edwin Gillum||White||30 Aug 1890||Madison Mills, Orange County|
|Giles Ernest Gilliam||Black||1888||Blackstone, Nottoway County|
|Odell Gilliam||Black||13 Dec 1893||Newberry County, Sc|
|William Claiborne Gilliam||White||6 Oct 1897||Surry County|
|William Gilliam||Black||25 Apr 1890||Windsor, Bertie County, Nc|
|Theodorick Armistead Williams Gilliam||White||16 Apr 1896||Savannah, Ga|
|Henry Eugene Gilliam||White||17 Apr 1888||Buckingham County|
|George T. Gilliam||White|
- Library of Virginia. World War I History Commission Questionnaires.
- Library of Virginia. About the World War I History Commission Questionnaires Collection