Old-Photo Questions, Google-Style Answers

Oh, those wacky Internets. They can do genealogy harm. (See: Online Tree Synthesis, Or How I Traced My Lineage Back To The Goddess Athena In Only Two Weeks. Fictional title. I hope.) But they can also do great good.

Plain old Googling, for example, helped me tease out a context for some World War II photos of my father’s — including the great dog picture I posted a few days ago.

The pictures date from my father’s Coast Guard service.  All I know about them is what my mother told me: They were taken in Europe by my father at some point. There is no identifying information on the backs. They’re a bit of a mystery. But a  few weeks ago I decided this was an unscientific and downright wimpy attitude. Time to take a systematic look at these old pictures.

Some of the pictures just made me smile.

I knew they were taken at Le Havre – brilliant deduction, this! (Note the tongue-in-cheek mileage markers.)

And I noticed that the pretty tower in the background of the photo with the dog looked the same as the tower in this picture, below.

Also I noticed the big “61” on the ship behind the rubble in the shot below.

Here’s what I found when I went looking for clues about these visual hints.

Clue: Source (And What It Told Me)
The “61” on the side of the ship.
  1. Dad’s Coast Guard discharge papers, which mention that he served on the U.S.S. Monticello.
  2. A history of ships named U.S.S. Monticello, available as a Google Document. There were three – one built in 1858 that served during the Civil War; Dad’s ship from World War II, No. AP 61; and LSD-35, which sailed the South Pacific during SEATO operations in the 1950s and 60s and did service in Vietnam.
The Le Havre sign.
  1. Again, Dad’s discharge papers. They noted “yes” in the space that asked “Foreign service in World War II?”
  2. This .pdf file from the Coast Guard, detailing Monticello’s  comings and goings during World War II.  Monticello journeyed to Le Havre during my father’s time aboard, arriving on Nov. 17, 1945.
The tower on the partially bombed-out building. There’s a cross on the spire of the square tower.
  1. Probably a major church, right? So I googled “Le Havre” and “cathedral” and got the Wikipedia entry for Cathedrale Notre-Dame Du Havre.
  2. And here’s my tower, happily rebuilt from the wartime rubble.

My dad died when I was 23, long before I got serious about genealogy and, sadly, before I felt comfortable talking to him about his past. So these bits and pieces of information are oddly comforting. As I write up my notes on this album, it’s nice to be able to say something more than “Dad’s photos, taken someplace during World War Two.”


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