Finding the lost soldiers of WWI, mystery edition
April 3, 2013 2:14 PM   Subscribe

Posting for a friend, who says: "While cleaning up their old barn in Esnom-au-Val, France, my relatives discovered some writings left on the wall by American GIs in the First World War...." She has their signatures, but does not know what happened next. Please help her track down their fates. Did they make it home? How can she find their survivors (if any) and reconnect them with these signatures? Can you suggest any resources or search strategies?

Here is the information I have, with pictures: 1, 2, 3.

She continues:

"My ancestral home was requisitioned by the US army to house many soldiers. My great-grandmother cooked for them and became fond of many of them. Enclosed is a sample, I know it is difficult to read but it says: "Edw Clark 9cd Co. 114th US INf, Camp McClellan, Anniston Ala. In nov, in Berlin."

"I wanted to send these inscriptions left by their ancestors while serving in that horrible war, but have not been able to trace anyone, unless I am willing to pay for a research service. I do not know the hometown of these soldiers in the US. Camp McClellan, in Ala, was formed in 1917, so I should be able to obtain enrollees names and details, but no success.

"My family would like to know that these American soldiers returned safely to their homeland after the end of World War I. Can anyone help me?

"I have three such soldiers' graffiti. Here is the info on the other 2 exactly as inscribed on the wall.
"Charles Fenstermacher, 315 Inf Band 79 - July 25-Sept 5 1918"
"Vive l'Amerique et France...J.P.Barenque 326 INF HQ cO. 1 Pounders Nov 17-18"

"The writing is faint and difficult to make out, it has been 100 years, after all.

"Any suggestions or help would be appreciated."

Hive Mind, you've done amazing work at restoring old connections, and I'm hoping that you can help my friend resolve the mystery of this American grafitti. Many, many thanks.
posted by MonkeyToes to Grab Bag (39 answers total) 65 users marked this as a favorite
Veterans of the US military are tracked through the Veterans' Administration.

Perhaps there is some link there that can help you out.
posted by dfriedman at 2:54 PM on April 3, 2013

I can plug them into when I get home. But in the US at least, you can do that yourself with a free trial period of 14 days, I think.
posted by vitabellosi at 2:56 PM on April 3, 2013

You could look them up in a Social Security database or join or and find the relatives. Personally, I think a museum would probably be a better place.

The National Archives has the Burial Case Files and can be contacted at
Attention: MWCTM
8601 Adelphi Road
College Park, MD 20740-6001

US Army Center of Military History

The 315th had a nice dog, too.
posted by Ideefixe at 2:59 PM on April 3, 2013

I found nothing useful on Genaeology Bank. (Old newspapers.) There were some hits for Charles Fenstermacher, but nothing so clear as to be sure it was the correct person.
posted by RedEmma at 3:05 PM on April 3, 2013

Best answer: Based on the rarity of the name, the somewhat-difficult-to-read handwriting and the given dates, I'm going to say J.P. Barenque is actually J. P. Barinque.

From records:

U.S. Veteran Gravesite of Jean Phillip Barinque
Name: Jean Phillip Barinque
Service Info.: PFC US ARMY
Birth Date: 26 Nov 1893
Death Date: 15 Feb 1968
Interment Date: 19 Feb 1968
Cemetery: Long Island National Cemetery
Cemetery Address: 2040 Wellwood Avenue Farmingdale, NY 11735-1211
Buried At: Section 2x Site 1716

His wife's name was Helen. Helen died in 1994. Haven't found them in the 1940 census yet to see if they have any kids, but I'll update later if I find it.
posted by erst at 3:25 PM on April 3, 2013 [11 favorites]

The National Archives has a decent veterans website and a good explanation of the things they have online. Does not look like it would line up with your query here, but worth knowing about.
posted by jessamyn at 3:27 PM on April 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

"In nov, in Berlin."

It looks to me like "is now in Berlin".
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:21 PM on April 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: erst, interestingly, it seems that there's a dentist of the same name in that neck of the woods.
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:21 PM on April 3, 2013

Looks like Jean Phillip shows up in the 1900 census and 1930 census. And he had a draft card for WWII.
posted by vitabellosi at 5:35 PM on April 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

The Washington herald., October 24, 1918 lists a Private Jean P. Barinque of New York, NY as wounded.
posted by cda at 5:40 PM on April 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

There are a quite a few Charles Fenstermachers who would have been of age to be in WWI -- all born between 1885 and 1896. (Maybe as many as seven, if I'm counting right.)
posted by vitabellosi at 5:47 PM on April 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

315th Infantry, 79th Division -- This is Company K -- no Fenstermacher listed -- he was likely in a different Company. But looking around this site will give you some history of the 315th Infantry, 79th Division.
posted by vitabellosi at 6:12 PM on April 3, 2013

Best answer: The Official History of the 315th Infantry includes a photo of the "Regimental P.C. at Esnoms." Company D sounds promising; it includes one Elwood L. Clark (no Fenstermacher or Barinque, though).
posted by MonkeyToes at 6:50 PM on April 3, 2013

Response by poster: The BAND, Elwood! The BAND! Charles Fenstermacher, musician third class. Looks like he would have sailed on the U.S.S. Santa Rosa from St. Nazaire.

[Sorry to threadsit, and I swear I'm going to sleep now. But please feel free to take a look at this source. Thank you all for your help!]
posted by MonkeyToes at 7:07 PM on April 3, 2013 [3 favorites]

Check on page 315 of that book, MonkeyToes, under Musicians, Third Class.

Also, according to some of the random googling I did, most of the 315th was drawn from around the Philadelphia area, so that may help narrow your search a bit. It turns out that Pennsylvania is pretty dense with FensterMachers, tho.

on preview, you beat me to it
posted by logicpunk at 7:10 PM on April 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

Your friends might also want to submit photos of the etchings and the barn to the Europeana 1914-1918 Project for long-term digital curation and archiving. Documenting these kinds of ephemeral traces of the First World War experience is what Europeana is trying to do.
posted by Sonny Jim at 5:37 AM on April 4, 2013 [9 favorites]

Best answer: The Charles Fenstermacher must be this guy (I got the info from

Charles Fenstermacher
residence at death: 439 Columbia St
Schuylkill Haven, Pennsylvania
veteran of WWI Army, 315th infantry
date of service: 9/24/1917 Schuylkill Haven PA to 6/7/1919 Camp Dix NJ
born: 3/10/1896 Friedensburg PA
death: 9/18/1979 Pottsville PA
buried: Union Cemetery Schuylkill Haven PA
son: Martin E. Fenstermacher, same address

the book somebody linked to above says that the band members were "coal crackers" from the Pottsville area and Schuylkill Haven is definitely coal country.
posted by interplanetjanet at 11:07 AM on April 4, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Here's a cool article about Charles Fenstermacher's house. It says he was Charles "Tinnie" Fenstermacher, a tinsmith who played the clarinet and served in WWI.
posted by interplanetjanet at 11:14 AM on April 4, 2013 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: And that article also mentions a Fenstermacher descendant. Thanks, interplanetjanet!
posted by MonkeyToes at 11:34 AM on April 4, 2013

Response by poster: Update on the way, but my friend has been in contact with the son of J.P. Barinque.

erst, thanks and points to you for your handwriting deciphering and research abilities; the correct spelling made the connection possible. interplanetjanet, thank *you.* Great identification and a very good find on the tinsmith article.

Thanks to all who provided assistance!
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:13 AM on June 19, 2013

Best answer: Bless all of you for your great help. I have made connection with Jean Philipp Barinque's son, and he sent a great letter to me. I have also spoken with him, and he intends to visit Esnom next year when he goes to France.
Here is his letter: I was extremely happy to receive your recent letter in reference to my father who was stationed in France in WW1. I'm not sure if you are aware of the fact that my family was originally from the Basque country . In fact our whole family will be visiting the small village of Barinque near Pau next year. My great great grandfather was a caretaker of the Versailles Gardens for which I have original papers. At some point they migrated to New Orleans and I was told that one of my grandparents did some of the paintings in the St Louis Cathedral, the oldest cathedral in North America.
My father passed away on February 15, 1968, two months before I was married. Unfortunately, he never spoke about the war although he was a Captain of the famous Fighting 69th regiment after the war. I also know that he fought at St. Mihiel & Meuse- Argonne and received a purple heart. It sounds like he was very fortunate to have stayed at your great-greatgrandparents house. I can imagine what a great experience this was even under such adverse circumstances. My father must have really enjoyed the French cooking. He himself was a fabulous cook. My daughter and I also enjoy cooking and can't wait to enjoy the great meals in France. We are even planning to take cooking courses while we are there. It's been several years since we've been to France. We love to travel. If at all possible I would love to know where in France your ancestors lived and I definitely would love to have the hand written note that my father composed as well as the photo where he spent some time during the war.
Thank you so much for contacting me. I really appreciate it.


Jean Barinque
posted by francinefuqua at 10:47 AM on June 19, 2013 [40 favorites]

Best answer: I have written to Charles Fenstermacher's son, Earl, in schuylkill Hven, Pa. but have not heard back from him. But this is indeed the correct Fenstermacher. Thank you all so very much for your great help. Now I still have to unravel the mystery of EDW. CLARK. He was in the 114th US Infantry, Headquarters company, he noted Camp McClelland, Anniston, Alabama. His note seems to say now in Berlin, but since his handwriting is on the wall, he obviously was still in Esnom, Must have been after 1917 since that is Camp McClellan was formed then. My guess he was ready to depart for Berlin, and wanted to leave a trace of his passage in Esnom. So far I haven't been able to find out anything on him. Wonder how difficult it would be to get a list of the Camp Mc Clellan soldiers who served between 1917 and 1918 in the 114th US infantry.
Again thank you so much to all of you who helped me. I appreciate it so much. Francinefuqua (
posted by francinefuqua at 10:58 AM on June 19, 2013 [6 favorites]

Response by poster: Please welcome francinefuqua, who joined the site thanks to this question, which is hers. I *told* her you guys were amazing, and you've proved it again. Thank you!
posted by MonkeyToes at 1:23 PM on June 19, 2013 [4 favorites]

Edw might be an abbreviation for Edward.
posted by evening at 6:25 AM on June 22, 2013

Regarding Edw Clark:
The photo of his scribble says "H'd qr's Co. 114th U.S. Inf." (Headquarters Company) — not "9cd Co" as listed in the OP post. So he was not in the 315th or 326th like the others. Also, it says "is Now in Berlin", not "in Nov in Berlin".

As mentioned previously this history (different source, same story) says: "The original 114th Infantry was organized at Camp McClellan, Alabama, October 11, 1917 from the Third New Jersey Infantry, Fifth New Jersey Infantry and the First Delaware Infantry. The ancestor of the 114th Infantry, the Third Infantry was originally organized as Third Battalion, New Jersey Rifle Corps, in December, 1865. In July, 1866, it became Third Regiment, and was attached to an Independent Brigade, New Jersey Rifle Corps. The Third Regiment saw Active Service in railroad strike and riot duty in 1877. It served in the Spanish-American War in 1998. The Regiment was reorganized as the 114th Infantry in 1917. A year later, the unit found itself in Haute-Alsace, France for World War I. The 114th participated in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, the famous battle where the 42nd Infantry Division lost half of its Rainbow."

Looks like the 114th went to Europe as part of the 29th Division "The Blue and Gray". Headquarters company shipped on the Wilhelmina. (p. 72). In that history of the 29th division there's no mention of any part of the 114th going to Berlin. Recall that the Allies did not invade Germany in World War I. After the Armistice, there were small military misions to Berlin. The US Military Mission to Berlin arrived after the Armistice and wrapped up its work by August 1919. Perhaps Clark was a member of this mission (based on "is Now in Berlin").
posted by beagle at 8:48 AM on June 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: pg368: Clark, E. pvt. 1cl. Hq. Co. 114Inf.
posted by Golden Eternity at 10:27 AM on June 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Nice find, Golden Eternity, that's our guy. Page link.
posted by beagle at 3:13 PM on June 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Thank you so very much for finding private first class E. Clark, in the roster of the 114th, Blue and Grey- 29th Division. Headquarter Co. It looks as though he might have been from New Jersey. Have no idea as to where to go from there to locate his descendants. Thank you so very much for your help. I read with interest that the first ever post office A.P.O. was located in Prauthoy. That is a small town within walking distance from Esnoms Au Val, in the Haute Marne Region. My great-grandmother had a small home there.
posted by francinefuqua at 2:59 PM on June 24, 2013

I have found the photo of Captain Thomas H Maxwell in my family photo album. He left a very nice note on the back of his photo for "His good friends" my great-grandmother, Madame Bourguignon, and great aunt Marguerite. He notes that he is from Tuscaloosa, Alabama in the US. He writes an address of C/O R.R.K. C, (note sure this is a K,) - Dijon Cote D'Or, France. The back of the photo is signed: Esnoms, June 8, 1918. I do not know how to post the photo and his note on your site but will see if my friend can do that for me. There is something strange after "captain" it looks like" Euges" USA
Anyone from Tuscaloosa in the group?
posted by francinefuqua at 3:12 PM on June 24, 2013

It appears that Captain Thomas H. Maxwell from Tuscaloosa was a civil engineer, experienced in topographical surveys, who had also served in the Spanish American War. Here is a letter he wrote in 1914, asking for appointment to a "commission to China". He mentions (on the second page) that he served in the Spanish-American War but "did not get to shoot any Spaniards for which I was very glad." The letter is addressed to Brigadier General William C. Gorgas, who was Surgeon General of the US Army. Gorgas, a fellow-Alabamian, is well known for having ended Yellow Fever during the building of the Panama Canal, so it's possible Maxwell, as an engineer, was also involved in the construction of the canal. The "commission to China" refers to the China Medical Commission of the Rockefeller Foundation, now known as the China Medical Board. (Gorgas was a member of the executive committee of the Rockefeller Foundation.)

He served as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 1944.
posted by beagle at 6:30 AM on June 25, 2013 [7 favorites]

A tad more: Maxwell was a Sergeant in the Spanish-American War. This listing of graves supplies his birth and death dates as September 1, 1872 - May 17, 1962. (Greenwood Cemetery, Tuscaloosa, Tuscaloosa Co. AL).
posted by beagle at 8:06 AM on June 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I have now been in contact with the descendants of Charles Fenstermacher who are elated to receive the photos I have sent them of the notes left by their ancestor, and picture of my great-grandparents and the home he shared with them for a few months while in France. In turn, they have sent me a photo of the 315th Infantry Band, taken in France. Charles Fenstermacher is seen on the front row., It is great associating his name to an actual photo. Unfortunately, I do not know how to forward this photo to you and post it on this site. Will keep trying. Thank all of you again for your expert help. Two down and one to go. I am now going to try and find Private first class Edw. Clark of the 114th Infantry. He was either from Delaware or New Jerzey.
posted by francinefuqua at 7:35 AM on July 3, 2013 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Photo: Charles Fenstermacher and the rest of the 315th Infantry Band.
posted by MonkeyToes at 3:55 PM on July 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: More on Maxwell:

Here is a 1946 article about him in the Tuscaloosa News, describing his service in two wars (as mentioned above, Spanish American War as well as WWII), giving some more particulars about his life.

He was the son of Mr. and Mrs. James Robert Maxwell of Tuscaloosa. James Robert (obit), 1845-1830, served in the Civil War (Confederate Army) and was a very prominent merchant. In turn this James Robert was the son of James Robert Maxwell, a pioneer merchant who founded this 2500-acre plantation. (The land, not including the manor, sold for $8.5 million in 2010.)

[from the above-linked newspaper article:] Thomas H. Maxwell attended the Verner Military Institute in Tuscaloosa, and earned a BS in Engineering from the University of Alabama in 1893. In the Spanish American War, he served in the 3rd Engineers Regiment in Cuba. He remained in Cuba after the war as an engineer until 1902; then went to Texas as an oilfields engineer for the Kansas City Southern Railway. He returned to Cuba in 1903 to marry Augustine La Cova. They lived in Cuba until 1912, and had two sons, each serving as lawyers in 1946. He then returned to Tuscaloosa to manage the Tuscaloosa Compress Company. In World War I, he volunteered as a captain in the US Engineer Reserves. In France he worked on construction and railroad projects and returned to the US in 1919. He attained the rank of lieutenant colonel by the time he reached "retirement age" (presumably Army retirement, the article does not say when. He turned 65 in 1937).

In retirement he dabbled in politics, running for Congress, but losing, in 1934 and 1940, and for state treasurer in 1946. (Note: by this time he was about 74, so quite possible the treasurer candidate was one of his sons, whose names I have not tracked down.) About 1942 he was elected to the state Democratic Executive Commitee, and as noted above, he was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 1944. He was also "long a staunch member of the Tuscaloosa County Farm Bureau Federation" and "very active in promoting the cotton control movement at its inception."

Based on the above, Francine's transcription of "Euges" is clearly "Engrs" for Engineers. "R. R. K. C." is actually "R. R. & C." or Renting, Requisition & Claims Service, an Army unit which "Settled foreign claims against the War Department arising from U.S. participation in World War I."
posted by beagle at 3:25 PM on July 4, 2013

Response by poster: Maxwell (photo) and the text.
posted by MonkeyToes at 3:32 PM on July 4, 2013

Correction above, WWII should be WWI, obviously. Autocorrect prefers the Big One.

And death date of James Robert is 1930 not 1830
posted by beagle at 5:17 PM on July 4, 2013

Best answer: Possible way to connect to present-day Maxwell kin:

This 2010 article in the Tuscaloosa News has more detail about the Maxwell Plantation. Correcting info above, the plantation was founded in 1852 by Thomas Maxwell, and continued by his son James Robert Maxwell. James Robert's son, another James Robert, was the father of Thomas H. Maxwell, our subject.

Skip to page 3 of the article, which says, "Camille [Maxwell] Elebash of Tuscaloosa, a great-great-grandniece of Thomas Maxwell, has kept track of the Maxwell family’s history." Camille appears to be a writer and journalist. You could probably get in touch with her via the reporter of that story at the Tuscaloosa News, Patrick Rupinsky (potentially, the News would be interested in doing a story about all this.) We're talking about one of these two Camilles, probably the younger one.
posted by beagle at 6:19 AM on July 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Conclusion on Thomas H. Maxwell - for all of you and especially "Beagle" I am now in contact with Mary Farley, of Tuscaloosa, whose grandmother was a sister of Thomas Maxwell. She confirmed that Thomas had two sons born in Cuba., James Augustus (Augusto) and Robert Joseph. Both were lawyers in Cuba but eventually left Havana and lived in Miami. Augusto worked in a law firm in Miami, but did not practice as an attorney. His son went to the university of Michigan. An interesting story, when Augusto and his wife planned to leave Cuba, they could only take $5.00 in cash, each. They were able to leave with jewelry/stones in their shoes. They practiced walking on the stones in their shoes for several months until they were able to walk without showing any foot problems. Thomas'wife remained in Cuba, but they never divorced. The Maxwell's story in unbelievable, ins't it? I plan on visiting Thomas's grave in Tuscaloosa and intend to meet with Mary Farley soon.
I am so impressed by the knowledge and dedication of all of you, at MetaFilter. I tried for two years to locate my 3 missing GI's, to no avail. A few weeks after I asked for your help... Success. I am still working on my poor Edw. Clark. Perhaps an enlisting record in the 114th would reveal his hometown and maybe even his parents name? I am a determined person and will keep on trying. My cousin in France has now repainted the family barn, but did not cover the inscriptions left by the young Americans almost 100 years ago. If any of you ever decide to visit that part of France, let me know and we will take you there to see the home and barn. A great trip, anyway, because the wine there is plentiful and excellent. Thank you again. Francine
posted by francinefuqua at 1:26 PM on July 17, 2013 [5 favorites]

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