Finding Alaska Highway construction workers

Every so often we get the question: my father/grandfather/uncle/great-uncle worked on the construction of the Alaska Highway. Is there the a list out there of all the people who did? How can I find out more about where he worked?

The short answer to that is: there’s no list that we know of, and it depends.

The longer version, because that’s not a great way to respond to a reference request, goes something like this:

Depending on the source you’re using, at least 11,000 U.S. Army Corps of Engineers servicemen worked on the Highway construction. But those weren’t the only people working on the highway. Both Canadian and US civilian contractors made up quite a lot of the workforce too. According to one federal report, at the height of construction nearly 16,000 civilians were working on the Highway. The first, 11,000 servicemen count, is probably a total count of the individuals who were assigned to the highway construction. The second is probably just a minimum since some workers over time might have left and been replaced.  You’ll notice that I’m defaulting to men here: I’ve not seen exact numbers but based on everything I’ve seen and read, the workforce was primarily men.

Here’s some research hints we provide to people who ask us these questions. If you know of any other great tips for researchers looking for individuals who worked on the highway, please share in the comments?

Knowing if the person you’re interested in researching was there as a member of the military or as a worker for a contractor may help as you start your research. If he was a member of the military, you might want to see if  you can get your hands on his military personnel file to see if it mentions his duty stations or his unit so you can go looking for unit histories. The National Archives has some guidance on their website about researching military personnel records. Finding unit histories can be complicated but if your basic web search isn’t turning up one (a lot of times veterans’ organizations post these things online!) you might want to start with the Corps of Engineers history office or ask a librarian at your local library to help you track one down. The good news is that the military tended to track where soldiers were (they had to feed them and move them around!) so unit histories and personnel records were kept and maintained. The bad news is that a fire at the National Personnel Records Center in the 1970s destroyed a lot of WWII personnel records. But the National Archives site can give you more details on what they have and other alternate searching ideas for these files.

William Herbert Newlove photographs

Where it gets a little more complicated is with the records of the civilians working for contractors. Unlike the US Federal Government, corporations and companies may not have the same records-keeping requirements. And to be honest, in the past, archives and museums didn’t always make a lot of effort to collect and preserve the records of small businesses and the businesses themselves may not have kept/preserved/passed their records on to an archives. So if your name search on the web is taking you nowhere, what do you do? Knowing who he worked for is a start. The highway construction was actually parceled out to several contractors by both geography and type of work. So several contractors were assigned to oversee broad sections of the route during construction: kind of a more administrative and logistical job. Then other “roadway contractors” were assigned smaller areas within those regions, and some sections of the highway had yet a separate contractor to handle surfacing. Knowing the company that your guy worked for can help you narrow down the geographic area in which he worked.

And if you have the company name, how do you find that area? There’s a map! In 1946, the US House of Representatives’ Committee on Roads issued an interim report on the Alaska Highway. It’s a pretty substantial report: it’s 323 pages long. And it has a lot of info in it (no list of names!) so if you’re interested in what the government was doing in regard to the construction of the highway and planning for further maintenance and such, this is probably a good start. It even has the pay schedules for different grades of workers in case you’re curious about how much somebody could have earned while working on the highway. How do you get your hands on it? A lot of libraries that have government documents collections may have it, so you might be able to interlibrary loan a copy if your local library doesn’t have it. It’s also been digitized as a part of the US Congressional serial set and some libraries have a subscription to that database so you might be able to see it there if you’re willing to look at it in electronic form. Here’s the details you or your reference librarian will need to locate it as I just grabbed it from the listing in the Serial Set database:

The Alaska Highway. An interim report from the Committee on Roads, House of Representatives, pursuant to H. Res. 255 authorizing the Committee on Roads, as a whole or by subcommittees, to investigate the Federal Road System, and for other purposes. March 13, 1946. — Committed to the Committee of the Whole House on the State of the Union and ordered to be printed, with illustrations. Date March 13, 1946, Session 79th Congress, 2nd Session, Volume Serial Set Vol. No. 11020, Session Vol. No.2, Document H.Rpt. 1705, Publication Type House Report

There’s also many many many histories written on the construction of the highway. So you might want to look for those and see what your local library can interlibrary loan for you. One we like and point people to a lot, especially for people interested in the civilian contractor experience, is Alaska Highway Expeditionary Force, a roadbuilder’s story by H. Milton Duesenberg. It has a reprint of the map from the congressional report as well as many other bits of information and is a very readable history of the highway construction.

Plus there’s loads of archives out there that have things related to highway construction. You’d be hard-pressed to find an archives or museum in Alaska that doesn’t have at least a few photographs related to highway construction. We’re working on a statewide guide to archival resources about highway construction but in the meantime, you can look at the collections held by individual Alaskan repositories (many have some sort of catalog or listing on their websites). If you’re interested in what we have here in the archives at the Consortium Library, we’ve started a list of our collections related to highway construction and it can be found here. Generally though, if you’re looking for somebody specific rather than just general photos and documents related to highway construction and the workers, you’ll probably need to for whom and where the person worked in order to find archival materials related to that specific place or person.

And don’t forget the Alaska’s Digital Archives if you’re just curious about Alaska Highway construction and want to see photos of it. There’s currently over 350 photographs of highway construction in the Digital Archives so you’ll find plenty to browse through.

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New in the Archives: September 2018

September is always a season of change in the Archives with the start of the semester! It feels like this has been an intensive outreach month for us with several events that happened and even more that we’re preparing for. More details on that in a moment.

But first up, we hired a student worker: welcome Leticia! Leticia has been doing a lot of scanning for us so far this month, including getting high resolution scans done of nitrate still photo negatives since we’re not sure how much longer it will be before those degrade: nitrate media is one of the few hard copy archival media where the digital may have a longer lifespan than the original (and significantly less flammable, too.)

“The Alaska Flivver” from the Gregory slides

Did you know? The Alaska’s Digital Archives has reached a milestone!

This summer was the 15th birthday of the Alaska’s Digital Archives website! We can’t find the exact day that the site went live, but we know it was between July and September of 2003. Related to that, in September we added some more photographs to the Digital Archives:

29 photographs from the Marion and Thomas Gregory papers.

60 photographs from the Francis J. Huber slides.

Our additions to the Alaska’s Digital Archives will be going on hiatus for a month, possibly a little bit more. The website is moving to being hosted by another service provider and there’s some great things about that. First up, our annual budgets for licensing the software the supports the Digital Archives and for server administration will significantly decrease. That’s always good news! Secondly, we’ll be able to see some great functionality that we haven’t had before: like a mobile view of the site if you’re searching using your cell phone or a tablet. Fingers crossed that the move will go quickly and well.

Classes taught:

ANTH A620: Research Design. 4 students.

ENGL A476: History of the English Language. 27 students.

Outreach:

Live radio interview with KNBA on Morning Line about upcoming outreach events (Arlene)

UAA Bookstore presentation: Alaska Archives, Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow (Gwen, Veronica, Arlene)

PARK(ing) Day

Archiving AK podcast episode 6: STEM in archives

Notable uses of materials:

Well, we’re not quite sure how “notable” this is, but it charmed us no end. A photo of Spenard from the Mounteer papers is now wall-size and in the men’s bathroom at the Bear Tooth theatre. The original photo probably dates from between 1949 and 1952. The photo of the bathroom wall was courtesy of one of the Bear Tooth employees, no, we didn’t sneak in there to see it. Though we have an invitation to visit some morning before they open so we can go see it.  If you’d like to take a closer look at the photo and like us, aren’t allowed to go in the men’s room at the Bear Tooth without getting in a whole lot of trouble, we have it up on the Alaska’s Digital Archives, which is where they found it. Or you can come in and we’ll gladly pull the Mounteer collection for you to look through.

Collections described:

Christine M. McClain papers; 1907-1992. 0.01 cubic foot and 79 MB addition, includes writings and photographs.

Katharine Crittenden papers; 1978-2005. Research files and correspondence relating to Crittenden’s book, Get Mears!

Wanda A. Wheeler slides; 1964. 0.01 cubic feet. Images that depict damage caused by the 1964 earthquake.

Joanne Vivian Sedlock photographs; 1949. Aerial photographs of Anchorage.

Walter Johnson papers; 1902-2008, bulk 1961-1978. 0.5 cubic foot addition.

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New in the Archives: June 2018

It’s so hard to stay inside in June in Alaska! But we managed to get a lot done anyhow. Here’s the June 2018 wrap-up:

New personnel:

Sara Rollins, a local high school student, is volunteering with us this summer for 2-3 days each week. She’s doing a wide variety of tasks including creating an exhibit from our Rare Books collection, selecting images for our social media outlets, and lots of scanning of photographs so we can put them up on the Alaska’s Digital Archives.

Anna Leinweber, a grad student in the library program at Louisiana State University, decided to visit Alaska for her grad internship. She’s done a lot of cataloging of images for the Alaska’s Digital Archives (see below), some collection description, and spent some time working with some of our reference questions too.

Outreach:

We had a booth at PrideFest again this year. As always, we talked to lots of people both about the resources we have for research and about how they might think about their own documents and photographs being placed in an archives. (And a chance to be outside in Alaska in June, though it was quite windy.)

Our booth at PrideFest. We like our new banner and tablecloth.

Social media: We posted 29 tweets to Twitter: mostly photographs relating to #GreatOutdoorsMonth. We posted 7 times to Facebook and 4 times to Instagram (note to archivists: we need to do more Instagram!). Are you following us on those sites? Twitter: @CLArchives, Facebook: @ConsortiumLibraryArchives, Instagram: clarchives (we promise we’ll do better on Instagram).

Our volunteer Sara curated an exhibit on exploration narratives from our Rare Books holdings. That exhibit can be viewed in the Great Room of the Consortium Library.

We posted the third installment in our podcast series: this one a conversation between Gwen, Veronica, and Arlene on tourism in Alaska and how it is reflected in our collections. We also recorded two more, including a bonus episode coming in mid-July  in which Arlene talks with one of our visiting researchers about media and Alaska and archives. Our next regularly scheduled episode will be posted later in July and in that one, Veronica talks with our colleagues at the Alaska Moving Image Preservation Association about what it is they do.

And in a very out-of-the-ordinary moment, C-SPAN‘s Cities Tour visited us on the 26th and interviewed Arlene about our holdings relating to the 1964 Alaska earthquake. They tell us we might just see that interview airing the weekend of July 21-22.

Grants:

Gwen was awarded an Interlibrary Cooperation Grant from the Alaska State Library and the Institute for Museum and Library Services. This grant will allow us to work with other archives to create some cooperative guides to collections across Alaska and get them posted on SLED (State Library Electronic Doorway). We did one a few years ago on where to find the records/papers of former governors of Alaska. We also finished one in June on where to find archival materials in the US and Canada (primarily Alaska & Yukon Territory) on the CANOL pipeline which was funded by UAA’s Elizabeth Tower Endowment for Canadian Studies (thanks to Veronica for applying for and getting that grant). The CANOL guide should be going live later in July.

Additions to Alaska’s Digital Archives:

The work to transfer the historic UAA images from picturingUAA to the Alaska’s Digital Archives continued. 243 images were moved over which included additional metadata and editing some of the information accompanying the photographs.

New content added to the Alaska’s Digital Archives includes:

27 images from the W. D. Lacabanne photographs.  Most of the images relate to the canneries at Nushagak in 1931. Anna the Intern did these.

22 images from McGlashan and Monsen family photographs. These mostly relate to Naknek from 1910-1950.

44 images from Emma Cameron slides. Emma Cameron was a school teacher in Nome in the late 1940s, early 1950s.

40 images from the C. H. McLeod photograph albums. Anna the Intern also did these. The photos date from about 1898-1903 and mostly relate to southeast Alaska.

Collection description:

You might recognize some of these from the above Digital Archives additions.

HMC-0670: Washington D. Lacabanne papers; 1931. 0.2 cubic foot addition of photographs.

HMC-0989: Atwood family papers; 1906-2003. 1.8 cubic foot addition.

HMC-1290: John Cloe papers; 1943-2016. Research materials related to John’s book Mission to the Kurils.

HMC-1291: Jukichi (Jack) Nishida photographs; circa 1913-1981. Photographs taken by a man from Japan who worked for a mining company in Ellamar.

HMC-1292-AHS: C. H. McLeod photographs; undated, 1898-1903. Photographs of southeastern Alaska.

UAA-0076: Enrollment Management slides; 1977-1997. Photographs of campus life at UAA.

Legacy finding aids updated:

HMC-0232: Betty Jo and Bruce Staser family papers; 1946-1985. 0.4 cubic feet. Documents from a military serviceman and employee of the Municipality of Anchorage.

HMC-0233: Harry Staser family papers; 1891-1977. 0.2 cubic feet. Family papers of an Alaskan miner and deputy marshal.

HMC-0415: Society for Technical Communication. Alaska Chapter records; 1981-1991. 1.8 cubic feet. Records of an organization for technical writers.

Collection additions and changes:

We received five new collections or additions to collections. Veronica paid a visit to the Inupiat Heritage Center in Utqiaġvik to bring them a portion of a collection that was more appropriate to their holdings than ours.

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New in the Archives: March 2018

March has been a busy month for us! Must be all that extra light we’re getting right now that’s letting us get all this work done!

Collections described:

Ruth Hart papers; 1964-2003. HMC-1279. The collection contains the papers of Ruth …

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