[Editor’s note: Genealogy expert Thomas MacEntee of High-Definition Genealogy shares his family’s own story of a World War II era veteran and a condolence certificate signed by President Harry Truman.]
Several years ago, I came upon a variety of family photos and documents when cleaning out my mother’s house in New York. Many of these items belonged to my great-grandmother, Therese McGinnes, who passed away in 1988 and some to my great aunt, Ethel McCrickert, who passed in 2002. Among the items was a Certificate of Condolence signed by President Harry S. Truman.
For me, this item has always been a mystery and I knew it held an interesting story related to my family. But with my older relatives now gone, I had no one to ask about the item and its importance. My search was on…”
The certificate reads:
In grateful memory of Corporal Matthew T. McCrickert who died in the service of his country in the American Area, June 11, 1946. He stands in the unbroken line of patriots who have dared to die that freedom might live and grow, and increase its blessings. Freedom lives, and through it, he lives—in a way that humbles the undertakings of most men.
President of the United States of America
My first point of research was to determine “what I had” in terms of this item. What I’ve determined is that this document, measuring about 14 x 11,” was sent to the family of a United States military service member killed in action during World War II. The document was signed by President Truman and as far as I can tell, the signature is authentic and not from an auto pen. Although Truman was the first President to regularly use an autopen (which is an automated way of signing thousands of documents), such use was restricted to basic correspondence, not something as important as a condolence certificate.
Scanning the Condolence Card
Before I started my research I wanted to scan the condolence card, so I had a digital image to work with and I wouldn’t damage the original. I used my Flip-Pal mobile scanner and removed the top to scan the document in sections.
After scanning 15 different sections, I was ready to open the Toolbox folder and use the Flip-Pal EasyStitch program to stitch all sections together into one image. The entire process took about 10 minutes from start to finish.
The Search for U.S. Army Veteran Matthew McCrickert
In my search I also found a funeral card for Matthew McCrickert in the same box of possessions. It had basic birth and death information as well as a photo of a young man whose life held such promise but ended at a very early age.
My mother cared for Ethel McCrickert Macari Hannan for several years towards the end of her life and Matthew was her only brother, but she never talked much about him. My goal was to learn more about Matt and how he actually died and what the loss meant to his immediate family.
I explored all possible avenues based on the information I had:
1. A death date
2. Bits and pieces of a family story about a plane crash
However, I lacked important information, including where the crash took place.
News Stories: A Fatal Plane Crash in Freehold, New Jersey
My first research step was to search for “Matthew McCrickert” with the year 1946, the year he died. No results. Next, I moved on to a date range of June 1-15, 1946 and added terms such as plane crash.
A glance at a newspaper from upstate New York—the Kingston Daily Freeman—revealed the date and location of a crash in Freehold, New Jersey involving a military plane. While Matt was not listed as a victim of the crash, the story in the newspaper fit with what I had been told by family members.
Further research located another newspaper article, this time in the Middletown Times Herald. This article held an important clue: bad weather along the Eastern Seaboard due to a series of violent storms.
A Precious Document and A More Complete Story
While I don’t yet have all the pieces to this family mystery, my motivation to learn more about my cousin Matt motivated me to preserve the condolence card, which holds great value to my family.
Over time, as I find more information, I can use the images created using the Flip-Pal mobile scanner and my research to fully tell the story of Corporal Matthew T. McCrickert and his service to his country