Writer's Guide to Government Information

Resources to inject real life detail into your fiction

Archive for the category “Real People”

JFK Assassination Records

JFK Assassination Records – https://www.archives.gov/research/jfk/2017-release


This page lists out the individual documents released in July and October of 2017.  Organized by release date, these documents sometimes have titles that help to determine what the actual document is, but often may not.  While the  JFK Assassination Collection Reference System does have the older print-only documents released in the 90’s, they don’t yet have the documents released this year, so finding specific documents could be a challenge.

US Coast Guard Cutter Campbell Cruise Book 1967-1968

US Coast Guard Cutter Campbell Cruise Book 1967-1968 – http://www.uscg.mil/history/WEBCUTTERS/Campbell_VTN_Cruise_Book.pdf  (site currently down 8/25/17)

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • What sort of background might the captain of a 1960s USCG cutter have?
  • What operational sections did a Coast Guard Cutter have during Vietnam?
  • What sort of nicknames did enlisted men get on a cutter?
  • What did Guantanamo Bay look like in the late 1960s?
  • What did replenishment-at-sea look like?
  • What did the “crossing the equator” ceremonies look like?


From the introduction: “This is a story of a ship, and the men who serve aboard her. A remembrance of one year in the lives of the officers and crew of the US Coast Guard Cutter in Viet Nam.”

The book opens with a brief history of the ship, then has biographies of the captain and executive officer who served on the cutter during the year being documented. The biographies include state of origin, education and previous assignments. This section is followed by photographs of officers with notations of their assignments on the Campbell. Following photographs of the officers come descriptions of the ship’s different departments, including photos of enlisted and sometimes some personal detail about them.

The description of ship’s departments is followed by a large number of photographs broken up into sections, but minimal annotation and virtually no identification.

The sections are (pages refer to PDF file):

  • Departure and Training (p.27)
  • Operation Market Time (p. 30)
  • Replentishment at Sea (p. 37)
  • Gunfire Support (p. 50)
  • Medical Assistance Aboard (p.57)
  • Med Caps Ashore (p. 61)
  • Work Parties Ashore (p. 63)
  • Boardings (p. 67)
  • The Off Hours (p. 72)
  • Harold’s Night: Gambling in the Campbell’s Plush Floating Casino (p. 75)
  • Crossing the Equator (p.78)
  • Cookouts (p. 81)
  • Ships Parties (p. 83)
  • Personnel Inspection (p. 87)
  • Destruction of a Derelict (p.90)
  • Home Stretch (p. 92)

While the book definitely suffers from the lack of an index, table of contents or careful annotations of photos, writers ought to be able to construct a reasonable “life aboard” story from this cruisebook. At 102 pages, this is short enough to be browsable.

Medal of Honor Recipients (Vietnam)

Medal of Honor Recipients (Vietnam)


Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • Where can I find an example of soldiers who survived what outsiders would deem a suicidal charge?
  • Where can I find a story of how soldier provided covering fire so their comrades could be evacuated?
  • Where can I find a story of heroism among a helicopter crew?


Listing of medal of honor citations by last name. Each entry includes: rank & organization, Place and date of action, where the person entered the service, plus a long paragraph for the citation.

Chaplains with Marines in Vietnam, 1962-1971

Chaplains with Marines in Vietnam, 1962-1971. Cdr Herbert L. Bergsma, CHC, USN. 1985. 240 pp.

(Paper: http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/12676782)


Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • What denomination was represented by CGP in Marine Chaplin documents?
  • What role did chaplains play in the “hearts and minds” activities of US forces?
  • What was it like to have Christmas services in the fields of Vietnam?
  • Where can I find a story of a priest giving communion in a minefield?


According to the preface, the aim of this work was to provide basic history of the Vietnam War and use it as context for the work of the chaplain corps and to highlight the work of some individual chaplains.

The work is divided chronologically. Some of the chapter/subheading titles refer to types of ministry. Some that might interest a writer of wartime stories include:

  • Christmas highlights
  • With the Wounded or On the Line?
  • Chaplain Participation in Major Operations
  • Easter and Passover in I Corps
  • Hearts and Minds : The Personal Response Project
  • “Greater Love Hath No Man . . .” – Death of a priest ministering on the battlefield.
  • The 3d Marine Division Memorial Children’s Hospital

Between the notes section and the index are these two helpful appendices:

  • Religious Denomination Short Titles Chaplains Corps, United States Navy
  • Navy Chaplains In Vietnam, 1962-1972 – The chaplains are listed by year. Each entry shows: name and rank, denomination, date arrived in Vietnam and first assigned unit.

Medal of Honor Recipients World War I

Medal of Honor Recipients World War I – http://www.history.army.mil/html/moh/worldwari.html

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • Under what circumstances might a soldier who drowned in a river be awarded a Medal of Honor?
  • Where can I locate a heroic medic story?
  • Under what circumstances did a cook save a life?


A single page offering brief citations for soldiers awarded the Medal of Honor for service during the First World War. Citations about a paragraph long and will always include why the soldier or sailor received the medal. Dates of birth and unit information are usually included.

Medal of Honor Recipients from War with Spain (Center of Military History)

Medal of Honor Recipients from War with Spain (Center of Military History) – http://www.history.army.mil/html/moh/warspain.html

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • Where can I find someone decorated for rescuing wounded from Cuba?
  • Where can I find individuals involved in the cutting of the cable leading from Cienfuegos, Cuba?
  • Where can I find men cited for action in the Philippines?


Listing of citations of Medals of Honor earned by servicemen in the war with Spain. Each entry carries name, rank, birthdate, birthplace, date of citation and date of action. Also carries a 1-3 sentence description of the act being honored.

FBI reading room (Vault)

FBI reading room (Vault) – http://vault.fbi.gov/reading-room-index

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • Why did the FBI suspect Lucille Ball of being a communist?
  • What was Carl Sagan’s involvement with the FBI?
  • Why was the FBI interested in what was being delivered to sex researcher Alfred Kinsey?
  • Who are some of the anti-war activists investigated by the FBI?
  • Where can I get reports on major crime figures?


Many famous and infamous characters have a FBI file. Some were actual criminals and spies. Others, like Anna Nicole Simpson and Carl Sagan, got threatening messages. Some, like Lucille Ball were simply suspected of being communists. The FBI got asked about her, Al Capone and others so often they put up an online reading room where you can read redacted versions of the files yourself.

In addition to the straight alphabetical listing on the main part of the page, a menu on the right hand side of the page offers topical access. Topics of likely interest to fiction writers include:

  • Anti-War
  • Civil Rights
  • Counterterrorism
  • Foreign Counterintelligence
  • Fugitives
  • Gangs Extremist Groups
  • Gangster Era
  • Organized Crime
  • Political Figures Events
  • Popular Culture
  • Unexplained Phenomenon
  • World War II

Some of the people with an online FBI file include:

  • Al Capone
  • Anna Nicole Smith
  • Albert Einstein
  • Bishop Fulton Sheen
  • Carl Sagan
  • Daniel Shore
  • Groucho Marx
  • Walter Elias Disney

Files vary. Al Capone’s file consists of 36 PDF files each about 100 pages long. Carl Sagan’s is one PDF file of 39 pages. Information can include news clippings. Files can also have a lot of holes, either through blacked out lines or withholding of entire pages.

Bear in mind that not everything in these files should be regarded as true. Some it is and some of it isn’t – either because it represented wrong guesses on the part of the FBI or because the information was supplied by informants with an ax to grind.

Aside from providing plausible anecdotes for real people you might sprinkler into 20th Century novels and stories, these files give a glimpse into what the Bureau found useful enough to keep.

Famous Servicemembers

Famous Servicemembers – http://www.army.mil/article/18424/

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • Did Jerry Mathers, who played the title character on Leave It to Beaver, die in Vietnam?
  • What role did Werner Klemperer,aka Col. Klink, actually play in World War II?
  • What flying awards did Jimmy Stewart earn in World War II?


A one page article noting a few details about celebrities who were in the US military. People covered include Werner Klemperer, Jimmy Stewart (retired as brigadier general), Rocky Blier (bronze star), Charles Durning (gold star), and Eddie Albert (bronze star). With some perseverance, you might be able to pull up the commendations for Blier, Durning and Albert by browsing through the Army’s General Orders at http://armypubs.army.mil/ProductMaps/PubForm/AGO.aspx. These General Orders covered awards for all services. Unfortunately they are not searchable, but must be browsed by year and order number.

Biographical Directory of the United States Congress 1774 – Present

Biographical Directory of the United States Congress 1774 – Present – http://bioguide.congress.gov/biosearch/biosearch.asp

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • Who was a Senator from California in the 1890s?
  • Has a Representative from California ever been Speaker of the House?
  • Who could I feature from the Anti-Monopolist party?


Searchable by last name, first name, position (Representative, Senator, Delegate, Vice President, President, Resident Commissioner, Continental Congress, Speaker of the House), state, party (many parties), year or congress. Records are approximately one paragraph long and cover education, professional career and Congressional service.

Biographical Dictionary of Federal Judges

Biographical Dictionary of Federal Judges – http://www.fjc.gov/public/home.nsf/hisj

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • Who was a woman judge appointed by FDR?
  • When was the first African American federal judge appointed?
  • What are some examples of federal judges who were convicted and impeached?


From the Federal Judicial Center website, “The directory includes the biographies of judges who have served since 1789 on the U.S. District Courts, the U.S. Courts of Appeals, the Supreme Court, the former U.S. Circuit Courts, and of the presidentially-appointed judges who have served on the federal judiciary courts of special jurisdiction.” The database is searchable and browsable by name of judge. Records contain birth year, federal judicial service, education, and professional career.
One can create custom lists of judges by the following “Research Categories”:

  • Chief Judges
  • Court
  • Court Type
  • Nominating President
  • Party of Nominating President
  • Nomination Date
  • Confirmation Date
  • Commission Date
  • Senior Status Start Date
  • Termination Date
  • Termination Reason
  • Gender
  • Race or Ethnicity
  • Limit Query to Sitting Judges

In addition to limiting a search to sitting judges, one can also limit the query to judges who have a research collection, bibliography, or oral history available.

The entire database can be downloaded.

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