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The Method To My Madness (The Madness To My Method?)

When I started this research (should I put that in quotes?), I had no idea what I was getting into, really. I had a bunch of names on documents titled Muster Roll of the Crew and Report of Changes—all which which fell under the category of “muster rolls” on Ancestry—which I soon would transpose to an Excel spreadsheet, not knowing what I would do with the tidbits of information that was on them. Because I have no military experience, it took me a few times of poring over them to figure out that the literal muster rolls were done on a quarterly basis and any changes in personnel between the quarterly reports were recorded on the Report of Changes. So, if I were to try to determine who was on board on any given day, such as 11 May 1944, which was the impetus for this project, I would have to start with the most recent quarterly muster prior to that date, then do the addition and subtraction of sailors noted on the subsequent Reports of Changes. Besides noting the arrival or departure of sailors, a Report of Changes would also denote when a sailor’s rating was changed, if there were passengers aboard for transportation, and occasionally make note of when sailors were absent over leave. In a few instances, sailors’ home addresses were included when they were on sanctioned leave. There were a few cases in which sailors were listed as “stragglers” when (I assume) they failed to return from approved leave.

Quarterly Muster Roll (left) and Report of Changes

In the above image, the muster roll lists who was on the ship on 31 March 1944 (it’s one of three pages from that day) ; the Report of Changes from 11 May 1944 (one of two pages) indicates that seven men were received on board (“Rec.”), four were transferred off (“Tran.”), and four had changes in their ratings (“C.R.”), along with the dates the actions occurred and related notes. When I created my spreadsheet, I pretty much took as much information as was available on all the documents so that I could minimize having to go back to the documents themselves. (I probably should add columns for each time a sailor’s rating changed.) A couple of the columns are designated Dad and YF-415… these help me to identify which sailors served at the same time as my dad, and specifically on 11 May 1944, respectively.

A snippet of my Zircon Excel spreadsheet

As mentioned above, my first goal with this project was to determine which sailors were aboard the Zircon on 11 May 1944 so that I could try to find other sailors other than Teddy Bertone who might be alive. But as I learned more about the ship and its history, and as I learned more about some of the sailors in the news clippings I’d find, I went all in on trying to track down the over four hundred sailors that came and went over the course of the ship’s five-year commission as a Navy vessel.

I pretty much worked my way down the list alphabetically, but if something such as the rescue of the sixteen SS Otho sailors on 8 April 1942 caught my attention, I’d re-order the data to see which sailors were on board that day, and make them the priority. (I have additional, separate tabs for the crews of the Otho and the YF-415 as I’ve also spent gobs of time trying to locate families of those sailors. Shiny objects!

Once I make contact with a sailor or family member, I fill in the row of data boxes with yellow. Light blue means I attempted to contact someone via Facebook; the blue-green means I sent a postcard. Red text indicates an officer. The light pinkish colour is no longer significant (if I recall, it was an indication that I located a sailor’s family); dark blue indicates I’ve spoken with an actual sailor; the dark green are aviation-related sailors from when the Zircon was designated relief flagship for the Commander in Chief, U.S. Atlantic Fleet. I’ve not determined exactly what the aviation-related sailors did. I’m not even sure that they actually set foot on the Zircon… I’m kind of under the impression that they were assigned to the ship only on paper. Perhaps the deck logs will clear it up for me when I eventually get them.

Anyway, I keep plugging away at locating the families of Zircon sailors, regardless their length of duty aboard the ship, as there might be photographs or diaries or mementos out there somewhere.

And as if there weren’t enough tangents for me to follow with regard to the Zircon, I started a similar project and blog about the other ship that my dad served on (for almost five months), a mine sweeper, the YMS-75. The shutdown of the National Archives has brought that project to a screeching halt as well, but I hope to dive back to it in the coming year.

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