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by J. Michael Wenger
The Pearl Harbor Muster Rolls are the quarterly Muster Rolls and related documents for the United States Navy’s fighting ships, ground organizations, and shore facilities that were present on the island of Oahu during the Japanese attack on 7 December 1941.
These records are a subset of a much larger group of records for the entire US Navy, covering the years 1939-1949. The Muster Rolls for this period exist only in microfilm form, and reside at National Archives II in College Park, Maryland.
A common misconception among new researchers is to think that the holdings at the National Archives are organized by subject, in a manner similar to a library. Records at the National Archives are organized according to the government agency that created them.
The Pearl Harbor Muster Rolls are contained within the following record group:
Record Group 24: Records of the Bureau of Naval Personnel, 1798 - 2003
Four times per year at the end of every quarter, all ships, aviation squadrons, air stations, bases, stations, training centers or schools, flag staffs, and Marine Corps units compile a Muster Roll, or listing, of individuals who were attached to that unit on the date of the muster. In addition, these ships and other units are required to keep track of changes in personnel in each of the intervening months prior to the next quarterly muster.
Extraordinary circumstances might cause a ship to compile an extra Muster Roll. The attack on Pearl Harbor was one such circumstance, with a number of ships (though by no means all) creating a Muster Roll in the days shortly after the attack on 7 December 1941.
The importance of these records, particularly as they relate to the Pearl Harbor event, is that the Muster Rolls are the final arbiter of who was present on Oahu, and where they were at the time of the Japanese attack. Among other details, the Muster Rolls provide fuller and more accurate renderings of names and rates (or ranks) than is usually available in other historical resources, including the US Navy’s own after action reports and deck logs.
Although these records are referred to collectively as “Muster Rolls,” the documents actually comprise two, and sometimes three, separate and distinct records.
The Muster Roll is an alphabetical listing that each ship or unit executes at the end of every quarter. It is a snapshot of the particular ship or unit with regard to who was assigned to the ship on the date of the muster. The data recorded on the Muster Roll are as follows:
- Service Number
- Present Rating (or rank)
- Date of Enlistment
- Date First Received on Board
Report of Changes
The crew of any ship or unit is seldom static. During every quarter, not only does substantial turnover in personnel occur, but considerable change occurs, as well, in the status of the men who remain with a ship or unit. Such change is due to advancement, demotions, disciplinary cases, and even desertion. Hence, all ships and units execute a Report of Changes at the end of every month. Each report is a list of changes in personnel that occurred subsequent to the last Report of Changes. The data recorded on the Report of Changes are as follows:
- Service Number
- Rating (or rank) at Date of Last Report
- Date of Enlistment
- Place of Enlistment
- Branch of Service
- Received, Transferred (type of change)
- Date of Occurrence in Column 7
- Vessel or Station from which Received, Transferred to, etc.
Occasionally, the Navy provides passage to sailors en route to a new assignment. Sometimes, even civilian workers are sent on a US Naval vessel to another workplace in a new port. Passenger lists document all such activities and are compiled every quarter in a similar manner to a Muster Roll.
The Muster Roll is a very straightforward document and, as mentioned previously, provides a snapshot of the ship or unit at a particular point in time. However, the process by which one determines who was attached to a ship or unit as of a particular date (7 December, 1941, for example) other than the date of the muster, is less straightforward and requires some rather complicated analysis.
For example, let us examine the question of whether a particular individual was present at the Fleet Machine Gun School on Oahu when the Japanese attacked. In such a case, the following procedure must be followed.
1. Consult a Muster Roll on either side of the date in question, for example the Muster Roll of 31 December.
This document details who was attached to the Fleet Machine Gun School on the last day of the year, and establishes a baseline of names from which to work.
2. Consult the Report of Changes for each of the three months either before or following the muster under examination. In this case, the Reports of Changes for November and December 1941 are consulted.
Examination of these documents reveals who transferred into the unit subsequent to the September muster and prior to the attack; and, who left the unit subsequent to the attack, but prior to the 31 December muster.
3. By using all four documents together, one can derive a listing of individuals who were assigned to the Fleet Machine Gun School at the time of the Japanese air raid on Oahu.
Using the collection
To access the Muster Roll for a particular ship on Fold3, perform the following steps:
- Select Title
- Select Ship (or Unit Name). The ships are in alphabetical order
- Select Year (1941 for Pearl Harbor)
- Select Record Type (usually Muster Roll, Passengers, or Report of Change)
- Select a Date
- Select a Page
At this point, Fold3 will open a “film strip” from which to select and browse the microfilm image in question, as well as those images that were nearby in the microfilm reel. You then have options to view, print, or save the microfilm images.
Fold3 provides researchers, genealogists, and historians with maximum flexibility in extracting relevant data from the Muster Roll images. You can access and use the Muster Rolls in the following ways:
- View the Muster Rolls online and perform visual searches.
- Print the Muster Rolls for reference offline as a hard copy.
- Save the individual microfilm frame images for reference offline as an electronic copy that can be enlarged, reduced, or otherwise enhanced using image-editing software.
- Perform online searches for specific names.
The most efficient search parameters are first name, middle initial, and last name, as in “John L. Smith”.
Ship type abbreviations
AKS—General Stores Issue Ship
ARb—Base Repair Ship
ASR—Submarine Rescue Vessel
AVD—Destroyer Seaplane Tender
AVP—Small Seaplane Tender
DM—Light Mine Layer
Those wishing to learn more regarding the holdings of the National Archives may link to the website for the National Archives (II) facility in College Park, Maryland at www.archives.gov/dc-metro/college-park.
To perform basic searches of the holdings at College Park, and at other National Archives locations, link to NARA's Archival Research Catalog (ARC) at archives.gov/research/arc.
- Search on the following text: “bureau of personnel muster roll”
- Select: Muster Rolls of U.S. Navy Ships, Stations, and Other Naval Activities, compiled 01/01/1939 - 01/01/1949
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