I Found It in the Archives – Blue Star Banner

Visiting an archives can be unlike any other experience. The staff in an archives are working to preserve documents so that your great grandchildren will be able to read what your great grandparents wrote. An archivist accepts the challenge of making paper survive from the time of birth (yes, a document goes through a creation process) on into forever. We’re not always successful because heat, wet, touch, and time are working against us. The effort is worth it, though.

Researchers at the Ohio Historical Society's Archives/Library at the Ohio Historical Center in Columbus

The staff in an archives is there to provide public access to the information contained within a collection of papers. Whatever comes into our building can be expected to have a cool, dry, dark place to rest while it is in archival storage. The items aren’t meant to be closed away in storage forever, though. The archive provides a public place where anyone can come to learn and make discoveries. A record is useful when it is being read and enjoyed by anyone who wants to know the information found there. Using the collections for research gives them value. It is a way of preserving the history of events and lives through the words and images on the page.

An archives is a place where you can enjoy the hunt for information and get a personal thrill when finding something that is valuable to you. I have watched 12 year old students marvel when they find their birth announcements in newspapers from 1998. I’ve listened to teachers get excited about their students studying transportation routes in Ohio using colorful railroad maps from the early twentieth century. I have coworkers who enjoy thinking about the mysteries documented in our Mutual UFO Network of Ohio papers. And I’ve helped a woman who came to our archives with her daughter and granddaughter to search for her baby brother’s place of burial. The family left our building supremely happy after finding the child’s death certificate that identified the cemetery where he was buried in 1946.

I’ve come across many cool things in my fifteen year career at the Ohio Historical Center’s Archives/Library. One piece of knowledge that I found personally and universally valuable concerns our country’s military history. During the research I was doing for a curator talk I gave about the Dennewitz family of Chillicothe, Ohio, I learned that the In Service Flag (commonly known as the Blue Star Banner) was designed by an Ohioan during World War I.

World War I poster, from the collections of the Ohio Historical Society, that shows the In Service Flag (Blue Star Banner).

Colonel Robert L. Queisser of East Cleveland, Ohio, received a patent for his flag design on 6 November 1917 (you can see a copy of the patent on Google Patents). A New York Times article of 23 November 1917 quotes Queisser’s story of the flag’s design:

“During the early part of last March,” said Queisser, “I was confined in bed following an automobile accident near Fort Wayne, Indiana, where I was stationed with the Fifth Ohio Infantry. It was during my illness that I was mustered out of service, due to the disability caused by injuries received. I thought of some visible signs for a mother to show that her son was serving the country rather than have her feel an emptiness about the house which would depress her. A service flag then came to me and after several days I evolved the design.”

During my research I found that Col. Queisser had his surname misspelled as Queissner everywhere it appeared in secondary source pages on the Web (including Wikipedia, the National Museum of the US Air Force, and Blue Star Mothers of America). I provided these organizations with information I found in the OHS archives in Columbus, including Col. Queisser’s death certificate and obituary, to prove the correct spelling using documents created by him or at the time of his death in 1939. I was able to influence an important change to the information on the World Wide Web that is still spreading. Yes, the misspelling continues to exist in the electronic world, but the errors are not as wide spread because I used information in the archives to recover the truth.

Lisa Long
Reference Archivist

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5 Responses to I Found It in the Archives – Blue Star Banner

  1. Russell V. Van Nortwick says:

    Do you know what the record is for the number of blue stars on one bannner/flag? I recently saw one with 18! Did small communities band together and have a community/village flag that was displayed in post offices or other public buildings? Your help would be appreciated. Thank you.

  2. I have been researching the National Service Flag (aka Blue Star Banner) for many years and examples once existed with hundreds of stars. My town’s (Washington, Maine) banner from World War II has 88 stars, several of them gold (representing those who died in the service). Your question is an excellent one. I’ll look through my files and see what the highest number is.
    As an alternative, the US Government authorizes the use of a single star with a numeral to indicate the number of persons in the service when it is impractical to show the actual stars.
    I’m planning on coming to Ohio in a few weeks and will be doing more research on this.

    David B. Martucci
    Past President
    North American Vexillological Association

  3. Okay, I looked in my files. The record seems to be the National Service Flag of the United Mine Workers of America as displayed at their convention in 1918. This was documented in “The New York Times” January 13, 1918 in an article entitled “19,135 Stars In This Flag”.

  4. There used to be one in the choir loft at my home parish that had several stars, many gold. It was faded, appeared to be homemade (not surprising in a farm community of German heritage in SW Indiana in the 40s) and I had to have someone tell me what it even was, as a teenager in the 80s.

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