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Military Records

If an ancestor served in an early war, such as the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, Mexican War, Civil War, or Spanish American War, he may have received a pension from the federal government. If he did, his pension application file is at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. Men who served in the Confederate army in the Civil War did not receive federal pensions. The widow of a veteran could also apply for a pension. Often, the veteran or widow was asked for the date of his or her birth and his death. Some files contain questionnaires listing the veteran's children with their birth dates.

Every person who served in an early war did not receive a pension, but most men who served in a volunteer unit do have a compiled military service record at the National Archives. This record may give the man's age at the time of his enlistment or discharge. Records are available for all wars from the Revolutionary War through the Philippine Insurrection and include records of Confederate troops in the Civil War. Men who served in the Regular Army do not have compiled military service records. Some, but not all, compiled military service records have been microfilmed. Military Service Records is an online catalog of microfilmed military records. Microfilm can be used at the National Archives or at the LDS Family History Library and its Family History Centers.

A Military Service Record is officially known as an Official Military Personnel File (OMPF). They detail the official activities of the individual serviceman. These records usually contain details of assignments, pay, promotions, and awards, but rarely contain detailed family information. The Pension Application Files contain details pertaining to a veteran's application for military pension. The contents of a pension file can be a rich source of family information. Information to support the application also had to be filed, and these supporting documents often include, birth certificates or affidavits attesting to the place and date of birth, marriage certificate or affidavit, discharger papers, medical statements and narrative on injuries. Applications by widows usually contained even more information, including all the veteran's information, plus her name, age or date of birth, her maiden name, date and place of marriage, the date and place of the veteran's death and sometimes the cause. It may also name the surviving children.

A pension application file and military service file can be ordered from the National Archives using NATF Form 80 listed below.  Usually military records from 1775 until approximately 1916 can easily be obtained.  Records from 1916 until now can be more problematic because they are protected by the Privacy Act and the Freedom of Information Act. The basic provisions of the Privacy Acts are to safeguard all individuals against an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy or the release of personal information by the government. On the other hand, the Freedom of Information Act is intended to allow greater access to government records, and the seeming conflict between the two statutes can occasionally create a dilemma for document custodians. The military veteran or next of kin usually have no problems in their requests for information, but the general public normally cannot get copies of a veteran's records unless the immediate family authorizes it.

Military Resources by War

Civil War Gulf Wars
Indian Wars Korean Conflict
Mexican-American War Revolutionary War
Vietnam War War of 1812
World War I World War II
The National Archives holds the following military records:
Type of Service Dates and Information of records at the National Archives
Volunteers Military service performed by those serving during an emergency and whose service was considered to be in the federal interest, dates from 1775 to 1902.
Regular Army Enlisted personnel records from 1789 to October 31, 1912; and officers' records from 1789 to June 30, 1917.
Navy Enlisted personnel records from 1798 to 1885; and officers' records from 1798 to 1902.
Marine Corps Enlisted personnel records from 1789 to 1904; and some officers' records from 1789 to 1895.
Coast Guard Those who served in predecessor agencies to the U.S. Coast Guard: the Revenue Cutter Service (Revenue Marine), the Life-Saving Service, and the Lighthouse Service. Records from 1791 to 1919.
Confederate States Those who rendered military service for the Confederate States government in its armed forces from 1861 to 1865.
Veterans Records Claims filed for pensions based on federal military service from 1775 to 1916; and bounty land warrant application files relating to claims based on wartime service from 1775 to 1855.

The National Personnel Records Center (NPRC), Military Personnel Records (MPR) in St. Louis, Missouri, is custodian of military personnel files for later military records. On July 12, 1973, a disastrous fire swept through the NPRC and destroyed some 16 to 18 million Official Military Personnel Files. No duplicate records were maintained and the destroyed records had not been indexed or microfilmed prior to the fire. Luckily, millions of documents had been on loan to the Department of Veterans Affairs at the time of the fire. Destroyed in the fire were 80 percent of the records for Army personnel discharged between November 1, 1912, and January 1, 1960, and 75 percent of the Air Force records for personnel whose name are alphabetically after "Hubbard, James E." and who were discharged between September 25, 1947, and January 1, 1964. For those individuals affected by this record loss, the NPRC utilizes alternate sources in reconstructing as much of the military records as possible. A collection of some 19 million final pay vouchers is the primary source of information, providing the veteran's name, service number, dates, and character of service rendered. Together with other records (enlistment rolls, service number indexes, medical records, etc.), the NPRC is usually able to verify military service and provide a Certification of Military Service.

Branch of Service Dates and Information on records at the NPRC
U.S. Army Records for officers separated after June 29, 1917; and enlisted personnel separated after October 31, 1912. Many records were destroyed by the 1973 fire.
U.S. Air Force Officers and enlisted personnel separated after September 24, 1947. Many records were destroyed by the 1973 fire.
U.S. Navy Records for officers separated after 1901; and enlisted personnel separated after 1884.
U.S. Marine Corps Records for officers separated after 1904; and enlisted personnel separated after 1905.
U.S. Coast Guard Records for officers separated after 1897; and enlisted personnel separated after 1905.
U.S. Coast Guard predecessor agencies Civilian employees of agencies such as the Revenue Cutter Service, the Life-Saving Service, and the Lighthouse Service, who retired after 1919.

United States Military History

Print Resources

  • American Military History. Washington, D.C. Center of Military History, United States Army, 1989.
     
  • Frakes, George Rogers. The Frakes Chronicles, Cataloguing 150 Years of Military Service, 1750 to 1900. Baltimore, Maryland: Gateway Press, 1998. This volume catalogues 150 years of military service by Frakes men, including the French and Indian War and the Revolutionary War to the Spanish American War, and some basic information on each of these wars in included.
     
  • Johnson, Richard S. How to Locate Anyone Who Is or Has Been in the Military: Armed Forces Locator Directory. 8th edition. Burlington, North Carolina: MIE Publishing, 1999. Addresses of veterans organizations and information about locating military records.
     
  • Kasal, Mark and Don Moore.  A Guide Book to U.S. Army Dress Helmets, 1872-1904.  North Cape Publications, 2000.
     
  • Langellier, John Philip. They Continually Wear the Blue: U.S. Army Enlisted Dress Uniforms, 1865-1902. Belmont, California: Barns-McGee, 1976.
     
  • Langellier, John Philip and C. Paul Loane. U.S. Army Headgear, 1812-1872. Schiffer Books, 2002.
     
  • Military Service Records. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1985.
     
  • Neagles, James C. US Military Records, A Guide to Federal and State Sources, Colonial America to Present.  Salt Lake City, Utah: Ancestry, 1994.
     
  • Pendell, Lucille H. and Elizabeth Bethel. Preliminary Inventory of the Records of the Adjutant General's Office. Washington, D.C.: The National Archives, 1949. 

Military Uniforms

  • Emerson, William K. Encyclopedia of United States Army Insignia and Uniforms. University of Oklahoma Press, 1996.
  • Haythornthwaite, Philip. Uniforms of the Civil War. Sterling, 1990.
  • Schick, I.T. Battledress: The Uniforms of the World's Great Armies 1700 to the Present. Artus Co., 1993.
  • Taylor, Maureen, "Clues in Military Photos," Ancestry Magazine (November/December 2003): 26-31.
  • Windrow, Martin and Gerry Embleton. Military Dress of North America, 1665-1970. Charles Scribners, 1973.

Military Resources

  • American Battle Monuments Commission. The ABMC commemorative mission is reflected in 24 overseas military cemeteries that serve as resting places for almost 125,000 American War Dead; on Tablets of the Missing that memorialize more than 94,000 U.S. servicemen and women; and through 25 memorials, monuments and markers.
     
  • A Guide to U.S. Navy Museums in the United States. The U.S. Navy operates 12 museums, one naval history display center, and four historic ships throughout the United States. These facilities provide visitors and researchers an opportunity to become familiar with the rich and varied history of the U.S. Navy, its customs and traditions, and the evolution of its multifaceted missions. Exhibits, artifacts, and programs sponsored by these museums chronicle specific aspects of U.S. naval history from the American Revolution to the present.
     
  • Home for Heroes. The armed forces retirement home.
     
  • Index to the Gorgas Hospital Mortuary Registers, created, 1979 - 1991, documenting the period 1906 - 1991 - NARA Record Group 185.
  • Military History Online. User and community built database.  A webzine of contributed articles on military history.
     
  • Naval Historical Center. As the official history program of the United States Navy, the Naval Historical Center manages the Department of Navy Library, twelve Navy museums, art collections, archives, and an underwater archaeology program.
     
  • Naval War College
     
  • Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery
     
  • Records of Deceased, Wounded, Ill, or Injured Army Personnel, Including Dependents and Civilian Employees, created, 1/1/1961 - 12/1981, documenting the period 1/1/1961 - 12/1981 - NARA Record Group 407.
     
  • Seamen's Protection Certificate Register Database. The data (sailor names, ages, birth and residences places) included on these pages is taken from the original "Registers of Seamen's Protection Certificates" issued at the Custom Houses of Fall River, Gloucester, New Haven, New London, Newport, Marblehead, and Salem. There are entries for 31,047 certificates issued from 1796-1871. The original records are in the possession of NARA, Northeast Region, in Waltham, Massachusetts. Copies of pages for the New London Protection Register are available from Mystic Seaport's, G. W. Blunt White Library.
     
  • Soldiers' Records: War of 1812 - World War I. The Missouri State Archives holds nearly 1½ million pages that document the service of Missourians in domestic and foreign wars between 1812 and World War I. These military records primarily consist of individual service cards, but the extensive collection also includes muster rolls, special orders, reports, and more. The Soldiers Database is a comprehensive database abstracted from the individual service cards and listing more than 576,000 Missourians who served in the military from territorial times through World War I. It includes entries for twelve wars and military engagements in which Missouri soldiers took part. These range from well-known wars, such as the War of 1812, the Mexican War, the Spanish-American War, and World War I, to the battles that were peculiarly Missourian, including the Heatherly War of 1836, the Mormon War of 1838, and the Iowa (Honey) War of 1839. The bulk of the service cards, over 380,000 of them, record the fractured history of Missouri during the bloodiest of all American wars - the Civil War.
     
  • Texas Adjutant General Service Records 1836-1935
     
  • U.S. Air Force Historical Research Agency.  The Air Force Historical Research Agency is the repository for Air Force historical documents. The Agency's collection, begun in Washington, DC, during World War II, moved in 1949 to Maxwell Air Force Base, the site of Air University, to provide research facilities for professional military education students, the faculty, visiting scholars, and the general public. It consists today of over 70,000,000 pages devoted to the history of the service, and represents the world's largest and most valuable organized collection of documents on US military aviation.
     
  • U.S. Air Force History Support Office
     
  • U.S. Army Center for Military History. The Center of Military History (CMH) is responsible for the appropriate use of history throughout the U.S. Army.
     
  • U.S. Army Military History Institute
     
  • U.S. Coast Guard Historians' Office
     
  • U.S. Coast Guard Museum.  The Museum's themes are the history of naval warfare, particularly as studied at the College, and the naval heritage of Narragansett Bay—a tale that begins with the nation's colonial roots. Its collection consists of items relating to these subjects that are perceived to be of value to scholarship, and it forms the core for exhibits throughout the College and for educational outreach projects.
  • U.S. Life-Saving Service Heritage Association. An early incarnation of the life-saving service was formed in 1871. Life-saving stations were built along ocean coasts and Great Lakes shorelines and crews were hired under the Revenue Marine Division of the Treasury Department. The USLSS was formally named and became a bureau of the Treasury Department in 1878. The USLSS merged with the Revenue Cutter Service in 1915 to form the United States Coast Guard. The U.S. Lighthouse Service combined with the U.S. Coast Guard in 1939.
     
  • U.S. Lighthouse Service
     
  • U.S. Life Saving Service
     
  • U.S. Marine Corps Historical Center.
     
  • U.S. Marine Corps History and Museums Division. The Marine Corps History Division has reopened to researchers and the public. The division is now located on Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia, near the Gray Research Center of the Marine Corps University.
     
  • U.S. Military Academy's History Department
     
  • U.S. Naval Academy
     
  • U.S. Navy Hospital Corps and Dental Technician History Page.  Includes histories of corps and names of medical personnel killed in action
     
  • USNA's World Wide Web Virtual Library: Naval and Maritime.  Webmaster Sources LLC, Naperville, IL

Other Resources

  • Aftermath: When the Boys Came Home. Information about those who returned home after World War I.
     
  • Birth Info in WWI Civilian Draft Registrations -- Completed County Abstractions. This site has data from more than 1.2 million of the 24 million draft registration cards. Entries include full name, birth date and birth place.  This database is also available at RootsWeb. Ancestry.com subscribers can find it in the US Records Collection.
     
  • Company of Military Historians. The Company of Military Historians was founded in 1949 as an educational, scientific, and literary institution devoted to the study and dissemination of "information on the uniforms, equipment, history, and traditions of members of the Armed Forces of the United States worldwide and other nations serving in the Western Hemisphere."
     
  • Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System. Cemeteries.
     
  • Confederate and Union Soldiers Burial Places - Edward G. Gerdes Civil War Home Page
     
  • Confederate Cemetery Index - Confederate Cemetery Index
     
  • Debt of Honour Register - Maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, this searchable register provides details on the 1.7 million Commonwealth forces who died in the First or Second World Wars, including British, Canadian, Australian and New Zealand personnel.
     
  • 1820 Pension List.  Lineages.com. Provides the name, rank and state of residence for veterans on the US government's pension roll.
     
  • 1840 Census of Pensioners, Revolutionary or Military Services. Prior to 1850, the federal census listed names and ages only for heads of household. But in 1840, the federal government charged census enumerators with collecting details about military pensioners (or their widows). This index was created by Kathy Leigh. You can search it by name or browse it by state.
     
  • eVetRecs: Request Copies of Military Personnel Records  (NARA) Military personnel records request system. System to create a customized order form to request information from your, or your relative's, military personnel records. You may use this system if you are: a military veteran, or next of kin of a deceased, former member of the military. The next of kin can be any of the following: surviving spouse that has not remarried, father, mother, son, daughter, sister, or brother.
     
  • Family Research's U.S. Military Records Resource Page.
     
  • First World War. com - Memoirs & Diaries.  Many of the combatants of the First World War recorded the daily events of their experiences in the form of a diary. 
     
  • Headstones and Markers.  National Cemetery Administration (part of U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs)
     
  • History of Government-Provided Headstones and Markers. National Cemetery Administration (part of U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs)
     
  • How to Find a Servicemate or Members of a Military Unit  Department of Veterans Affairs.
     
  • How to Obtain the Burial Locations of U.S. Veterans. National Cemetery Administration (part of U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs)
     
  • Lists of National, Military, and State Veterans Cemeteries. National Cemetery Administration (part of U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs)
     
  • Military Indexes and Records. Includes World War I, World War II, Korean and Vietnam wars.
     
  • Military Rosters. RootsWeb. Nearly 100,000 searchable records of Americans who served their country in both war and peace. Most entries are for the American Revolution through World War II. Each soldier's "roster" tells you which war he served in, and most list details such as his home state; rank; company or division; and unit, regiment or flight.
     
  • Minnesota Veterans Graves Registration Index. This database indexes the Veterans Graves Registration reports from 1857 to 1975, the bulk of which are in 1927-1969. It is not a list of all veterans ever buried in Minnesota.
     
  • Missouri State Archives' Soldiers Database.  The Missouri State Archives holds nearly 1½ million pages that document the service of Missourians in domestic and foreign wars between 1812 and World War I. These military records primarily consist of individual service cards, but the extensive collection also includes muster rolls, special orders, reports, and more. The Soldiers Database is a comprehensive database abstracted from the individual service cards and listing more than 576,000 Missourians who served in the military from territorial times through World War I. It includes entries for twelve wars and military engagements in which Missouri soldiers took part. These range from well-known wars, such as the War of 1812, the Mexican War, the Spanish-American War, and World War I, to the battles that were peculiarly Missourian, including the Heatherly War of 1836, the Mormon War of 1838, and the Iowa (Honey) War of 1839. The bulk of the service cards, over 380,000 of them, record the fractured history of Missouri during the bloodiest of all American wars - the Civil War.
     
  • National Personnel Records Center (NPRC), Military Personnel Records (MPR) This facility is the repository of 20th century veterans records. National Personnel Records Center, 9700 Page Avenue, St. Louis, MO 63132-5100.
     
  • Number of Living U.S. Veterans and what year the last dependent of veterans of the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, etc., died. Department of Veterans Affairs
     
  • Obtaining Military Pension Files from the VA. By Lisa Peterson.
     
  • Resting Places of United States Colored Troops
     
  • Smoke & Fire News. Information on re-enactment groups and how you can locate those near you.
     
  • SoldierQuest. A source for researching pre-WWI U.S. military records.  Michael Murphy.
     
  • Sons of the Union Veterans of the Civil War. Grave database.
     
  • United States Colored Troops Database of over 230,000 names is searchable by surname.
     
  • U.S. Veteran's National Gravesite Locator System.
     
  • Veterans of America Honor Guard - Includes deaths & burials
     
  • Virginia Military Institute. Has online photo archives.
     
  • War Letters. The Legacy Project preserves soldiers' letters from wars historical and modern.
     
  • War Memorials - Search this collection of war memorials for Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, Oxfordshire, Warwickshire, West Midlands and Worcestershire.
     
  • War Times Journal. The WTJ Archives section features rare and unusual on-line editions of military memoirs, headquarters dispatches, correspondence (not personal writings, but "correspondence" between officers and command groups) and eyewitness accounts. There are also image galleries featuring sets of rare or interesting photos we come across in the process of our research. The nature of these documents are explicitly military in nature. They offer key insights into the details of military science and the military art by professionals who have succeeded in their fields over hundreds of years.