Have you ever wondered if you had an ancestor who served in a past war like the American Revolution, the War of 1812, or the Civil War? Perhaps you heard stories passed down through relatives and have wanted to know if the stories were true or just family folklore. Digging into history and finding out if you have military genealogy can be a fascinating process. You’ll learn things about your family you never knew about and uncover information that can give you better insights into your own life and who you are today.
Finding Your Military Genealogy
Here are some tips and resources you can use to help trace your military genealogy:
Interview your older relatives
Speaking with your eldest relatives is a great starting point. Ask them what they know about an ancestor’s military service, peruse photographs or news clippings they may have, and inquire about any birth or death certificates. If possible, find out where the person lived, where they were buried, and if they were known by more than one name or nickname. Any tidbit of information may be helpful to your military genealogy investigation.
Search military service records
The next step is to search military service records. The National Archives holds Federal military service records from the Revolutionary War to 1912 at the National Archives Building in Washington, D.C. Military records from WWI through the present are held at the National Military Personnel Records Center (NPRC) in St. Louis, MO.
The National Archives also offers a wealth of advice on how to conduct military genealogy research. It suggests looking at:
- Compiled service records – Compiled service records will include a veteran’s rank, unit, as well as biographic, medical and military information. Search the National Archives microfilm catalog to see if the person’s records have been reproduced on microfilm. You can also request to view the original records at the National Archives Building.
- Pension applications and payment records – The National Archives has pension records based on service between 1775 and 1916. These records contain information about service events, as well as marriage, birth and death certificates, family letters, discharge papers and more.
- Bounty land – If you are looking for records of someone who may have served in the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, early Indian Wars or the Mexican War, the National Archives advises searching the bounty land warrant application files. These files contain a lot of genealogical information.
Aside from the National Archives, there are other sources of military records, including:
Ancestry – Search military records and narrow down by categories and data collections such as draft registration cards and muster rolls.
Archives.com – Investigate military enlistment records, vital records, censuses, marriage, divorce & death records, etc.
FamilySearch – A website run by a non-profit family history organization. Search Revolutionary War and Civil War compiled service records and more.
Find my past – Explore World War II Army Enlistment records, U.S. Civil War Sailors, draft card records, Naval Enlistments and other collections.
Fold3.com – Search U.S. and British military records.
(Some of the above are subscription services)
Additional resources for military genealogy research:
Maryland Genealogy resources
Daughters of the American Revolution
Tennessee Secretary of State
Fairfax County, VA: Genealogy and Local History
It can also be helpful to check your local library, historical society or government offices for information.
Tracing your ancestors is easier than ever thanks to many online resources. Good luck in your search!