Our Veterans – Never Forget
In the United States we will celebrate Veterans Day (formerly known as Armistice Day) this week. It is only fitting, therefore, that we talk about military records. I love military records because they help paint a mental portrait of the person. For example, draft registration cards often list the build, hair color and eye color. Furthermore, knowing that your ancestors participated in some of history’s most challenging times brings a sense of pride and appreciation. And, of course, military records provide information about that individual (such as name, age, and address) and possibly his family’s members.
Military Records – What is Available?
First, let’s review what types of records are available under the category of “military records.” Generally speaking, genealogists are primarily interested in records about the individuals that served – or were eligible to serve – in the armed forces. There are other sources that cover general and specific histories of the branches of the armed forces and specific units or divisions. In addition, the sources listed below do not typically cover weapons, battles, tactics, or the like. Nonetheless, learning this kind of information can be very insightful in creating a clearer biographical picture of your ancestor. So, if you are working on a biography or family history, then don’t ignore other historical sources.
There are four common types of military records that are useful in genealogy. A great place to start for both beginner and intermediate genealogists is the FamilySearch research wiki. It provides the following descriptions of these record types:
- Service Records: Service records for militia, volunteer, or regular forces document that an individual served in the military and can provide your ancestor’s unit or organization.
- Draft, Conscription, or Selective Service Records:
- Bounty Land Warrants: The federal government provided grants of bounty land for those who served in the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Mexican War, and Indian wars between 1790 and 1855.
- Pension or Veteran Records: Payments or benefits were given to retired soldiers. However, not every veteran received or applied for a pension.
In my own experience, draft and pension records have been the most common and easily accessible military records in online databases. I will discuss Bounty Land Warrants in another post!
Military Conflicts and Time Periods
Your ancestor may have served in the military in times of peace or times of war. Certainly in times of war, a greater number of people served therefore increasing the likelihood to find them in military records. The most common military conflicts involving U.S. citizens are shown in the table below.
|Military Conflict||Time Period|
|War of 1812||1812-1815|
|World War I||1917-1919|
|World War II||1941-1945|
In addition to these, you could find military records before the Revolutionary War such as the French and Indian War (1755-1763). Furthermore, many servicemen who served in the Civil War stayed in the service and participated in the so-called Indian Wars. Armed conflicts between the US Army and Native Americans started immediately following the Revolutionary War and continued until 1890. Battles increased during peak times of westward movement. These conflicts increased dramatically following the Civil War.
Where to Find Military Records
The premier place to look for military records is the online database Fold3.com. Fold3 is a subsidiary of Ancestry.com and offers subscription access to United States military records. They are also in the process of extending their collection beyond the United States. Fold3.com contains an enormous database of over 481 million records. They offer a variety of subscription plans, but any serious researcher will want to use the Premium subscription for $79.95 per year. You can also get free institutional access to the military records on Fold3.com by going to any LDS Family History Center. To find one near you follow this link.
Although, Fold3 is owned by Ancestry.com, their record collections are not identical. Ancestry.com also contains military records and it is a good idea to look here as well. Like other types of records it pays to search them both and see what you find!
Use this link to Search Military Records or search with the tool below.
FamilySearch.org provides indexes to many military records. Some are housed in their own collection and some through partnerships like Fold3.com. In cases they may find a match, and then link you back to Fold3.com where you need a subscription to see the record image.
FamilySearch has both state and federal military records. I have had success finding draft registration cards for World War I and World War II as well as pension records from the Civil War onward. And because FamilySearch.org is free, it is always a great place to look.
Joe Beine’s Military Indexes: Contains a directory of links to online military indexes and records for USA genealogy research. Included are rosters, databases of soldiers, draft card databases for World War I and II, and listings of military and war casualties.
Cyndi’s List: Well-known directory of links to thousands of online genealogy resources. These links are organized into categories and subcategories for convenience.
Honor Your Veterans This Week
I challenge you to spend some time this week searching military records to honor the veterans in your life. Share your experiences with us in the comments below!