Searching for the military service records of an ancestor that you know was a part of the U.S. military can be time-consuming, but will give you the greatest satisfaction and pride when you are successful. And when you unexpectedly find the service records of someone you are working on, that can be even better!
Military Service Records
You may need to put together clues to really discover if an ancestor served in the military. Some of these clues may come in bits and pieces of family stories “when Uncle Jimmy was in the war.” Or maybe there are old photographs of someone in uniform. An obituary may state that a person was a veteran, or an ancestor may be buried in the portion of a cemetery reserved for veterans. Perhaps there are old newspaper clippings of the return home of a shipment of soldiers, or an old journal or diary that mentions the dates of service of someone who was away fighting at the time. Census records may also mention a member of a household who was away in the military.
The National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) is one of the National Archives and Records Administration’s (NARA) largest operations. We are the central repository of personnel-related records for both the military and civil services of the United States Government. Our mission is to provide world class service to government agencies, military veterans and their family members, former civilian Federal employees, and the general public.Once you are certain that an ancestor served in the military, you will need to find out their dates of service and what branch of the military they served in. Enlisted men who served in the Army, as well as discharged veterans and those who were in any branch of the military and who died in the 20th century can be researched through military service records. These records are usually available through the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) or the National Archives. For more information about the NPRC click here.
Fires in 1800 and 1814 destroyed most of the records of the American Army and Navy that were in the custody of the War Department. The Compiled Military Service Record (CMSR) is the result of a project to collect an individual’s varied personal records and put them together in a compiled record. Items within a CMSR can include muster rolls, rank of individual, hospital and prison records, payrolls, enlistment and discharge documents. CMSR’s are available primarily for veterans of the American Revolutionary War, War of 1812 and the Civil War.
Pension applications and records of pension payments for veterans and their heirs can be obtained through the National Archives. These records date primarily between 1775 and 1916. Pension files are usually rich with information for a family historian – discharge documents, affidavits, witness depositions, event narratives, marriage certificates, records of birth and death, and even pages from family bibles may make up the pension file of an ancestor.
Military service records are valuable resources for the family genealogist. If you think that an ancestor served in the military, their service records may enrich your family tree with information on military life and separation from family.
image Library of Congress
by Leonard Smith