Recap: Military Records and Your Family Tree


Gen Presentation

We would like to thank everyone who turned out last week for our genealogy presentation, “Military Records and your Family Tree.”  This presentation focused on military records for those who served as a volunteer during time of war, particularly those who served in:

  • World War II
  • World War I
  • The Civil War
  • War of 1812
  • The Revolutionary War

We received lots of inquiries about if the information from the program would be made available online. We have expanded our handout from this presentation and created a Military Records Research Guide.

Military service and pension records can be a gold mine of information for a genealogist. Service records typically contain details about a veteran’s service such as the date of enlistment, place of enlistment, date of discharge, duty stations, training, illness or injury incurred during service, and citations received.  Pension records may have additional details about service, including the names of battles your veteran was involved in and a description of this involvement.

Pension records in particular hold great deal of genealogical value. The type of information contained in these records varies from file to file, but in general you may find evidence of an ancestor’s date of birth, place of birth, place of residence, name of spouse, marriage date, name of children, birth dates of children, among other helpful details.

There are some key bits of information about your veteran ancestor that you will need in order to track down these records.

  • Approximate dates of service, the more specific the better
  • Branch of service
  • Name of unit (units) served in
  • If more recent service, serial number or social security number
  • Birthdate may also be helpful

A good place to start when gathering details of a family members’ service, is to speak to other family members. If a family member has heard the same ‘stories’ as you, be sure to compare the details. Their version may contain additional details, or you may notice there is conflicting information that you need to resolve. Be sure to approach all family stories with a good amount of skepticism as they may contain exaggerations or other forms of misinformation. While talking with family members, ask about any family artifacts they may have in their possession. Family artifacts such as pictures, letters, diaries, scrapbooks, mementos from service, and other heirlooms may contain helpful information.

Details of military service can also be found in:

  • Census records
  • Newspaper records
  • Cemetery records
  • Compiled lists held by local historical/genealogical societies
  • History books, particularly county history books

Once you have gathered and verified as much information as you can, you will want to contact the appropriate repository to obtain copies of service or pension records. If your ancestor served during World War I or World War II, contact the National Personnel Records Center. Pension records for those who served during the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, or Civil War are held at the National Archives and Records Administration. However, pensions for Confederates were not issued by the federal government and can be found on the state level.  Service records, for veterans of this era, may be found at both federal and state level repositories.  Where each state has their military records varies, it may be at a state archives, state historical society, state library, or even a state university. An increasing number of early military records (pre-World War I) are becoming available online. A list of recommended websites can be found in our Military Records Research Guide.