Conflicts, strife and wars have not only been part of American history, it is something every country and every individual in the world has experienced in one way or another. United States was forged from a war with England and continues to collect a parade of wars ever since. For the genealogical researcher, such conflicts and threats of conflict creates a demand for a member of someone’s family to protect the homeland. These patriotic endeavors add color, drama, lessons and sometimes tragic consequences to be recorded in the family story.
Unfortunately, one may find it easier to go to war than it is to recover records of such activities from archives. Fortunately, war has been a government lead activity, and as such, a predictable plethora of paper work has been produced and can be found organized and informative. The cycle from citizen through military service and back again to veteran is documented at several steps. The difficulty of gaining access to records is related to the fact that one can not find many military records after 1910 on the internet. Other than less than informative draft cards, modern Military records must be requested from the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) in St. Louis, Mo. They do have a website.
The cycle of a veteran
Among the broader spectrum of both past and current wars, military documents deal with; draft records, muster rolls, service records, pension records, bounty land records as pay for service, cemetery records, discharge papers otherwise known as DD-214 and veteran records.
Entering the Service: Draft, conscription, registration and selective service are among the terms bantered about from generation to generation in order to make the act of joining the military acceptable. Whether by volunteering or unwillingly drafted, cards were filled out. Most drafts were compulsory, but there have been voluntary registration. Registrations were often compulsory in order for the government to know how many young men between the ages of 18 to 35 were available at any one time. Registration was suspended in April 1975, but was resumed in 1980 by President Carter.
Since 1863, the Federal government has registered millions of men. A typical draft card of the Civil War to World War I had the man’s name, residence, age, occupation, marital status, birthplace and other information. These can be ordered directly from the National Archives.
In the Service: Muster Rolls or military rosters would be created after new recruits were organized into groups or units. The registration of officers and men in a military unit or ship company are available. Beyond regular units, other muster rolls of Confederate personnel and even Loyalist to England during the Revolutionary war can be found at online databases.
Service Records: Once in the service, records are kept on the history of any particular recruit. Service records are listed at the National Archives. And once a person exit’s the service he has discharge papers also known as a DD-214 or separation document . Discharge papers have some restrictions because of vital information and must be requested directly.
Veteran or after being in the Service: There are additional documents which are created after having served in the military. They include: Pension Records, Bounty Land Records and cemetery records.
Pension records as well as service records can be found at NPRC, but cemetery records are often found with links to the United States Dept. of Veteran Affairs. If you go to this site and then select “related links”, you will find that they maintain 131 National cemeteries in 39 states as well as 33 soldier’s lots and monument sites. You can also check with individual states which also have state veteran cemeteries. The Dept. of the Army is responsible to maintain Arlington National cemetery and the Home national cemetery in Washington D.C.
There is also the American Battle Monument commission cemeteries (ABMC) which has 125,000 graves overseas and another 94,000 missing in action tablets.
In the early years of the republic (United States of America) Bounty Lands were used as a means of payment for a veteran’s service during a particular war from 1775 to 1890. They were issued for the Revolutionary, War of 1812, Indian (1780 -1890) and the Mexican War. They were often used as barter and the family which eventually settled the land was often not the veteran which was originally issued the bounty.
Prior to 2009 the U.S. National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) did not explain their policies on providing documents. They can provide a copy of the separation document and in some instances, a copy of an individual’s entire folder. There are two principal reasons military records are requested. The first is in order to apply for benefits, and the other is for research and historical significance. Usually, NPRC can provide certification of Military Service which can be used to verify an individual being in the service. Since the1970’s the center excludes sending “all” documents with an emphasis in providing only the necessary data for the purpose of acquiring benefits. Some papers concerning leaves, identification card and clothing issuances are deemed less important. An example of documents most likely to be extracted are: Military Service dates, Character of Service, Promotions and Reductions, Duty Stations and Assignments, Foreign or Sea Service, Military Schooling and Training, Awards and Letters of Commendation, Disciplinary Actions, Lost Time, Enlistment Contracts, Entry and Separation Physical Exams, Immunizations, Dental Examinations and Clinical Summaries.
The U.S. National Archives & Records Administration has an online request system called eVetRecs. You may use this system if you are a military veteran or next to kin (spouse, parent, sibling or children) of the veteran. If you are not next to kin you must use Standard Form 180 (SF180). See website www.archives.gov for more information.
Insufficient information turned in on a request for military documents may be returned. There are other forms that can be filled out, mainly Form 13075 (Questionnaire about Military Service) and 13055 (Needed to Reconstruct Medical Data).
Beware of companies who purport to be in the business of getting DD214’s for a customer. Many are not linked to NARP and do not actually go to the military records in person. The only company which is known to have government contracts is www.lyonresearch.com.
In all cases of research today, one should use a couple good search engines and check for resources on the internet in addition to using NPRC. Many duplications of rosters and battle histories have been posted by previous researchers and add greatly to the mix. Some times it is easier to follow the exploits of a certain naval warship or a particular battle than any one of the participants. But, if you know an ancestor was on a ship, member of an air wing or military unit, you will know he saw the same action as his unit saw at a particular date.
I hope this helps to find data. Millions of request pour into NPRC each year. It is for genealogists some of the best spent tax dollars.