NARA’s Virtual World of Military Records

African-American merchant marines

African-Americans in the Merchant Marines, Feb. 8, 1943. NARA 111-SC-180665.

In my last post, I talked about U.S. veterans’ military records that were destroyed in the Great NARA Fire of 1973. While those searching for information on vets whose records were incinerated will have a harder time of it, the good news is that the National Archives has a wealth of military records information available online.

Warning: If you’re at all interested in military history, then be prepared to spend a lot of time checking it all out. And if you only want to track down one person, you’ll likely come up with numerous leads.

While this is by no means a comprehensive list of all the resources available, here are several good places to start:

Historical Documents of Interest to Veterans. This provides a general overview of all the records the National Archives has that pertain to the military. Links from this site take you to more specific areas of research.

An Overview of Records at the National Archives Relating to Military Service, by Trevor K. Plante, which was published in the Fall 2002 issue of Prologue. It will help you understand which branch of NARA holds which records, how searching for volunteers varies from searching from enlisted men or officers, and how the branch of service will influence your search techniques.

20th Century Veterans’ Service Records, by Norman Eisenberg, published in Prologue’s Spring 2005 issue, discusses the history of the National Personnel Records Center, what military records look like, what they contain, and how the record-ordering process works.

Genealogy Research in Military Records. This offers information about what kind of details you can discover from military records. Pension applications, for example, often included supporting information such as pages from family Bibles or copies of marriage certificates.

You will not want to miss a visit to Online Veterans and Military Records, which features a vast selection of digitized military documents. Among the dozens of resources available here are:

The Veterans Service Records main page. If you are the next of kin of a veteran, you can access eVetRecs and request a veteran’s record. A separation document, which indicates a veteran’s years of service, type of discharge, and information such as birthdate and place of birth, is available for free. This applies to non-archival records. If a record is from mid-1949 or earlier, it is archival, and you don’t need to be a next of kin to have access to it. If  the final discharge date of the veteran is 62 years ago today or earlier, the record is in the public domain. Find more on the difference between archival and non-archival records.

Another helpful resource is the brochure, Finding Information on Personal Participation in World War II, available as a pdf.

And if you’re looking for print resources, the National Archives Online Bookstore sells both genealogy and military history books.


Posted on June 30, 2011, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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