Finding Military Records
Bille Stone Fogerty - 2011
War creates destruction, chaos and scars, but it also creates lots of records that can be a real boon to genealogists. Enlistment papers, muster rolls, regimental histories and especially pension records all provide a wealth of genealogical information. Military information can be found at the federal, state and county level. Because war is such a life changing event there is usually a great deal of interest in recording those memories in letters, diaries, journals and memoirs. Newspaper articles and periodical accounts abound as do books written to understand and preserve the experience. A genealogical goldmine awaits the researcher.
Search home and private sources for discharge papers, medals, citations, old uniforms, photographs in uniform or with units, diaries, and old letters. These and the stories handed down in your family may lead you to the records you seek that are held by governmental entities.
Some military records are maintained at the county level. These include: draft registrations, registration of discharge papers and county militia units (early years). Some military records are under the jurisdiction of the states. To locate these, you will need to ascertain what each state maintains and which agency has control of the records. Some examples of military records that are state records include: Pensions based on confederate service (granted by the states of Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South
Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia); muster rolls for the various state militia units;
payment records for service in the militia units and pensions for service in the Militia.
Every generation of Americans has been affected by wars. Actual service varied in number up to an estimated 5 million in the Civil War. Even if your ancestor did not serve, a draft or other record may have been created, including interaction between the military and civilians. Determine any major conflicts during which your ancestor lived and check to see what federal records may exist. The following list of major conflicts and wars may help you decide which records to check.
Birth Years of Men and Wars in Which They May Have Served
Born Between War Date of War
Colonial Wars (King Philip’s War, French
& Indian, etc) 1607-1774
War of 1812
Spanish-American War & Philippine Insurrection
World War I
World War II Korean War Viet Nam War
Gulf Wars & Conflicts
Genealogists most often seek three types of records: 1) military service records; 2) pension claims files; and 3) bounty-land warrant applications. Congress began paying pensions in 1789, but many of the early applications were destroyed by fire in 1800 or the fire in 1814. Bounty-land warrants were authorized as a substitute for wages because Congress did not have funds to pay its soldiers. The warrants were only granted for service in the Mexican and earlier wars, but the application files often contain information similar to the genealogically rich pension files. The availability of military service and pension records depends upon the war. In addition to the bounty- land paid by the federal government the states of Connecticut, Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Virginia also paid their soldiers with bounty-land. These state records are indexed by Lloyd DeWitt Bockstruck in Revolutionary War Bounty Land Grants Awarded by State Governments (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1996).
Colonial Wars (1607-1774) -- Records will be found in state and local collections and are widely published and can be found in libraries throughout the US. If available, the information is more historical than genealogical, but does list muster rolls and rosters. Most able-bodied men between the ages of 16 and 60 were expected to participate in a local militia unit. These units were organized either by town, county, or colony. The militia's main role was local defense.
Revolutionary War (1775-1783) – Records for military service, pension and bounty land are at the National Archives for service in the Continental lines. There are very few pension records unless the soldier was killed or wounded, except for those pensioned after 1832. There are many federal bounty land records. Records for service in a state militia are at the state level. Virginia and North Carolina also gave state pensions for those wounded or killed in service.
War of 1812 (1812-1815) – Records for military service, pension, bounty land, militia, and regular Army enlistment registers are in the National Archives. Few pension records exist but the Un-indexed Bounty Land Records are a valuable source.
Mexican War (1846-1848) – Pension, bounty land and service records are in the
National Archives. Since most Mexican War veterans also served in the Civil War, there are very few pension records solely for this service.
Civil War (1861-1865) – An online database servicemen from this war is called the
Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System and is located at <www.itd.nps.gov/cwss>. It is a database that lists Union and Confederate soldiers along with some information about their service.
The records at the National Archives for service in this war, also called War of the Rebellion or War Between the States, include military service and pension records for Union Service. Confederate military service records are on microfilm at the National Archives if the records were captured. Some Confederate military service records are in the states from which they served, while the records for those receiving a pension for their Confederate service will be found in the state from which they received the pension. Some southern states gave pensions to their Confederate soldiers, but don’t expect to find pensions for Confederate service if your soldier lived north after the war.
The following states have pension records for Confederate service. The pensioner did not necessarily serve from that state, but was pensioned from the state in which they lived when they received the pension.
States That Gave Pensions Based on Confederate Service and Where to Write
Alabama State of Alabama, Department of Pensions
64 North Union Street, Montgomery, AL 36130
Arkansas Arkansas History Commission
One Capitol Mall, Little Rock, AR 72201
Arizona Arizona State College
Florida Florida State Archives, Division of Archives & History
R. A. Gray Bldg., Tallahassee,FL 32304-0250 (Online at http://www.floridamemory.com/Collections/PensionFiles/ )
Georgia Georgia Archives
5800 Jonesboro Road, Morrow, GA 30260 (Online at http://www.sos.state.ga.us/archives/what_do_we_have/
Kentucky Kentucky Historical Society, Old State House
P.O. Box H, Frankfort, KY 40601
Louisiana Louisiana State Archives & Records Service
3851 Essen Lane, Baton Rouge, LA 70809-2137 (Online at http://www.sec.state.la.us/archives/gen/cpa-index.htm )
Mississippi Mississippi Dept. of Archives & History
Box 571, Jackson, MS 39205
Missouri Adjutant General’s Office
Industrial Drive, Jefferson City, MO 65101
North Carolina North Carolina Dept. of Archives & History
P. O. Box 1881, Raleigh, NC 27602
Oklahoma Oklahoma Historical Society Research Library
2401 N. Laird Ave., Oklahoma City, OK 73105 (Online at http://www.odl.state.ok.us/oar/docs/pension.pdf )
South Carolina South Carolina Dept of Archives & History
8301 Parklane Road, Columbia, SC 29223
Tennessee Tennessee State Library & Archives
403 Seventh Ave. North, Nashville, TN 37243 (Online at http://www.tennessee.gov/tsla/history/military/pension.htm )
Texas Texas State Library & Archives Commission
Box 12927, Capitol Station, Austin, TX 78711 (Online at http://www.tsl.state.tx.us/arc/pensions/ )
Virginia Archives Division, Library of Virginia
800 East Broad Street, Richmond, VA 23219
Spanish-American War (1898) & Philippine Insurrection (1899-1902) – Some records for these wars have been microfilmed and the records are available at the National Archives.
World War I and later wars (1914- ) -- These records are restricted to the veteran or next of kin and are at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, MO, with the exception of the 24 million draft registration cards from World War I. These valuable records have been microfilmed and are also online at Ancestry.com for a fee. Another important set of online records is the World War II Army Enlistment Records of about 9 million men and women who enlisted between 1938 and 1946. These are found at
Regular Army – If you do not find your individual in the Volunteer or draftee listings, remember that the service may have been in the regular U. S. Army. These enlistments from 1798 to 1914 have been microfilmed but are separate from the volunteer units.
For a complete listing of federal holdings of military records, consult the National Archives publication, Military Service Records: A Select Catalog of National Archives Microfilm Publications. (Washington, DC: National Archives and Records Administration, 1985). This is available free online at http://www.archives.gov or $3.50 for paperback version (330 pages) from the National Archives. Service records for more recent personnel are held by the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, MO.
You may order copies of military service and pension records from 1775 to 1914 from the National Archives online at www.archives.gov or by using their forms. For military service records use form NATF 86 and use NATF 85 for pension and bounty land records requests. The forms may be obtained online, by phone toll free at 1-866-272-6272 (1-86 NARA – NARA) or write to:
The National Archives and Records Administration
8601 Adelphi Road
College Park, MD 20740-6001
To order records of soldiers from wars since World War I, you may use form SF
180 obtained from the local Veterans Administration office or by downloading the form from www.archives.gov or by writing to:
National Personnel Records Center
Military Personnel Records
9700 Page Avenue
St. Louis, MO 63132-5100
Also, veterans or, if deceased, their next of kin (un-remarried spouse, son, daughter, mother, father, brother, sister) may order their records online at vetrecs.archive.gov or use form SF 180.
Other Sources for Military Records
Adjutant General’s Office in the ancestor’s state of residence for those who served in
WWII, Korea or Vietnam.
Newspapers published in the city or county where the ancestor lived prior to enlistment. American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, or American Veterans of World War II local post for information on local people who survived.
The National Archives, online at www.archives.gov
Application for Headstones (1879-1903). The Cemetery Service, National CemeterySystem, Veterans Administration, 810 Vermont Ave. N.W., Washington, DC 20422 has records from 1861 to present. Records identify almost all soldiers buried in national cemeteries and other cemeteries under federal jurisdiction.
Arranged alphabetically on cards by name of soldier.
Johnson, Lt. Col. Richard S. “How To Locate Anyone Who Is Or Has Been In TheMilitary: Armed Forces Locator Guide.” (San Antonio: MIE Publishing), 1999
Neagles, James C. “U.S. Military Records: a Guide to Federal & State Sources.” (Salt
Lake City: Ancestry Inc.), 1994
Szucs. Loretto D. and Luebking, Sandra H., editors. “The Source: a Guidebook of American Genealogy, Chapter 11: Military Records by Lloyd DeWitt Bockstruck. (Provo, UT: MyFamily.com, Inc.), 2006. 499-558
Heaps, Jennifer Davis. “World War II Prisoner-of-War Records,” Prologue: Journal of the National Archives 23 (Fall 1991): 324-28
Military Research Addresses
World War I Draft Cards: NARA, Southeast Region. 1557 St. Joseph Avenue. East Point, GA 30344 Telephone: (404) 763-7383 e-mail email@example.com
Veterans Affairs (VA), 810 Vermont Avenue, NW Washington, DC 20420 Telephone: (800) 827-1000 www.va.gov
Mortuary Records Army: Army Commander, US. Total Army Personnel Command, ATTN: TAPC-PED-F Alexandria, VA 22331-0482 Telephone: (703) 325-5300
Web address: www.army.mil
Mortuary Records Marine Corps: Operations, Marine Corps Commandant Code M-HP-10
Hdqtrs Marine Corps
2 Navy Annex
Washington DC 20380-1775
Soldiers buried in National Cemeteries: Director, Cemetery Service, National Cemetery System