«

»

How to Trace Your U.S. Military Ancestors

(from Kimberly Powell’s About Genelaogy Weekly Column 5-19-2015)

Nearly every generation of Americans has known war. From the early colonists, to the men and women currently serving in America’s armed forces, most of us can claim at least one relative or ancestor who has served our country in the military. Even if you have never heard of military veterans in your family tree, try a bit of research and you might be surprised!

Determine if your ancestor served in the military. The first step in searching for the military records of an ancestor is to determine when and where the soldier served, as well as their military branch, rank and/or unit.

Clues to an ancestor’s military service may be found in the following records:
•Family stories
•Photographs
•Census records
•Newspaper clippings
•Journals, diaries & correspondence
•Death records & obituaries
•Local histories
•Grave markers

Look For military Records
Military records often provide an abundance of genealogical material about our ancestors. Once you have determined that an individual served in the military, there are a variety of military records which can help to document their service, and provide useful information about your military ancestors such as birthplace, age at enlistment, occupation, and names of immediate family members. The primary types of military records include:•Military service records – Enlisted men who served in the regular Army throughout our country’s history, as well as discharged and deceased veterans of all services during the 20th century, can be researched through military service records.

These records are primarily available through the National Archives and the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC). Unfortunately, a disastrous fire at the NPRC on July 12, 1973, about 80 percent of the records of veterans discharged from the Army between November, 1912 and January, 1960, and about 75 percent for individuals discharged from the Air Force between September, 1947 and January, 1964, alphabetically through Hubbard, James E. These destroyed records were one of a kind and had not been duplicated or microfilmed prior to the fire.

•Compiled military service Records
Most of the records of the American Army and Navy in the custody of the War Department were destroyed by fire in 1800 and 1814. In an effort to reconstruct these lost records, a project was begun in 1894 to collect military documents from a variety of sources. The Compiled Military Service Record, as these collected records have come to be called, is an envelope (sometimes referred to as a ‘jacket’) containing abstracts of an individual’s service records including such items as muster rolls, rank rolls, hospital records, prison records, enlistment and discharge documents, and payrolls. These compiled military service records are primarily available for veterans of the American Revolution, War of 1812, and the Civil War.

•Pension records or veteran’s Claims
The National Archives has pension applications and records of pension payments for veterans, their widows, and other heirs. The pension records are based on service in the armed forces of the United States between 1775 and 1916. Application files often contain supporting documents such as discharge papers, affidavits, depositions of witnesses, narratives of events during service, marriage certificates, birth records, death certificates, pages from family bibles, and other supporting papers. Pension files usually provide the most genealogical information for researchers.

•Draft registration Records
More than twenty-four million men born between 1873 and 1900 registered in one of three World War I drafts. These draft registrations cards may contain such information as name, birth date and place, occupation, dependents, nearest relative, physical description, and country of allegiance of an alien. The original WWI draft registration cards are at the National Archives, Southeast Region, in East Point, Georgia. A mandatory draft registration was also conducted for WWII, but the majority of these records are still protected by privacy laws. The fourth registration (often called the “old man’s registration”), for men born between April 28, 1877 and February 16, 1897, is the only WWII registration currently available to the public.

WWI Draft Registration Records
All males in the United States between the ages of 18 and 45 were required by law to register for the draft throughout 1917 and 1918, making WWI draft records a rich source of information on millions of American males born between about 1872 and 1900. The WWI draft registration records are by far the biggest group of such draft records in the U.S., containing names, ages, and dates and place of birth for more than 24 million men.

Record Type: Draft registration cards, original records (microfilm and digital copies also available)

Location: U.S., although some individuals of foreign birth are also included.

Time Period: 1917–1918

Best For: Learning the exact date of birth for all registrants (especially useful for men born prior to the onset of state birth registration), and exact place of birth for men born between 6 June 1886 and 28 August 1897 who registered in the first or second draft (possibly the only source of this information for foreign-born men who never became naturalized U.S. citizens).

What are WWI Draft Registration Records?
On May 18, 1917, the Selective Service Act authorized the President to temporarily increase the U.S. military. Under the office of the Provost Marshal General, the Selective Service System was established to draft men into military service.

Local boards were created for each county or similar state subdivision, and for each 30,000 people in cities and counties with a population greater than 30,000.

During World War I there were three draft registrations:
• 5 June 1917 – all men between the ages of 21 and 31 residing in the U.S. – whether native born, naturalized, or alien
• 5 June 1918 – men who reached age 21 after 5 June 1917. (A supplemental registration, included in the second registration, was held on 24 August 1918, for men who turned 21 years old after 5 June 1918.)
• 12 September 1918 – all men between age 18 and 45.

What You Can Learn From WWI Draft Records:
At each of the three draft registrations a different form was used, with slight variations in the information requested. In general, however, you’ll find the registrant’s full name, address, phone number, date and place of birth, age, occupation and employer, the name and address of the nearest contact or relative, and the signature of the registrant. Other boxes on the draft cards asked for descriptive details such as race, height, weight, eye and hair color and other physical characteristics.

Keep in mind that WWI Draft Registration Records are not military service records – they don’t document anything past the individual’s arrival at training camp and contain no information about an individual’s military service. It is also important to note that not all of the men who registered for the draft actually served in the military, and not all men who served in the military registered for the draft.

Where Can I Access WWI Draft Records?
The original WWI draft registration cards are in the custody of the National Archives – Southeast Region near Atlanta, Georgia. They are also available on microfilm (National Archives publication M1509) at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, local Family History Centers, the National Archives and its Regional Archive centers. On the Web, subscription-based Ancestry.com offers a searchable index to the WWI Draft Registration Records, as well as digital copies of the actual cards. The complete collection of digitized WWI draft records, plus a searchable index, is also available online for free from FamilySearch — United States World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917–1918.

To effectively search for an individual among the WWI draft registration records, you’ll need to know at least the name and the county in which he registered. In large cities and in some large counties, you’ll also need to know the street address to determine the correct draft board. There were 189 local boards in New York City, for example. Searching by name only is not always enough as is fairly common to have numerous registrants with the same name.

If you don’t know the individual’s street address, there are several sources where you may be able to find this information. City directories are the best source, and can be found at most large public libraries in that city and through Family History Centers. Other sources include the 1920 Federal Census (assuming that the family didn’t move after the draft registration), and any contemporary records of events that occurred about that time (vital records, naturalization records, wills, etc.).

If you’re searching online and don’t know where your individual was living, you can sometimes find him through other identifying factors. Many individuals, especially in the southeast U.S., registered by their full name, including middle name, which can make them easier to identify. You could also narrow the search by month, day and/or year of birth.

Where to Find WWII Draft Registration Records
Millions of men living in America completed draft registration cards between 1940 and 1943 as part of the WWII draft. The majority of these draft cards are not yet open to the public for privacy reasons, but almost 6 million WWII draft cards completed during the fourth registration by men between the ages of 42 and 64 in 1942 are open to the public for research. This registration, known as the “Old Man’s Draft,” provides a great deal of information on the men who participated, including their full name, address, physical characteristics, and date and place of birth.

Note: Ancestry.com has started to make World War II draft cards from the 1-3 registrations, and 5-6 registrations available online in a new database U.S. WWII Draft Cards Young Men, 1898-1929. As of July 2014 the database includes registrations filled out by men in Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, and North Carolina.

Record Type: Draft registration cards, original records (microfilm and digital copies also available)

Location: U.S., although some individuals of foreign birth are also included.

Time Period: 1940–1943

Best For: Learning the exact date of birth and place of birth for all registrants. This can be especially useful for research of foreign-born men who never became naturalized U.S. citizens. It also provides a source for tracking individuals after the 1930 U.S. census.

What are WWII Draft Registration Records?

On May 18, 1917, the Selective Service Act authorized the President to temporarily increase the U.S. military. Under the office of the Provost Marshal General, the Selective Service System was established to draft men into military service.

Local boards were created for each county or similar state subdivision, and for each 30,000 people in cities and counties with a population greater than 30,000.

During World War II there were seven draft registrations:
•October 16, 1940 – all men 21-31 years residing in the U.S. – whether native born, naturalized, or alien
•July 1, 1941 – men who reached age 21 since the first registration
•February 16, 1942 – men 20-21 and 35-44 years of age
•April 27, 1942 – Men 45-64 years of age. Not liable for military service. *Only draft cards open to public
•June 30, 1942 – Men 18-20 years of age
•December 10-31, 1942 – Men who reached the age of 18 since the previous registration
•November 16 – December 31, 1943 – American men living abroad, aged 18-44

What You Can Learn From WWII Draft Records:
In general, you’ll find the registrant’s full name, address (both mailing and residence), phone number, date and place of birth, age, occupation and employer, the name and address of the nearest contact or relative, the employers name and address, and the signature of the registrant. Other boxes on the draft cards asked for descriptive details such as race, height, weight, eye and hair color, complexion and other physical characteristics.

Keep in mind that WWII Draft Registration Records are not military service records – they don’t document anything past the individual’s arrival at training camp and contain no information about an individual’s military service. It is also important to note that not all of the men who registered for the draft actually served in the military, and not all men who served in the military registered for the draft.

Where Can I Access WWII Draft Records?
The original WWII draft registration cards are organized by state and are held by the appropriate regional branch of the National Archives. A few WWII draft cards from Ohio have also been digitized by the National Archives and made available online. They are also available as part of NARA microfilm Record Group 147, “Records of the Selective Service System, 1940-.” On the Web, subscription-based Ancestry.com offers a searchable index to the available WWI Draft Registration Records from the 4th registration (Old Man’s Draft), as well as digital copies of the actual cards. These are being placed online as they are microfilmed by the National Archives, so not all states are available yet.

The fourth registration WWII draft registration cards (for men born between 28 April 1877 and 16 February 1897) for most southern states (including Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee) were destroyed in error by NARA in the 1970s and were never microfilmed. The information on these cards has been lost for good. Other registrations for these states were not destroyed, but not all are yet open to the public.

The cards from the fourth registration of the WWII draft are generally organized alphabetically by surname for an entire state, making them easier to search than the WWI draft registration cards. If you’re searching online and don’t know where your individual was living, you can sometimes find him through other identifying factors. Many individuals registered by their full name, including middle name, so you might try searching for a variety of name variations. You could also narrow the search by month, day and/or year of birth.

•Bounty land Records
A land bounty is a grant of land from a government as a reward to citizens for the risks and hardships they endured in the service of their country, usually in a military related capacity. At the national level, these bounty land claims are based on wartime service between 1775 and March 3, 1855. If your ancestor served in the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, early Indian Wars, or the Mexican War, a search of bounty land warrant application files may be worthwhile. Documents found in these records are similar to those in pension files.

Where to Find Bounty Land Warrants
Bounty land warrants were grants of free land issued to veterans in return for military service from the time of the Revolutionary War through 1855. Learn more about the different types of military bounty land warrants and grants, and how to research in bounty land warrant files.

Record Type:

A Bounty Land Warrant File contains the surrendered warrant, a letter of assignment if the warrant was transferred to another individual, and other papers pertaining to the transaction.

Location:

United States

Time Period:

Colonial times – 1858
Revolutionary War bounty land warrants were first awarded through and act of Congress on 16 September 1776. They were last awarded for military service in 1858, although the ability to claim bounty land previously earned extended until 1863. A few claims that were tied up in the courts caused lands to be granted as late as 1912.

Best For:
Providing evidence of military service, especially in cases where a veteran or his widow did not apply for a pension

What are Bounty Land Warrants?:

Bounty land is a grant of free land from a goverment given to citizens as a reward for service to their country, generally for military-related service. Most bounty-land warrants in the United States were given to veterans or their survivors for wartime military service performed between 1775 and 3 March 1855. This includes veterans who served in the American Revolution, the War of 1812 and the Mexican War.

Bounty land warrants weren’t automatically issued to every veteran who served. The veteran first had to apply for a warrant and then, if the warrant was granted, he could use the warrant to apply for a land patent. The land patent is the document which granted him ownership of the land. Bounty land warrants could also be transferred or sold to other individuals.

What You Can Learn From Bounty Land Warrants:

A bounty land warrant application for a veteran of the Revolutionary War, War of 1812 or the Mexican War will include the individual’s rank, military unit and period of service. It will also generally provide his age and place of residence at the time of application. If the application was made by the surviving widow, it will usually include her age, place of residence, the date and place of marriage, and her maiden name.

Where Can I Acess Bounty Land Warrants?:
Federal bounty land warrants are kept at the National Archives in Washington D.C. and can be requested through the mail on NATF Form 85 (“Military Pension/Bounty Land Warrant Applications”) or ordered online.

Switch to mobile version