November 11, 2022
Today is Veteran’s Day. A great time to spend some time researching your ancestors who served in America’s various wars. Even if you’re like me and don’t have a military-oriented family, the chances are that at least some of your ancestors have served.
In its two hundred plus year history, the U.S.A. has participated in numerous major wars as well as some more minor ones. These include the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Civil War, World War I and World War II plus the Spanish American War, the Korean War and the Vietnam War, to name just a few. Check your genealogy database. If an ancestor was of an age to serve in any of them, it’s worth exploring whether he did (don’t forget to check the women as well, some did serve). You may be surprised.
It’s easier than ever to check military records because so many of them are now online. A good starting point is the big websites such as FamilySearch, Ancestry and My Heritage. All of them have databases for the various wars. Another good place to search is Fold3 (https://www.fold3.com ). It is a website that specializes in military records. Fold3 features large collections of military records including copies of original documents. If you don’t have a subscription, a free 7-day trial is available as well as longer paid subscriptions.
If you find an ancestor who served in any of the wars, the National Archives website (https://www.archives.gov/research ) should be your next destination. You can order copies of service records and pension files there. The pension files are especially valuable.
Three of my second great grandfather’s brothers served in the Civil War. One of them was killed at the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain. Until recently, his story was unknown. His parents received a pension based on his service. I ordered his pension file, and when it came (in two thick envelopes), it was a goldmine of information. It even included copies of two letters the young soldier had written home to his parents. They were a window into the person the young soldier had been and made him much more than a name on a list of soldiers.
Pension files are not inexpensive, but they’re well worth the price. Consider ordering them as honoring your veteran ancestors, not to mention adding a lot of texture to your family story.
If you’re lucky enough to be able to travel to Washington, D.C., you can also research and make copies of military records there. Since the pandemic, reservations are required for in-person research.
The men and women who served our country over the last two and a half centuries deserve our gratitude. Spending some time researching what they did and gaining deeper appreciation for their sacrifices is one way we can thank them.