Opinion

Researching the soldier in your family

World Wars I and II were the most devastating wars in human history.  Millions of civilians and military personnel were killed or wounded in these worldwide conflicts.  The odds are someone in your family served in one or both wars and finding information on their service is easy.

Before you begin researching, gather all you already may know about the deceased veteran.   Most kept their discharge papers and other documents and the more you find the easier your search will be.

Today many relevant records can be found online.  For example, you can find copies of the draft registration cards for both wars.  As a bonus in 1917 an “old man’s draft registration” was taken.  So, even if your ancestor didn’t serve, there may be some genealogical information in these records for you:  your ancestor’s full name,  birthdate, address, occupation, name of employer, sometimes a wife’s maiden name, number of children, next of kin or person to notify, and a physical description of your ancestor.  With the information on that single document, you can follow your ancestor’s trail through census, city directories and other records.

Also, online you will find items such as the World War II enlistment records which will tell you when and where your ancestor entered the service, the branch, rank, and dates of service.  You can also find the Department of Veterans Affairs Death Index to 2010 which will give date of death and place of burial.  Find-a-grave often has photos of individual tombstones or you can request someone to take a photo for you.    And, applications for government issued stones are also now online and will yield even more information.

If your deceased ancestor was wounded or injured in the service you should be able to obtain copies of his medical records through the Veterans Administration.  I obtained my father’s by writing to the VA in Maine and my husband got his father’s records by contacting the Navy.

Be aware that if your ancestor was in the WWII Army most of those records were destroyed in a fire so you will need to use the sources I’ve mentioned to try to reconstruct his service record. The best sources for most of these records remain the standard sites I’ve mentioned often, that is Ancestry.com and Fold3.com but there are others on the internet.

To obtain a copy of your deceased ancestor’s military record you need to fill out an SF 180 form.  You can find a copy of this at www.archives.gov or write to National Personnel Records Center, 1 Archives Drive, St. Louis, MO 63138. The form asks for information you can find from some of the records I mentioned earlier.

I hope this series on finding your ancestors’ military service has been helpful.  There was much I couldn’t cover due to space limitations, but these columns should help you begin your search.  Please make the effort to track your family members’ service to our country and honor them for it.

Columnist Nancy Battick of Dover-Foxcroft has researched genealogy for over 30 years. She is past president of the Maine Genealogical Society. Reader emails are welcome at nbattick@roadrunner.com. Her semimonthly column is sponsored by the Aroostook County Genealogical Society which meets the fourth Monday of the month except in July and December at the Caribou Library at 6:30 p.m. Guests are always welcome. FMI contact Edwin “J” Bullard at 492-5501.

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