Military genealogy

Military genealogy is a good way to celebrate Veteran’s Day. In honor of this year’s Veteran’s Day, I dedicate this post to saying “Thank you” to all veterans.  Let us remember all the sacrifices that veterans made just so we could have safety and freedom. Do a genealogy search for the military veterans in your family. Always keep in mind: “Freedom is not free.” No amount of appreciation is enough to honor our veterans.

This is also a special time for me to remember some of the heroes in my family and community including my big brother John A. Smith (Viet Nam era), my father Alfred Burton Smith, paternal uncles Joseph and John Baptiste Smith, maternal uncle Owen Cameron, the Navajo Code Talkers (Native American WWll soldiers who confounded the enemy by talking in an unbreakable code); Tuskegee Airmen (America’s first military Black airmen); Montford Point Marines (first Black Marines, WWll), Buffalo Soldiers, and other veterans who “fought for the right to fight.” This year’s New York 94th Annual Veteran’s Day Parade theme is “Women in Service.”  So, a special salute to all women who served our nation is always in order too. Thank you, Women Warriors! Sending up love and light to all veterans and their families.

African American Civil War soldiers
African American Civil War soldiers

What about your military ancestors. Would you like to know more about your family’s military genealogy?

How to do military genealogy: If you want to do a genealogy search for military veterans in your family history, there are many resources available to you online. But, you must first ask yourself many questions before you get started. What do you want to know? Many times your search will lead to more questions! Here is an overview from National Archives about how to approach your search: “When researchers contact the National Archives to conduct research on their ancestors, they often ask about records relating to military service. Unfortunately, there is no simple answer. The inquiry, in fact, leads to more questions: What branch of service did the person serve in? Do you know the conflict they fought in or their dates of service? Was the person in the Regular Army or a volunteer unit? Did the individual serve as an officer or enlisted man? Did the person apply for or receive a pension? These questions are important, for the answers help determine which search paths to follow. The two main repositories for records relating to military service are the National Archives and the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC). The National Archives Building, Washington, D.C., holds records relating to

  • Volunteer enlisted men and officers whose military service was performed during an emergency and whose service was considered to be in the federal interest, 1775 to 1902
  • Regular Army enlisted personnel, serving 1789–October 31, 1912
  • Regular Army officers, serving 1789–June 30, 1917
  • U.S. Navy enlisted personnel, serving 1798–1885
  • U.S. Navy officers, serving 1798–1902
  • U.S. Marine Corps enlisted personnel, serving 1798–1904
  • Some U.S. Marine Corps officers, serving 1798–1895
  • Those who served in predecessor agencies to the U.S. Coast Guard (i.e., the Revenue Cutter Service [Revenue Marine], the Life-Saving Service, and the Lighthouse Service, 1791–1919)

The National Personnel Records Center, St. Louis, Missouri, holds military personnel files of

  • U.S. Army officers separated after June 30, 1917, and enlisted personnel separated after October 31, 1912
  • U.S. Air Force officers and enlisted personnel separated after September 1947
  • U.S. Navy officers separated after 1902 and enlisted personnel separated after 1885
  • U.S. Marine Corps officers separated after 1895 and enlisted personnel separated after 1904
  • U.S. Coast Guard officers separated after 1928 and enlisted personnel separated after 1914; civilian employees of Coast Guard predecessor agencies such as Revenue Cutter Service, Lifesaving Service, and Lighthouse Service, 1864–1919

To request copies of an individual’s military personnel file held at the National Personnel Records Center, use a Standard Form 180, “Request Pertaining to Military Records.” For more information on what records are available at NPRC and who may request them, consult their web site. Locating the Records The records and microfilm publications described here are available at the National Archives Building in Washington, D.C. Some microfilm publications are available at NARA’s regional facilities. Consult the online Microfilm Catalog to find out which facilities may have the microfilm you are looking for. For researchers unable to visit the National Archives, copies of compiled military service records, pension files, and bounty land records held by NARA can be obtained through the mail. To obtain the proper request form, please write to Old Military and Civil Records, National Archives and Records Administration, 700 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20408-0001. NATF Form 80 is now obsolete and has been replaced by NATF Form 85, “National Archives Order for Copies of Federal Pension or Bounty Land Warrant Applications,” and Form 86, “National Archives Order for Copies of Military Service Records.” Forms can also be requested through our web site. If requesting information on military records related to Navy, Marine Corps, or Coast Guard personnel, please do not use a form; send a written inquiry either by mail to the address above or by email to Contact NARA. For additional information beyond the scope of this article, consult the Guide to Genealogical Research in the National Archives of the United States (2000). There is a section on military records containing chapters on records of the Regular Army, service records of volunteers, naval and marine service records, pension records, bounty land warrant records, and other records relating to military service.”

Are you looking for family history military records? Please share your story.

2 thoughts on “Military genealogy

  1. Your father was always kind and nurturing towards me so much so I thought there was no other way for a man to be.such a lovely person. My father, William T. Butler Sr., was a World War II Combat Veteran who for most of my life never said much of anything to me about the war that so affected his life. His military record states he enlisted 5 Jan 1943 at 22 years of age in Wilmington, NC. Before his induction he was working at a plant in his home town of Lake Waccamaw, N.C., trying to help his parents hold on to the family farm. He said a coworker told him the plant manager wanted to see him in his office. Not a good thing he thought and as he approached the office he was searching for a possible reason to be called in. Answering his knock on the door the manager invited him in and the first thing he said was “Bill you know I always liked you and that’s why I’m going to do something good for you. Your name is coming up for the draft but I want you to go down to the board in Wilmington and see the man whose name I’ve written here for you and tell him you work for me. You won’t get drafted,” he said. The next morning my father enlisted and was shipped off to basic training the next day. Why I asked? Because I would have owed that cracker my life for the rest of my life I decided to fight the Germans. He was shipped off to the European theatre of war as a squad leader in the 3965th Quarter Master Truck Company Driving solders up and down the front line under enemy fire. The truck then he said were open back wooden sided with canvas strung over hoops. One man drove and the other shot back at the Germans. During the Normandy Invasion He said men died of fright drowning in water they could have stood up in. There was no cover from bullets, bombs went off all around you, the ships at sea were far from shore and only one direction to move in—forward up the beach. The war took him across Northern France through the Ardennes Forest doggedly pursuing the Nazis across the Rhineland. In Central Europe he evacuated prisoners from Nazi concentration and death camps – Treblinka, Sobibor, Belzec, Auschwitz, Majdanek.
    I was at least 40 years of age the first time he ever discussed any of this with me. It all came out after I asked if as I had seen on a PBS special, the Nazis committed atrocities against Black soldiers. “We had an understanding with the Nazi. They didn’t take prisoners neither did we not ever,” he said. I don’t mind saying my father was my only hero ever my model for the kind of a man and father I wanted to become. One of the most startling moments in my life was the day I realized he didn’t know everything. He was a trailblazer and an iconoclast all his life he made it easy for me to one also. Because of my father I have walked, talked and worked with people most people couldn’t imagine ever meeting. I was extremely close to my parents the day my mother passed I had gone to the airport to pick up my wife who she asked to see again once more. She passed before I returned but I laid next to her until they came for her body. My father and mother were sweethearts in elementary school and married more than fifty years. He thought he could handle her passing but less than a year later he was gone. The last week of his life in the hospital I asked if he feared dying. His answer “With everything I’ve done and seen this is easy I’m tired you go home I love you.” It was our final conversation. My father received a full military burial the one for combat veterans – military honor guard, twenty one gun salute. His combat decorations and citations included AMERICAN THEATER CAMPAIGN MEDAL, EAMET CAMPAIGN MEDAL WITH 5 BRONZE SERVICE STARS, VICTORY MEDAL.

    1. Tommie, Your father’s military record was amazing. You were so blessed to have learned about his military experience from his own words. As a genealogist, I spend a lot of energy searching military records and can only imagine what life was really like on the battlefield. I had heard of Black soldiers rescuing the Jews held by the Nazis. Your parents and mine lived under racial segregation and Jim Crow laws. Yet, they were such gentle, lovely and sometimes humorous people! Your parents were such beautiful, loving role models. You were blessed. I wish young people today in our old neighborhood could have a ‘real’ family like we did.

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