Military records might not be the first placed you’d think to look for that elusive female ancestor you’re researching, but these records can actually be a valuable resource. Although women themselves didn’t formally serve in the military for much of America’s history, they sometimes had male relatives who did, and the military records of these men can contain varying amounts of information about the women in their lives.
One of the richest potential sources of information about women is Fold3’s pension or widows’ pension files from the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, and Civil War (as well as others, like Navy Widows’ Certificates, Navy Survivors Originals, and Mormon Battalion Pension Files). Pension files are a good source because applicants provided a vast range of information and documents during the process, including things like deeds, wills, diaries, journals, letters, marriage certificates and affidavits, and newspaper clippings—any of which might contain information about our female ancestors. Although widows’ pension files and those submitted by a living husband are especially promising sources for finding out about our female ancestors, the pension files of a woman’s father, brothers, sons, or other male relatives may also turn up unexpected information.
In fact, looking beyond a husband’s records and into those of other male relatives holds true for all the military records you search. For example, in the WWII “Old Man’s Draft” Registration Cards, an unmarried man may have listed a mother, sister, or aunt as their contact “who will always know [their] address”—and that contact information may provide you with the clues you need to track down more information about the woman
Some other Fold3 military records where you might find your female ancestors via their male relatives include the WWII Draft Registration Cards; New York 174th Regiment Service Cards; New York National Guard Personnel Jackets; WWII Missing Air Crew Reports; and WWII Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard Casualty List.
Sometimes you can find documents and information about women in their own right (rather than via their male relatives) in military collections. On Fold3, these include the Civil War Subversion Investigations, Confederate Amnesty Papers, Confederate Citizens File, and Union Citizens File, as well as the WWII US Air Force Photos; the various Civil War photo collections; and the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps Vietnam War photos.
Remember, although many of Fold3’s records are indexed using OCR, it’s not true for all of them, especially older, handwritten documents. So if a search doesn’t turn up the names you’re looking for, it’s time to put on your detective’s hat and start browsing through the records for the information you want. If you want to learn more about finding female ancestors or searching military records, Ancestry.com has helpful videos on those topics, among many others. Happy hunting!