Nationwide, descendants of America’s Greatest Generation are clamoring to learn more about their ancestor’s military service. Less than 1 percent of the 16.1 million Americans who served during WWII are still alive today. In honor of Veterans Day, we wanted to provide a few pointers for those who would like to learn more about your ancestor’s WWII military experiences.
- Gather any records you have at home. Collect discharge records, military yearbooks, photographs, diaries, etc. Search these records for clues that may shed light on your ancestor’s service (which military branch they served in, regiment details, military service number, newspaper clippings, etc.) A devastating fire at the National Personnel Records Center in 1973 destroyed 17 million personnel files. The loss of those files presents a challenge, but we have records to help bridge the gap.
- Find your ancestor’s WWII Draft Registration Card. We have nearly 36 million WWII Draft cards available to search here. Among other details, these cards will tell you where the registrant lived and their birthplace.
- US Army Enlistment Records. If your ancestor served in the Army, you can cross-reference enlistment records with the draft card. Army Enlistment Records include the enlisted’s birth year and enlistment place. They also have another big clue – the Army Serial Number. This military service number can open new research possibilities.
- Military Service Number. Using Fold3® search filters, search your ancestor’s military service number like this: Search – Filter – Military – Service Number. In some military records like WWII Hospital Admission Card Files, military officials recorded a soldier’s military service number but not a name (or they may have used initials) when generating a record. Thus, a name search may not return all available results. When conducting name searches on Fold3®, use all variations of the veteran’s name. The military did not have a uniform system; one record may contain the full legal name, while another may use an initial and last name.
- Search Unit Histories: Each unit kept a regimental history. Some are very detailed with day-to-day movements, injuries, awards, and medals. Even if your ancestor is not mentioned by name, a unit history can help you track their service and experiences. Search our collection of Unit Histories here.
- Marine Corps. Explore our Marine Corps Muster Rolls collection if your ancestor served in the Marines. For those who died while serving, the Marine Corps Casualty Indexes can provide information about their military unit, cause of death, and military service number. The Marine Corps also recorded War Diaries for aviation units. These give detailed accounts of engagements.
- US Army Air Forces. If your ancestor served in the Army Air Forces (the US Air Force was created following WWII in 1947), we have several collections that might provide helpful information. The WWII US Air Force Photos collection has photos from all theaters of operation. You will find personnel photos, aircrew photos, photos of bombing operations, and more. If a plane went missing, authorities filed a Missing Air Crew Report. These reports recorded who was on the aircraft and their military service number, witness statements, crash details, and more.
- US Navy. Even if your ancestor didn’t serve in the Navy, you might find them listed on muster rolls because they boarded troop ships to travel to and from overseas postings. If they did serve in the Navy, explore our Navy Support Books collection, WWII Navy Muster Rolls collection, Navy Cruise Books, and Submarine War Patrol Reports collection. Our WWII War Diaries collection includes daily operational reports and can provide detailed accounts of engagements.
- Women in WWII. Women served critical roles during WWII. Explore our Women’s Army Corps (WAAC or WAC) unit history and a collection of WWII Cadet Nursing Corps Card Files to learn more about their valuable contributions.
- Fold3® Memorials. Millions of families have honored the military service of their loved ones by creating Memorials for the Fold3® Honor Wall. These Memorials are a valuable collaboration tool and may include photographs, journal entries, and more. Your ancestor may not have recorded their personal experience, but maybe a soldier who fought alongside them did. If you want to create a Fold3® Memorial, click here for simple instructions.
These research tips are just the beginning. We have 160 WWII record collections from the United States to explore (and more from other countries). This Veterans Day, honor the military heroes in your family by learning more about their service on Fold3®.