This month we welcome back special guest contributor Michael Strauss, an Accredited Genealogist from AncestryProGenealogists®. In September, he wrote a blog on reconstructing military records lost in the fire at the National Personnel Record Center in 1973. Due to the number of responses and additional questions, Michael has graciously volunteered to follow up with more information. Click here to see Part I in this series.
The loss of records of the United States Army between 1912 and 1960 and the Air Force from 1947 to 1964 can be disappointing. However, other sources can be searched to locate details lost from the service files that can help to reconstruct your veteran ancestor’s military service. Here are three more sources to consider:
Pension and claim files
Beyond looking at service files, many veterans and their dependents applied for benefits based on their prior military service after their discharge. The National Personnel Record Center in St. Louis, Missouri, has custody of the pension/claim files. In 1921 the United States Congress created the Veterans Bureau to assist veterans seeking benefits. Later in 1930, President Herbert Hoover combined the Veterans Bureau with the Bureau of Pensions and the Home for Disabled Veterans to form a single office called the Veterans Administration. Later in 1989, this office was changed to the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The indexes to locate veterans who applied for benefits cover multiple years. The earliest index dates from 1917 to 1940. This index covers veterans of World War I, the Mexican Punitive Expedition of 1916, and older Civil War and Spanish-American War veterans or their dependents who lived into the twentieth century.
The index is available on Ancestry®, and you can search the names of veterans here. Digitized images of the original cards are available at FamilySearch and can be found here. The original card indexes usually contain the following:
- Name and address of the veteran
- Branch of service
- Military unit or organization
- Military rank or grade
- Service number
- Dates when veterans mustered in/out of the military
- Claim number
The upper right corner of the card index includes a claim number beginning with either a “C” or an “XC.” The “C” indicates the veteran applied for their own benefits. The “XC” indicates the veteran died and someone else applied for the benefits.
The master card indexes often include other prefixes beginning with letters for other documents included in the veteran’s pension or claim file. For example, the letter “A” followed by a series of numbers was only for World War I veterans eligible for a bonus owed for military service. The master index of codes can be found here. A later master index for pensions covers 1940 to 1972, covering veterans of World War II. Searches in the index are only available by request from the National Personnel Record Center in St. Louis, Missouri. Regardless of which master index is searched to obtain copies of the pension file, the same research office must be contacted.
Military discharges filed in the courthouse
Other sources for military records beyond the service files can be found locally where the veteran was domiciled at the end of their military service. Many veterans filed copies of their discharge or separation papers at the local courthouses where they resided. Requests for copies of separation papers should be directed to your local courthouse. On discharges, the military issued a form referred to as the Reports of Separation for the veteran authorized by the Adjutant General Office of the United States War Department (you will see WD AGO, representing the War Department Adjutant General Office, listed at the bottom of the paper). The term DD214 for separation from military service was not formally adopted until 1 January 1950. Since then, the new form has undergone multiple revisions and is still in use today for discharged military personnel.
Statement of service cards
Following the end of World War I on 11 November 1918, the United States Congress passed an act on 11 July 1919 (41 Stat. 109) authorizing the creation of service cards for each soldier who served in the Army in the late war. The cards were sent to individual state Adjutant General Offices to be processed after the war. On 4 June 1920, Congress passed the Naval Act of 1920 (41 Stat. 815) authorizing that veterans of the Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard also have their military service recorded on service cards.
For veterans of the United States Army, two different forms were used. For enlisted personnel Adjutant General Office (AGO) form 724 was used, and for officers, Adjutant General Office (AGO) form 84 was filled out. Officer cards were sub-divided into Regular Army (RA) form 84a-3, National Guard (NG) form 84b-1, Officer Reserve Corps (ORC) form 84c-1, and National Army (NA) on form 84d-1. The last-named group for the national army was officers that were conscripted. For enlisted personnel, the 724 series of cards were numbered between 1-9, indicating the cause of separation from the military, and used different card color stock.
Another form 724-1 ½ was also used by the Adjutant General Office (AGO) for the United States Army, where the type of enlistment would be inserted, followed by the place and date and place where the event was recorded. The type of enlistments was RA for Regular Army, NG for National Guard, ERC for Enlisted Reserve Corps, and NA for National Army conscripted men.
During World War I, several states published their card indexes and later made them available online. Many other states kept the original cards in their state archives maintained by the Adjutant General Office (AGO) locally, but Ancestry® and FamilySearch have digitized them. Other states have lost their extant records completely. One of the states that suffered a record loss includes Illinois. Searching their online card catalogs using the keyword “statement of service” will locate the records.
Statement of Service Cards was again authorized for World War II. This was part of the passage of the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940 passed by the United States Congress on 16 September 1940 (54 Stat. 885) that required all men between the ages of 21-45 to register. The Office of Selective Service Records (OSSR) used form number 4 to record the statement of service for World War II veterans who served. The same form was used for all military branches and included the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard. Very few of the forms are online for World War II. Forms for North Carolina from 1940-1948 are available on Ancestry® by clicking here. Alaska records from 1948-1949 are available at FamilySearch by clicking here. For other states, look to state archival collections. For example, the Nevada State Library and Archives have cards from 1948-1953 for World War II and the Korean War.
Putting everything together
World War I veteran Frederick William Bender (1897-1921) served in Battery A of the 69th Coast Artillery Corps (CAC) during the war. His Official Military Personnel File (OMPF) was destroyed in the fire in 1973 at the National Personnel Record Center in St. Louis, Missouri. Both his military pension index card and World War I statement of service card were found using these search techniques. Both records point to new information making the additional searches well worth the time.
To search military records dating back to the Revolutionary War, visit Fold3® today.