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Tip: Finding Women in Military Records

Women in the militaryMilitary 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

Women in the militarySome 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, has helpful videos on those topics, among many others. Happy hunting!


  1. I served from May 30 1966 and in 1968 was booted out for getting married and becoming 1971 a Navy WAVE went all the way to the Supreme Court and won her Case. In September 1972 I re-enlist and served until my medical retirement in July 1980. I retired as a Staff Sargeant (E-6) rank. In fact I out ranked my dear departed Husband. I was working in the med lab, my specialty was virology. I served in Bangkok, Thialand where my last child was born as Vietnam was winding down. A little scary but great to work with my fellow soldiers, then after a year stateside I went to Germany where I was the high ranking female in my command in Augsburg. Yet I ran a dispensary for the troops that were deployed with the missiles. It was just a job. Now I’m 70 years old and see many many more enlisted women. In 1966 at Ft Bragg we were only 60 women among all the Green Berets and the 82nd airborne Units. The 60 women included the nurses also. It was tough but I grew up with 8 brothers and I held my own

    • Victoria Sonnenberg says:

      Just wondering when you were at Ft Bragg. I was there in 1968, and I really enjoyed it. I was the WAC company clerk. My name, then, was Ronnie Reed. My CO was Cpt Elizabeth Meyers. Did you happen to know her? Also, did you happen to know a nurse named Becky Randall? I checked her into the unit, and then ended up working for her in 1984-5.
      My aunt was a WAVE in WWII.

    • Vikki Powell says:

      My spouse joined the USAF with me in January 1973. He was a six year enlistee and got two stripes after basic training. I remember when the Supreme Court made the decision about BAH for each service member. It was nice to get the back pay. I worked in Personnel and you’re right about the pregnancy. You were forced to separate. As a result there were very few senior or mid ranked enlisted women as role models. I was fortunate to serve with CMSgt Nancy Persons during that time.. Although many people tried to convince me to go to OTS over the years, I was determined to remain enlisted and be a role model. I remember being taught how to apply make up during basic training! I still have my basic training with photos of us in these classes. I remember when there was no maternity uniform and civilian clothes were allowed; the utility uniform was dark blue pants and a light blue shirt (looked like a prison uniform) and eventually a black ball cap was added; when women were finally allowed to go into security, aircraft maintenance and other previously restricted career fields. I also remember many friends and co-workers being discharged for allegedly being gay. Many of us played on sports teams together. Since I was married at the time I wasn’t investigated. I know they were though because my spouse worked in security investigations. Read the book about the AIDS epidemic, “And The Band Played On” and you’ll learn more about what women were subjected to with these investigations. I remember a friend forced to separate because her husband was an officer and they were married before both entering the service. I remember in 1979/1980 an article from a base newspaper in New Mexico advertising a class for female military members on how to apply make-up and practice good hygiene. A friend and I were so insulted we fired off a letter to the wing commander. Our boss (a male Colonel) called us into his office after the wing commander called him about our letter. Instead of chewing us out he said he agreed with us. Times, they were a changing’. We’re still not there fully but I’d like to think those of us that pushed the envelope and challenged when and where we could, have made it easier for those wearing the uniform today, both men and women. I retired in March 1973 as a MSgt.

  2. God bless ya, SSgt Sulema! I was about a full generation behind you (AF). I’m thankful every day that there were women before me that chose to take those intrepid steps into service. You helped make it possible; thank you!

  3. Jerilyn Collins says:

    One of my mother’s sisters served as a W.A.V.E. in World War II. She was proud of her service. Two of her brothers, and several nephews and great nephews were or are in the U.S. Air Force and have served in all the wars from WWII forward (1 brother), Korea (2 brothers), Vietnam (1 brother), Gulf (1 nephew), Iraq.and Afghanistan (1 nephew), and another nephew who served in peace time. One brother served from WWII to Vietnam.

  4. Judith Martin says:

    No doubt my records are still in a file cabinet somewhere. Whoever would want to go looking for them would do better to visit one of the genealogy websites; I’ve posted alerts about my brief sojourn in the U. S. Navy, 1975-1976, therein. Suffice it to say that I was obliged to submit to a medical discharge.

  5. Sidney Dreese says:

    Has anyone done research on Civil War nurses? Since they did not have a rank, how do I find them in the military records and they did get pension payments.

  6. Linda j winbourn says:

    Served US Army (WAC) dental corp. Basic Fort McCleen Al, Fort Sam Houston Tx, Fort Dix, NJ Spec5 served 1968-1971. Wilson Army Hospital Dental Clinic. platoon Sgt. at Barricks, served on the Special troops board. Looking for WAC’s I served with, Cheryl Moore and Yvette. Binion


    Just looking for information about a female nurse who was stationed at Misawa Air Base, Japan in 1967, Her name was: Captain Wanda L. Carpenter. Any information whatsoever would be deeply appreciated.

    • Boyd hall says:

      Sorry we left for the states in late 1964 after 31/2 yes stationed dad was crew chief Dailey Curtis Hall Jr on B57 boomers and fighter jets. We landed at Stewart AFB NY though from Nash Tn. Good luck on your search. Miss cherry blossom festival, love to revisit and see what’s changed. Boyd hall, Clearwater fl

  8. Jim Rogers says:

    Yes, those old records are a treasure trove. Just wondering what percentage of the Civil War consolidated military records have been processed at Fold3 till now. Last I heard it was at 18%.

  9. Hi, I’m a military researcher interested in stories of Nurse during the Sicily, campaign, especially in Palermo in July 1943.

  10. Marie Shadden, LtCol, USAF (ret) says:

    I, too, remember serving while pregnant and there were no uniforms yet. But, that was already 1977. I was given leadership of a flight deployed to the White Sands Missile Range to provide perimeter security for an Army paratroop training exercise out of Ft. Bliss. What a picture that must have been!

    Right now I’m working on a volunteer project , constructing a timeline/exhibit material describing the integration of women into the USAF security police/forces in the decades 1970/80. Would love to hear from any of you with memories or memorabilia. Unfortunately, USAF closed our Security Forces Museum at Lackland AFB, Aug 15, 2014 without notice so I don’t know what will become of this project if indeed it is ever complete.

  11. My Mother enlisted in the second group of Women Marines to be inducted in WWII. Forgive me for incorrect terminology. She said that the women insisted and petitioned to be given weapons training, as the Corps did not plan to do so. Classes were begun at 6 or 7 a.m. on Sunday mornings. To the surprise of the men in charge, every woman showed up for training! A hat tip to those intrepid women who served in WWII! Thank you for breaking through the barriers!

  12. Adolph Svec says:

    Anyone out there recognize the name Geraldin Justin, from Cicero, IL. She was
    a WAC during WWII and most likely was at Camp Grant in Rockford, IL during part
    of her enlistment. FYI, Camp Grant was once 6,000 acres and began during WW I
    as its climate was that of northern France, where the soldiers would end up serving.

  13. Jeff Fisher says:

    My apologies for putting this on the incorrect article, but can’t seem to get message space appear on Burning of Washington, D.C. Anyway, to Stewart Maddison, sir; what exactly do you call the ENGLISH treatment of Natives in Canada when they arrived? or the Tasmanians? Of course, the Tasmanians are extinct as best I can determine, though….

    Limeys never like to admit their own mistakes, do they? i guess is somebody thinks they’ve had divine right to own most of the world for centuries, it leads to thinking like that, however.

    For the record, my own ancestors(including my father, WW II) shed blood saving the UK, and France both in both the World Wars, sir. My suggestion is if what appears to be the resurgent Russian Empire comes knocking at your eastern doors one day, don’t ask the USDA for help, fellow. We paid back any debts owed there many times over long ago. Should prove interesting to see how long the Royals can hold off “the Bear”….



  14. Jeff Fisher says:

    Whoops! Meant the “USA,” of course, not usda. Quite honestly, would like to use stronger words in response to this, and the Canadian tripe, but, as this is a
    family site, I will refrain myself.

    May God NOT save the Queen!!

    Jeff Fisher