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Tips for Advanced Military Records Research on Fold3

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Military records are a rich resource for genealogical and historical research. They are advanced records, meaning that unlike vital records that push the door wide open with a neatly packaged birth and death dates, military records sometimes require you enter through the side window! Once you find records, they provide a rich and powerful narrative of military service. At Fold3, we find similar questions posed repeatedly by researchers and hope to answer a few of them here:

Sam Carlson, US Navy – WWI

Military Records for Service After 1957: Due to the Privacy Act, these records are only available to the veteran or next-of-kin from the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC). On Fold3, we have selected records and photographs from recent wars along with powerful content available on personal Memorials.

The 1973 Fire at the NPRC: On July 12, 1973, a massive fire broke out at the NPRC in St. Louis, MO. It burned for 22 hours and destroyed 16-18 million military files. Records affected included 80% of Army files for Personnel discharged between November 1912 – January 1960; and 75% of Air Force files for Personnel discharged September 1947 – January 1964. No duplicate copies of these records were ever maintained. These lost records certainly present a roadblock, but other available record sets can help you construct a military history.

Widow’s Pension File
Benjamin W. Hallett – War of 1812

For example, if you are searching for a WWII veteran, you might search for records like Unit Histories, Missing Air Crew Reports, Draft Registration Cards, WWII Diaries or Air Force photos. Keep in mind that until 1947, the US Air Force was part of the US Army (United States Army Air Force – USAAF).

Navy Muster Rolls recorded the movements of troops on transport ships even if they didn’t serve in Navy; and if you know the infantry regiment or battalion your ancestor served in, that information can also open research avenues.

Amazing records are available in our collections of Casualty Lists, European Theater Army Records or user-contributed information found on Memorial pages among others. In addition, soldiers were asked to file discharge documents in the county where they resided. Contacting county records departments might also unlock a roadblock. Good luck with your military records research! Fold3 has over five hundred million military records available online to help. Visit Fold3 today!

Do you have a Unit History or a military yearbook? At Fold3, we love to collect these records. They are a rich, detailed source of military service. If you have one, we can digitize it and return it to you intact. Please reach out to us at content@fold3.com.

96 Comments

  1. The NPRC is a joke. I’ve had them tell me records don’t exist for those not affected by the 1973 fire. I have requested all of my records from them and they told me I have to ask for specific documents because they will not send “all records.” I asked how am I supposed to know what they have.

    Each time I requested something specific they kept sending me the same thing they sent before. I think they lost most of my records, but fortunately I saved many of mine when I was in the Army and still have them including my pay stubs and orders which they will not give you. Also, they say all medical records are held at the VA. Lie. The VA claims the NPRC has them. Typical government passing the buck.

    • Medical records are only held at the VA if the veteran has received medical care there especially if it is a service connected issue.
      Six months after I applied for a WWII vet’s service records I was told they were in the fire. For a fee of $75 they would search the records that they had digitally saved after the fire. I received those files (some 75 pages) in about two weeks. The copies did show considerable fire damage but most were totally readable as most of the damage was to one edge of each sheet.

    • Contact your local state Senators Veteran Liason. They will send you paperwork allowing them to get you what you need. There are no Military Medical Records or any other Military records stored with the VA. If you don’t have your DD214 the Senators office can request that for you as well.

    • They told me that my records were lost in the 1973 fire. I did not enlist until 1992 and wasn’t even born until 1974!

  2. Here in Maine many veterans filed their DD214s with the Town Clerk where they resided. Checking residence Town offices may help.

  3. I am the next-of-kin to a cousin killed by friendly fire in WWIi Iceland. I would like to know about the incident involving one soldier. I have not been able to get a response from anyone because, apparently, I am not considered next-of-kin. How do I prove this?

    • As a cousin, you are not considered next of Kin at all. If he has a wife or children they can request information, but they will have to prove next of kin status through connection to service members DD214, they can use birth certs. And spouses can use marriage license.

  4. Where would I write for pensions for the Civil War for a wife?

    • National Archives has Civil War records. Check their website.

      Fold3.com CW military and pension records online. This includes pension records for wife. Pension applications have a lot of information.

    • You can try your state archives for Civil War pension records, both North and South.

  5. If you are not a direct NOK, you can still get limited records on a relative, not just the full blown record. I have yet to tried it for a late uncle who received a Bronze Star for action at the Battle of the Bulge.

  6. But if there are no remaining next-of-kin, how would anyone ever see the full record? I do have the brief “public” record for my cousin, but that is all that anyone will see now, apparently, because nobody asked for the full record when there were still NOK to do that.

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