Military Records

Genealogy Research in Military Records

How can Military Records help in my genealogy research?

Military records can often provide valuable information on the veteran, as well as on all members of the family. For example:

  • Compiled Service Records:
    Compiled service records consist of an envelope containing card abstracts taken from muster rolls, returns, pay vouchers, and other records. They will provide you with your ancestor's rank, unit, date mustered in and mustered out, basic biographical information, medical information, and military information.

  • Pension Applications and Pension Payment Records:
    The National Archives also has pension applications and records of pension payments for veterans, their widows, and other heirs. The pension records in the National Archives Building in Washington, D.C. are based on service in the armed forces of the United States between 1775 and 1916. Pension application files usually provide the most genealogical information. These files often contain supporting documents such as: narratives of events during service, marriage certificates, birth records, death certificates, pages from family Bibles, family letters, depositions of witnesses, affidavits, discharge papers and other supporting papers.

  • Bounty Land:
    Bounty land warrant application files relate to claims based on wartime service between 1775 and March 3, 1855. If your ancestor served in the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, early Indian Wars, or the Mexican War, a search of these records may be worthwhile. Bounty land records often contain documents similar to those in pension files, with lots of genealogical information. Many of the bounty land application files relating to Revolutionary War and War of 1812 service have been combined with the pension files.

How do I begin?

There is no simple explanation for how to begin research in military records. Your research path will depend on aspects such as: what branch of service your ancestor was in, which conflict, what dates, whether Regular Army or a volunteer unit, whether your ancestor was an officer or enlisted personnel, and whether there was a pension application.

The approach to researching records of enlisted men and women, officers, and for the different branches of the military is described in this article: An Overview of Records at the National Archives Relating to Military Service.

Compiled Military Service Records for Volunteers:
When researching volunteers who served in the military for a particular war, start with the compiled military service records. Begin by searching the appropriate name indexes on the National Archives microfilm. If the compiled military service records have not been reproduced on microfilm, researchers may request to see the original records at the National Archives Building in Washington, D.C.

Regular Army:
Since the War Department did not compile military service records for those who served in the Regular Army, start your research with:
  • Enlisted Men - Regular Army Enlistment Papers, 1798-1894
  • Officers - Francis B. Heitman's Historical Register
  • Dictionary of the Unites States Army, From Its Organization, September 29, 1789, to March 2, 1903 (2 vols)

Bounty Land :
Many of the bounty land application files relating to Revolutionary War and War of 1812 service have been combined with the pension files. There is also a series of unindexed bounty land warrant applications based on service between 1812 and 1855, which includes disapproved applications based on Revolutionary War service. This series is arranged alphabetically by name of veteran.

Read more about beginning research in military records in the Prologue article, An Overview of Records at the National Archives Relating to Military Service.

How can I search the military records?

The National Archives holds Federal military service records in two repositories:

More Places to Look:

  • Regional Archives Microfilm Rooms
  • Note:   Individual military records are not online. However, there are some items available online:

    Obtaining Copies of Military Service Records

    For recent records, most veterans and their next-of-kin can obtain free copies of their DD Form 214 (Report of Separation) and other military and medical records several ways:

    Older military personnel records (generally prior to WWI) are on file at the National Archives and Records Administration, Old Military and Civil Records Branch (NWCTB), Washington, DC 20408. 

    • Service Records: Order online or use NATF Form 86.
    • Pension claim files for service from the American Revolution to pre-World War I and Bounty-land warrant applications for Federal military service before 1856:
      Order online or use NATF Form 85.

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