Posted in Archives and Libraries, Civil War, Family History Library, Indian Wars, Mexican War, Military, National Archives, Revolutionary War, War of 1812, Websites, World War 1, World War 2

Looking for military records? You are gonna like this!

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Want to find your ancestor in military records? Here is an efficient way to identify all military records on FamilySearch, and to narrow your search by collection. It is then easy to search within a single collection.

On the FamilySearch home screen click “Search” and then “Records” in the dropdown menu.

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Do NOT enter a name to search, but instead click on “Browse All Published Collections.”FamilySearch Military 2

The filtering options will appear on the left of the screen.  Click on “Military,” which as you can see currently has 141 collections.
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On the filitered list of military collections you can see at a glance which records have images attached (the camera icon), which records have images viewable on a partner site (the camera with the web screen behind it), when the collection was last updated (date), which collections have been indexed (number), and which collections have not yet been indexed but can still be viewed by browsing the images (browse images).

Notice you can also check the box for “Only collections with images” if that is what you want.
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Don’t be put off by the browsing options. Many collections have indexes as part of their original make-up, and you can access these by looking at the first or last images of the rolls that have been digitized. You might find just what you need among these “Browse images” collections.  And don’t forget—as indexers busily make their way through FamilySearch collections you may find these records indexed someday.

Now that you see how easy it is to access military records, utilize the filters to access other kinds of record groups and narrow results by locality or time period.  Once you find a collection you want to search you will see that the fields available are customized according to the collection, increasing your chances for success.

There are some terrific databases here, especially for Western States researchers.  I am excited to see the War of 1812 records becoming available for my eastern ancestors, but there are some key collections for those that ventured Out West.

Here is a small collection that I originally accessed via microfilm many years ago: “United States Old War Pension Index, 1815-1926.”  “Old Wars” include the Mexican War and the Indian Wars, so if you had ancestors who moved Out West the odds are good they participated in some military conflict or skirmish with Native Americans.  They may have only served for 3-6 months in a local conflict, but a record would have been created and they would have been eligible for a U.S. pension.  They even could have been a part of the Civil War in the western states, and there are some good Civil War records for Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, Texas (Confederate and Union), Oregon, and the Dakota Territory on FamilySearch.  For Utah there are also Territorial Militia Records and Indian War Service Affidavits.

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I found my great-great grandfather, Thomas Gooch in this very same Old War Pension Index before it was available digitally, and obtaining his pension file really launched my research.  I have posted images from that file elsewhere on this blog.  Here’s what a click on the database above and a search for Thomas Gooch will bring up:

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Notice the options to copy, print, add to source box, and share this record. There are also options to add it to your family tree, view the image, download the document, or copy and paste the source citation.  From this screen you can search the collection for other names, or access more detailed information about the collection, which I highly recommend. Try it and you will see why!

Clicking on “View the document” brings up this image:

Thomas Gooch pension index cardHere you will see application numbers and data that allowed me to order his pension file from the National Archives many moons ago.  But now I can do it all in my pajamas from home. I tried doing it in my pajamas at the Family History Library and they escorted me out. 😉


I am an Accredited Genealogist® professional living in California. I have been researching and teaching since 1988.

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