Military records are a valuable source of genealogical information—one of the best! Military service records, bounty land files, and pension files are some of the more commonly used in this record group, but don’t stop there. Draft cards, discharge papers, prisoner of war records, veteran cemeteries, soldier homes, and veteran/lineage societies can be rich resources for the researcher.
Do you know if your ancestor served in the military? The FamilySearch Wiki provides an Ages of Servicemen table to help determine this. From this table I created the Table of Wars – Ages of Servicemen downloadable cheatsheet with a timeline of wars servicemen might have been involved with, according to their birth dates at the time of the conflict. This is a table for wars the United States was a part of, but since most of these wars involved foreign countries, it can be a helpful tool for your foreign-born ancestors, as well.
We tend to think of wartime service for veterans, but don’t forget that men and women served in peacetime, too. Use this cheatsheet to determine if your ancestor might have been part of a military conflict, and then check the FamilySearch Wiki for search strategies specific to each war.
Using the online eVetRecs at the National Archives website http://www.archives.gov/veterans/ I ordered a World War I service record for my grandfather, Allen Lee Millard Gooch. I knew my chances of getting a file were slim because in 1973 a fire at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, Missouri, destroyed 16-18 million Official Military Personnel Files (OMPF), including 80% of personnel discharged 1 Nov 1912-1 Jan 1960.
Indeed, I received a reply to my request that said my requested records were part of the 1973 fire. I was sad. Then, amazingly, I received a thick packet with much, or possibly all, of my grandfather’s file with copies of the “burned” records! Here is a page:
This record–an “Application for Certificate in Lieu of Lost or Destroyed Discharge Certificate”–proves that you never know just where you will find some of the best information. This record provides us with:
Place/date of enlistment and discharge
City and State of birth
Approximate birth year
Probable residence after discharge
This is only one of many pages in this record, and the others are equally interesting. I may post some more soon.
This record also proves you should never give up just because you are told a repository burned. Yes, the records burned, but hey—not entirely!! Let’s hear it for the 42 fire districts that responded to the alarm and battled the blaze for 2 days.
I received an unexpected bonus one day when a box containing replacement medals for my grandfather’s WWI service arrived in the mail: A Purple Heart, a WWI Victory Medal, and a medal for his participation in the battles of Meuse-Argonne and St. Mihiel. What a treasure! I will post photos soon.
[This is 13th in a series of letters written by Private A.L. Gooch to his family in Duncan Arizona, while a part of the American Occupation Forces in Germany after WWI. This letter was written 27 Dec 1918, and it appears Pvt. Gooch has fallen victim to the great flu pandemic of 1918-1919. This pandemic is estimated to have killed an estimated 50 million people—a fifth of the world’s population. To put this further in perspective, WWI had 37.5 million casualties, including 8.5 million deaths, which is an incredible number, but 6 times as many people died of the flu in 1918-1919. It is said that the virus struck so fast and so violently a person could be stricken and die within hours.
Original letters are in possession of Dayna Gooch Jacobs, King City, California. Envelope missing. Transcribed by Dayna Jacobs. Slashes in the transcription indicate line breaks. Links to other letters: 123456789 1011 12]
American Red Cross
On active service with the American Expeditionary Force
Will try and write/ you a few lines, and am/ proud I am able to write./ I taken the Influenza the/ 10th of Dec. have been in/ the hospital every since and/ have had quite a time./ But am feeling better/ now. Think I will be up/ in afew day and go back/ to my Co. where there must/ be lots of mail awaiting/ me and sure am anxious/ to get it. havent had a/
[p2] letter in some time./ Well I supose you all / had a wounderfull time/ xmas. you know how/ well I would like to have/ been with you. But my/ Xmas wasnt so bad at that,/ if I did lay in bed all day/ and wish. We had a very/ nice Turkey dinner. and/ that night the nurse gave/ us all a sock full of / choclets, candy and nuts, so you see it wasnt bad. I think I would have died/ had it not been for the/ nurses. they sure treat you/ fine bring me milk, and hot choclelete most every day. I dont know if I can get/
[p3] well or not for this isnt/ a bad place to stay. All I hate I am afraid I wont/ get fat again before I/ go home. ha, ha.
Well this is quite a town/ heare. I can hear the street-/ cars and the trains every/ day. it seams almost real/ again. Will send you a card or two.
Well, there is not much news/ We’ll be home some time sure.
[This is 12th in a series of letters written by Private A.L. Gooch to his family in Duncan Arizona, while he served in France during WWI. This letter was written sometime in 1918, but is otherwise undated.
Original letters are in possession of Dayna Gooch Jacobs, King City, California. Envelope missing. Transcribed by Dayna Jacobs. Slashes in the transcription indicate line breaks. Links to other letters: 123456789 1011]
At first chance I am writting you a few/ lines to let you / know I am still/ living and enjoying/ life. There is many things I would like/ to say. And probly can/ latter. I have been/ very sick for the past/ few days with a cold/ in my lungs. But/feel fine now./ Well I am still seeing/ sights and enjoying/ them very much. This/ is a very pretty world/ Continue reading ““…I dont have time to get loansome…””→