Locate a Military Service and Pension File

There are two areas to check if you believe your ancestor served at any time in the United States military forces; whether Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, Marine Corps, etc. First, would be the military records, including any draft or enlistment papers. The second area is military pension files. This monetary pension came years later after his service. This second source really can be far more valuable for the data it provides.

Within the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) in Washington, DC is the military pension applications and records for not only the military veteran but also their widow and heirs. The Archives holds the actual pension application filled out by your ancestor who served in the U. S. Armed Forces between 1775 and June 1917. Pensions were first applied for by veterans of the American Revolution with the 1776 pension law which gave half-pay to soldiers disabled during the war and unable to work. This would include volunteers, regular army, and southern Confederate veterans. With the application can be pages of supporting documents provided by the veteran. Those papers can be a treasure chest for the family historian. There is a web site with directions for ordering a complete copy. Some of those pension records can be quite lengthy because all types of proof and written documents were required to get a pension.

Military service records are available to family members of veterans. The records can be ordered online using: eVetRecs, their online request system at the St. Louis, Missouri military records archives. However, a great tragedy befell the NPRC on July 12, 1973. A massive fire swept through the building destroying over 17 million military records. Army veterans discharged between November 1, 1912 to January 1, 1960; nearly 80% of those records were lost. For Air Force personal discharged between September 25, 1947 to January 1, 1964 and with surnames beginning after the letters “Hub” to “Z” were nearly 75% destroyed. At that point in time, there were no microfilmed copies, backup documents or indexes to help rebuilt the vast repository. The NPRC in St. Louis still is a source of military service records that have been added or survived the fire but not pension records.

To see further what military files are available at the St. Louis facility scroll further on the National Archives page to see details.

Another resource is if your male ancestor was born between 1870s and 1900, they would have had to register with the US Draft Registration between 1917-1918 (World War One). A good source is FamilySearch.org with about 23 million records. They didn’t have to be born in America, so this is a good location to find information on a recent immigrant ancestor. Also, it did not mean they were called into military service. The federal government just needed a complete listing of available men to call if it became necessary. This registration is great for learning if the ancestor had any disabilities.

Remember to check for any females who joined a military branch, especially from 1918 to the present day.

Photos: Airmen in WW 2; Spanish-American war record; and 1918 WW One Draft registration;

Related FamilyTree.com Blogs:

Military Exemptions

American Revolutionary Rolls

Korean War

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