Top 10 Tips for Researching Your Ancestors’ Military Service 

Top 10 Tips for Researching Your Ancestors’ Military Service 

Throughout your ancestors’ lives it is likely that they or a family member served in the military. With Remembrance Day in the U.K. and Veterans Day in the U.S. on November 11th, now is the perfect time to research and celebrate the heroic stories of your ancestors.

Military records can provide valuable insights into the lives of your ancestors. Some records can also provide vital record information and even data on those who didn’t serve, but were related to the ancestor. Many military records can be found online. MyHeritage’s military collections, for example, offer 683 collections and a combined 67 million records from all over the world!

After doing your online searches of military collections, here are my recommendations of some often overlooked strategies and sources for researching your ancestors’ military service:

  1. Determine Military Service, Rank, and Division: This is probably the most important  search data needed to get started with military records. You may need to get creative…  interview relatives, search for newspaper articles, etc.
  2. Interview Relatives: You may gain information as to your military ancestors’ service by  interviewing relatives. Use email, Zoom calls, or the telephone and try to extract as much  information as you can from living relatives. Perhaps they have additional paperwork, or a treasured relic of a family member’s service.
  3. Check Newspaper Articles: Find various details about the individual’s military service using historical newspapers. Look for draft notices, enlistment  lists, and roll of honor listings, as well as articles about your ancestor and their military service. Search MyHeritage’s newspaper collections
  4. Check Yearbooks for Military Service Enlistments: During World Wars I and II, if high school students were serving in the military, very often there might be a special section listing their names, military branch, and area of service. Search MyHeritage’s yearbook collections
  5. Check Family Photos: Are you sitting on old family photos depicting servicemen and servicewomen? Scan the images and examine the uniform worn, any service medals and ribbons, etc. You can even use MyHeritage’s photo tools to see if you can uncover some additional details. Learn more in Using Photos to Discover More About Your Ancestors
  6. Volunteer Military Service: Did your ancestor sign up for a state militia or volunteer with the National Guard? Peacetime service also produced many military records. Remember to also check on the state level for these records. 
  7. Research Military Reunions: Starting with the U.S. Civil War, groups of veterans  would meet on a regular basis. Groups like the Grand Army of the Republic would  publish meeting records including yearbooks.
  8. Are They the Right Age to Serve? Often genealogists think an ancestor served in a  specific military conflict, when actually they were too young or too old to have served. Use the Ages of Servicemen in Wars chart via FamilySearch Wiki. 
  9. Understand Available Resources: Use this downloadable list of resources on the MyHeritage Knowledge Base to determine what military records exist and how they can be accessed. Understand the formation of branches of service, i.e. the U.S. Air Force was part of the U.S. Army prior to 1947. 
  10. Request military records from a government agency. After finding military records online, you may want to also look at the original record. In fact, many online military records provide information on how to locate the original record. For example, in the U.S. you can make a request pertaining to military records with the National Archives. NARA will only send selected pages they believe are pertinent to the military service. You may need to file a further request for the ENTIRE FILE. 

Thomas MacEntee is a genealogy professional who’s also a blogger, educator, author, social media connector, marketer, network builder and more. He is the founder and CEO of GENEALOGY BARGAINS, an incredible website and family history community where you can find out about the latest genealogy and DNA bargains, attend free webinars, and get free stuff!  Thomas specializes in using technology and social media to improve genealogy research and to connect with the family history community.