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Family Tree Friday: Vital Statistics in Military Records

by on May 21, 2010

In a previous blog post, my colleague Katherine talked about vital statistics that sometimes show up in federal records.  I thought it might be worthwhile to point out that, under specific circumstances, vital records were also intentionally created by the government, particularly the U.S. military.  In our vast collection of records relating to 19th-century military forts–all part of Record Group 393, Records of United States Army Continental Commands (1821-1920)–there appear a number of registers compiled by post chaplains who documented major life events–births, marriages, and deaths–that occurred at specific forts.  Army post chaplains, of course, were on hand to oversee the spiritual well-being of the fort personnel, and in that capacity they performed all necessary religious ceremonies, including baptisms, weddings, and funerals.  In some remote frontier locations, they were the only ordained personnel available, and so their records sometimes included information about civilians from neighboring communities as well.

Chaplain book from Ft. Custer, Montana, 1880-1897.

Chaplain book from Ft. Custer, Montana, 1880-1897.

In RG 393, registers of births, marriages, and deaths are available for almost two dozen military forts, ranging in location from Alabama in the east, to California, Arizona, and Washington State along the Pacific coast.  Some of the more well-known posts that have chaplain books include Fort Leavenworth, Kansas (ARC ID 1012583), Fort Hays, Kansas (ARC ID 894833), Fort Snelling, Minnesota (ARC ID 1184593), Fort Custer Montana (ARC ID 657852), and Fort Union, New Mexico (ARC ID 301919).  You can find descriptions of chaplain books in the Archival Research Catalog by searching the terms births, marriages, or deaths.


John May 27, 2010 at 9:40 am

When I wrote this blog post I should have also mentioned that the Fall 2009 issue of Prologue (the quarterly publication of the National Archives) featured an article about 19th-century U.S. military post records. You can locate the article on NARA’s web site at

Richard Upton December 28, 2012 at 12:30 pm

I am looking for information on Fort Custer, Montana 1877-1898. Monthly Record of Events and Post Returns, Chaplin’s Book and photographs. Can you help me? Thanks in advance.
Richard Upton

Kristen (admin) December 28, 2012 at 2:24 pm

Hi Richard,
The Register of Births, Baptisms, Marriages, Deaths, and Interments for Fort Custer, Montana can be found at our Washington, DC Archives building. Though the full record is not available online, you can review the catalog entry here. To learn more, please contact the Archives I Reference Section at You can also reach them by mail or phone at:

Textual Archives Services Division
National Archives Building
7th and Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC, 20408
PHONE: 202-357-5385
FAX: 202-357-5936

Thanks, and good luck with your research!

Richard Upton December 28, 2012 at 4:38 pm

Thanks, Kristen. It looks like I came to the right place.
Happy New Year!

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