Introduction to Military Records at the National Archives
This year the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) will host a Virtual Genealogy Fair on September 3–4, 2013. As part of the planned programming, the Virtual Fair will include introductory sessions on civilian and military records at NARA that are useful for genealogical research. Military service, of course, represents one of the major aspects of family history. From 1775 to the mid-20th century, the United States engaged in numerous military conflicts, both internally and against foreign foes. These wars were fought by the U.S. military establishment, including the Regular Army, Navy, and Marine Corps, as well as by citizen volunteers in State and local militias called into Federal service. In the lecture “Introduction to Military Records at the National Archives,” Genealogy Specialist John Deeben will explain various records that document military service from the Revolutionary War to Vietnam.
Focusing primarily on research in the Washington, DC area, the “Introduction to Military Records” examines how NARA’s military holdings are divided into two main periods: “Old” Military (1775–1912) and “Modern” Military (World War I and later). The “Old Military” records cover Volunteer and Regular Army service from the Revolutionary War (1775–83) to the Philippine Insurrection (1899–1902), including border disputes (The Patriot War) and the Old Indian Wars (1784–1858). During this period, Volunteer and Regular service were documented very differently. Beginning in the 1890s, the War Department gathered or transcribed information about state volunteers from various wars, using records created during those conflicts such as muster and payrolls, hospital registers, and prisoner of war rolls. The end result was a “compiled” service file for each veteran that also contained other personal papers held by the War Department, including extra copies of enlistment and discharge papers, orders, subsistence accounts, and sometimes correspondence. For the Regular military (Army, Navy, and Marine Corps), however, the War Department maintained a variety of formal recruiting records, including the Army Register of Enlistments and Navy rendezvous reports. Regardless of the type of service (Regular or Volunteer), pension records from the Revolutionary War to the Philippine Insurrection provide additional information about the veterans’ service as well as his family.
“Modern” Military records generally cover service during the 20th century from World War I to the First Gulf War (Operation Desert Storm) in 1991. The lecture explains the general availability of official military personnel folders at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis (the Virtual Fair will also include a more detailed lecture on the NPRC’s civilian and military holdings), but focuses specifically on the military unit and operational records for each 20th-century conflict that are available for research at College Park. If you know what regiment or division a relative served in during World War I or II, for example, you can learn about the activities those units engaged in during combat in such records as unit histories, war diaries, and operational and command reports. Unit histories from the Korean War and division and brigade records (but very few company-level records) for the Vietnam War are also available. As an added bonus, an overview of draft registration records from World War I to Vietnam is also included in the presentation. For a unique opportunity to learn how to research military service at the National Archives, tune in to “Introduction to Military Records” on day one of the fair, September 3!