Did My Ancestor Serve in WWI?

New Blog Post

In the past, I answered that question by recommending searching for information at home, searching through the U.S. Army Transport Records that documented a veteran’s trip overseas, consulting state service abstracts or contacting the National Personnel Records Center.

Now, one of the most helpful sets of records to answer that question has come online. It is the U.S. Veterans Administration Master Index from NARA’s Records of the Veterans Administration [VA] (Record Group 15).

So, gather up the list of possible candidates. Having a residence and a birth date may help you narrow down the search for ancestors with common names.

You will need a free account on FamilySearch to access these records. If you do not already use FamilySearch, you will be glad to find out about what it has to offer. The link to search the collection is United States, Veterans Administration Master Index, 1917-1940.

Family Search search page for U.S. Veterans Administration Master Index

Enter your ancestor’s name.

Searching example

Look through the search results to look for your ancestor. (Pay attention to the residence; the military service location (St. Louis) is related to where the records were stored.)

result for example search

The small document icon is used to “view the record details.”

The small camera icon on the right means that you can view an image of the record.

Search result

Clicking on “view the original document takes you to the image viewer, you can view and download it.

The image viewer screen

From this image, I know the first military organization in which Joseph F. McMahon served. An important piece of information is his military service number, which is helpful when the veteran has a common name.- His birth and death dates, as well as his enlistment and discharge dates.

C is the Claim Number assigned when an application was made for a service connected disability, pension, and education and training.

An “A” number shows that this veteran was eligible for the Adjusted Compensation paid to veterans based on their WWI service.

T Indicates that the veteran had War Risk Insurance during WWI.

CT  Shows the certificate number assigned by service departments with the World War I Bonus.

Learn more about these records at Family Search search page for U.S. Veterans Administration Master Index.

Learn more about the letter codes at NARA’s Key to Codes & Prefixes.

When you find an ancestor who served in WWI, you can begin to research his service. Check out our other WWI blog posts by using the Search Box and entering WWI.

Learn more about our book on this website or at Amazon Researching Your U.S. WWI Army Ancestors.

The U.S. Military Records That Never Burned

No, NOT all the WWI and WWII military records for your ancestor were burned!

We often hear the misinformation and read many posts on Facebook claiming that all the military records burned. This post will help shed light on just a few of the records about your ancestor’s service that are still available.

We have already blogged about the Official Military Personnel Files OMPFs beginning here, and hope you had a chance to read about them. From that post you will have learned that Navy and Marine Corps personnel files from WWI and WWII were not burned in the NPRC fire.

It is important to know there were original records that were never in the OMPFs, and so, they were NEVER BURNED. These records were part of the paperwork generated by military organizations, and were kept separately from the individual personnel records. The individual personnel records were actually constructed by using these original records.

This blog post covers some great examples of records that could help you understand your ancestor’s military experience: Rosters/Musters and Morning Reports. For military ancestors who died while in service, there are WWI Death Files and WWII Individual Death Personnel Files (IDPF).

Muster Rolls and Rosters

These records contain information about service members who were in an organization, so you can place your ancestor with an organization at a specific time. These are lists of the members of an organization during a specific time period (or at a specified time such as the last day of the month). They shows who was sick in hospital, who was “lost” to the organization by transfer, and to where they were transferred, who was “gained” by the organization through transfer, and who was attached. By piecing these together, a service member can be tracked.

Browsable images of WWI muster rolls and rosters are available online at the FamilySearch website. You need to know the military organization for the service member because these are not searchable. United States, World War I, military muster rolls and rosters, 1916-1939 (The filmstrips are available at the National Personnel Record Center (NPRC) in St. Louis, MO.)

Morning Reports

These reports cover the day-by-day details of an Army organization, giving a brief summary of the status of the men and animals in the organization.

The front of the morning reports contain columns that record the counts of officers, enlisted men and animals. On the back, brief notations were made naming the soldiers who transferred in, transferred out, transferred to a hospital or were sick. Notes were made of soldiers who were loaned out to other organizations, who were promoted, where and how far they traveled, courts martial, and disciplinary actions.

Like any other diary, this will give context to your military ancestor’s service even when his name is not mentioned.

These records are available at the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC). The U.S. Navy has Ship’s Logs, which rarely mention individuals. Learn more about Ship’s Logs here.

WWI Death Files / WWII Individual Death Personnel Files (IDPF)

For service members who died while in service, a death file will exist. In WWI, these are Death Files; in WWII they were called Individual Death Personnel Files (IDPF). These files are truly individual, as the contents will vary for each case. Each should contain the circumstances of the service member’s death. If the ancestor died in combat, there will generally be a description of how he died, compiled from available witnesses.

For an ancestor who went overseas, the file will contain correspondence with the next-of-kin to establish whether to ship the service member’s remains back to the United States, or bury him in an overseas military cemetery. In the file for a WWI service member who was buried overseas, there may be information about a Gold Star trip sponsored by the government to allow mothers and wives to visit the grave of their fallen soldier in Europe. If the service member was originally classified as missing in action, the file may contain information about how the remains were identified.

Although these files exist for those who died during service stateside, typically these files contain less information that for those who died in combat.

These records can be requested from the NPRC, however, NARA is prioritizing the digitization of WWI files and making them online. Record Group 92, Series: Correspondence, Reports, Telegrams, Applications, and Other Papers Relating to Burials of Service Personnel, 1/1/1915 – 12/31/1939 are searchable here.

Burial Cards

For service members who died while in service, a burial card will exist. The burial card contains information about where the service member was interred, and where the remains had been relocated. (To learn more, read the blog post Researching Soldiers Who Died During World War I.)

The family of the soldier below chose to have his remains stay in Europe, in the American Battle Monuments Commission Meuse-Argonne Cemetery. NARA Archivists have reported not yet finding where the photographs are stored that are referenced on the cards.

Record Group 92, Series: Card Register of Burials of Deceased American Soldiers, 1917 – 1922. The 104 sets of digitized cards can be browsed from here.

Know that only the personnel records for Army and Air Force service members were involved in the fire, and that even those ancestors still live in the unburned pages of the military records.

National Archives Virtual Genealogy Fair 2019

Are you looking for an easy way to learn about using the National Archives? Would you like to know more about researching your genealogy at NARA?

The 2019 National Archives Virtual Genealogy Fair has come and gone, but the videos have been posted on YouTube, and the handouts are still available. You can learn directly from NARA personnel in the videos and have the handouts for reference. This year’s topics are the History Hub, Preserving Personal Collections, Immigration Records, WWI Navy and Marine Corps Records, Indian Affairs School Records and The Homestead Act.

Check out the 2019 National Archives Virtual Genealogy Fair webpage for the topics and links to the videos and handouts. You can follow the links on that page to watch presentations from the day on YouTube.

If you want to head straight to the presentations on YouTube, you can use this link.

Consider taking the time to fill out the Event Evaluation Form to let NARA know how much you appreciate this Virtual Genealogy Fair.

While you are there, follow the links to check out the presentations and handouts for the previous years, too. There are links for the genealogy fairs going back to 2010.

Civil War Pensions

(This is Part 1 of the blog post. Part 2 appears on the Twisted Twigs for Genealogy Blog.)

So many people ask us in person, or post in Facebook groups: “Where do I go to find more about my ancestor’s military service?”. The short answer is that the records you need are at branches of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), but how you get access to them can make a difference.

In this blog post, we outline the process of requesting a Civil War Pension, and what to do if NARA replies that the Pension file is not available at NARA Archives 1 in Washington, D.C.

Perhaps you have found some evidence of your ancestor’s service in the Civil War on in family history, Fold3, Ancestry or FamilySearch. If that ancestor filed for a pension, or his widow or minor children did, you may find some useful and important genealogical data in that pension application.

(Note: The approved pension applications of widows and other dependents of Civil War veterans who served between 1861 and 1910 are available on Fold3 but are only 21% complete. Digitization has been halted due to concerns about handling these fragile files.

Pensions may contain a wealth of genealogical information. The veteran (or dependent) had to provide the story of the veteran’s service, and describe the wounds or ailments that had caused the veteran to be unable to support himself. Relationships had to be documented, so you might find marriage, birth and death dates of family members. There are often written statements from fellow veterans who served with him and witnessed his injuries. There could be doctor’s evaluations.

It is important to find the Pension Index Card (shown below) before ordering a pension. Be sure to save the image of the whole card when you find it. Pension Indexes can be found at Ancestry, Fold3 or on FamilySearch. FamilySearch is a free site for family historians, and the images for the pension can be found by searching the database: United States General Index to Pension Files, 1861-1934.

In the card below, the multiple military organizations in which the veteran served are listed. The Certificate Number indicates that a pension was awarded.

If you cannot find a Pension Index Card, it is most likely because that the veteran did not apply a pension. In those days, the pensions were not automatically given to veterans. A veteran, or widow or minor, had to demonstrate that they could not work and did not have income to survive.

1. When you have obtained the Pension Index Card, you can submit a request to NARA online using:

SF 180, Request Pertaining to Military Records

Or NARA Form 85

Please head over to the Twisted Twigs Blog for the second part of this post. It contains information about your options to get a Civil War Pension File and some of the challenges you might face.

7th Generation Detroit Family Historian and NARA Records Retrieval Expert, Deidre Erin Denton of Twisted Twigs Genealogy and Margaret McMahon, author of “Researching Your U.S. WWI Army Ancestors, have teamed up for a series of blog posts to show you the path to researching the military records for WWI, WWII the Korean War and more at NARA. Because of your connection to your ancestor, you are the best teller of his story, and with these records you can write and share a very personal military history.

NARA Record Retrieval: Interview with Deidre Erin Denton of Twisted Twigs on Gnarled Branches

Twisted Twigs on Gnarled Branches Webpage

Twisted Twigs On Gnarled Branches Genealogy has been changing the way researchers receive documents held by the National Archives. It is a NARA Record Retrieval Service. They perform access to records held at Archive 1 (Washington D.C.), Archive 2 (College Park, Maryland), the National Archives in St. Louis, Missouri, and the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC). Since NARA and the NPRC have been working to restore many of the Army or Air Force service record veteran’s military records that were “lost” in the 1973 Fire, Twisted Twigs can help you find out if your ancestor’s record is among them.

We recently had a chance to ask the Owner of Twisted Twigs Genealogy National Archives Record Retrieval Services, Deidre Erin Denton, about how NARA records can help your genealogical research and why a data retrieval service may be a good choice to access these records.

 

Why should genealogists consider using the National Archives?

The National Archives is perceived to be mainly a source of broad historical government information rather than containing the more personal kind of information usually sought by genealogists. However, the history of our country is made up of the history of our people – the records held at NARA were created by and for those people, and can hold an incredible amount of personal information that’s often overlooked. It also holds records that can flesh out the story of our ancestors in addition to the dry facts of dates and places that are the bedrock of family history research. To truly understand the stories of our ancestors, we also need to look at the broader world in which they lived. NARA holds a fantastic amount of information that can help to do that.

 

When does it make sense for a genealogist to hire a data retrieval service at NARA locations?

The most satisfying ideal would be for everyone to have the ability to do their own hands-on work in the Archives. However, that’s not always possible; when someone has a limited budget for research and records just the costs of a trip to the Archive can cut into that budget drastically. Each Archive facility has different holdings, so factoring in multiple destinations to obtain complete sets of records puts it out of reach for many people. Additionally, navigating the vast collections at the Archive can be overwhelming for someone unfamiliar with them. This is where professional help can be invaluable.

The type of professional help available for NARA records is usually either a traditional research firm or a record retrieval firm. The two services are often conflated, but in reality, each primarily performs a very different type of service with just a bit of overlap. A research firm is typically more expensive and can be a good fit for someone who needs extensive research help. Research firms usually include additional services as well, such as organizing all the information into a polished narrative package for you. By contrast, retrieval services focus on copying specific records based on information you provide; expect to pay considerably less for this service, but don’t expect them to perform extensive in-depth research for you.

Hiring a professional should be considered when you need a way to get records that will push your own research further along and allow you to obtain documents that aren’t otherwise easily available to you. Hire a retrieval service when you generally know what kind of information you want, you have solid research information to begin the search, and you want to get the maximum record value for the money you spend. A professional retriever can cut straight to the most valuable records and usually obtain them faster and with greater accuracy. Great ones can also suggest other records of interest based on their experience in the Archives and help you sort out incorrect information as well.

 

How do you recommend that someone chooses a data retrieval service?

Find an established company that specializes in the type of records you seek and works regularly in the repository where the records are held; they’ll have the best success rate at locating records because they already know the ‘tips and tricks’ of the collections.  Solicit recommendations from a variety of people, including other professionals. Remember that no company will satisfy every client because in genealogy research each client has different needs and different expectations. Don’t stop at happy or unhappy – ask for details on why a person thinks a company is good or bad. If they are unhappy solely because a company provided records that proved a treasured family legend was false, that’s a company you still want to consider hiring. Finally,  look for a company which will provide everything you need without excess fees for services that don’t benefit or interest you.

 

What is the most exciting find you have made at the National Archives?

So many it’s difficult to pick one.  It’s really a privilege to handle all these original records. A favorite truly exciting find is an original Walt Disney cel drawing tucked into a unit history folder and forgotten for decades. It was created as a ‘mascot’ for the 56th Signal Battalion. As soon as I pulled it out, the archivists allowed me to photograph it then whisked it away to be placed in the preservation vault due to its value. It was not something I ever expected to see in a military unit history file.

 

You have great genealogy memes on Facebook. Where do you get your ideas?

They come straight from real life experience. I inherited a both a love of family history research and a wicked sense of humor from my family. I’ve been doing research since I was very young, so I’ve seen all the bizarre kinds of things that can happen when you look for ancestors. Sooner or later every genealogist will run across similar situations; sometimes all you can do is either laugh or cry, and I’d rather laugh. It’s great to have such a lot of people in the Twisted Twigs community who both understand the problems and appreciate the jokes. I love sharing my passion for genealogy with them!

 

You can find out more about the records and service offered by Twigs On Gnarled Branches Genealogy on their website Twisted Twigs On Gnarled Branches Genealogy. While there, you can read “Testimonials & Kudos” from satisfied customers at https://twistedtwigsgenealogy.com/kudos. You can also check out the blog on the website, including “Happy New Years! Time to Tally Up Your Family Tree for 2019“.

Twisted Twigs posts, memes and advertisements of current specials can be found on their Facebook page: Twisted Twigs On Gnarled Branches Genealogy.

They can also be found on Twitter and Instagram.

Twisted Twigs is currently having a Shutdown Sale with special offers on Pre-1917 Pensions and 20th century OMPF files. It will end the day the archive reopens. The Twisted Twigs Swag Shop has all kinds of wearable funny genealogical goodies is always open.

 

Deidre Erin Denton is a well-seasoned genealogist who has worked with clients since 2005, and who specializes in National Archives record retrieval in Washington DC, College Park, MD, and in St. Louis, MO. She believes at all researchers should have affordable access to NARA records. Twisted Twigs started offering NARA record retrieval services in the summer of 2015 and record retrieval services at The National Personnel Records Center in Saint Louis (WWI/WWII/Korean War military records/ Personnel Files) in June 2016. As of July 2018, Twisted Twigs has retrieved over 2300 military pensions and 3500+ service records in 42 months.

NARA’s History Hub

Have you used the History Hub at the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)?

Who better to ask about NARA Records than NARA itself!

The History Hub is a place on the web where you can visit and ask questions in different communities at NARA. Do you have a question about finding military records or want to learn more about a topic? Then one of the related communities might be a place to look for information that has been posted, or post a question of your own.

To view content and ask questions, you will need to register for a free account.

If you want to be able to post questions and make the most of the History Hub, you will need to register for an account. Select Register in the upper right corner of the webpage. The first step is to provide an email address.

After you enter your email address, and select Confirm address, you get a message in your browser.


If you do not see an email from the History Hub soon after the request, be sure to check your email spam folder. Sometimes emails can be automatically marked as spam.

Follow the directions to confirm your email address and fill in a short registration. You are led to pick a username and a strong password for your account. Be sure to read the hints about what characters need to be in the password.

There are different communities, each with its own manager. You can search for information about a topic, or ask a question. Inside the community, you can find Featured Content.

So, do you have questions about a topic you have been researching? Do you wonder if NARA has any records related to the topic? This is the place where you can ask. A NARA staff member will answer your questions. Other researchers may also share their insights about the topic, too.

For example, I was interested to know which records NARA had about Base Hospital 37 during WWI. I had an answer in a day, telling me what records were available and where they could be found. There were two records groups with information about this Base Hospital, 120 and 112, and the reply included information about which boxes to access. My next step would be to email the archivist and get further guidance about their availability.

When you make a post, it will be reviewed by the moderators. You will receive an email letting you know when your comment or question has been approved and is visible to the community. You will also receive an email when someone replies to your post.

From your profile, you can add a photo or select to view your content. Selecting Your Content shows the posts you have made.

Another great place to post a request for help is the “Researchers Help” Community.


When you view a post, you have options to follow, bookmark, share or like the post.

So, get onto the History Hub and see what answers and resources await you!