Where Do I Find Out About My Ancestor’s Military Service? The OMPF!

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

So many people ask me 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.

Undoubtedly you have seen the military records offered on Ancestry or Fold3. These may be rosters, muster rolls or ship’s manifests that show where and when an ancestor was associated with a military organization. You might find summaries of a ancestor’s service, which reveal a few more details, like the various ranks he held and when he served overseas. In a few cases, you might find other reports if your ancestor was a downed airmen or was one of the engineers in WWI who wrote an officer experience reports.

As much as we treasure these bits of information, these records are little more than tick marks to put on a timeline of your ancestor’s military life; they really are only the tip of the iceberg. Rather than being a destination, any record we find in online databases we should consider merely our ticket to learning  so much more.

For each WWI, WWII or Korean War service member, there is an Official Military Records File (OMPF). The OMPF contains not just the context but the details of all aspects of an ancestor’s time in the service. It includes the schools, commendations, hospitalization, transfers, transportation and all the details of a military life. Every part of an active duty military life is copied over and incorporated into one file.

The OMPF contains an actual book summarizing your ancestor’s time in the military, a Service Record. The Service Record contains 24 to 28 pages full of information such as immunizations he received, what schools he attended, awards and commendations he received, enlistment information, beneficiary information, records of courts martial (if applicable) , comments about his character and efficiency rating.

In the OMPF, there is also a Report of Separation which is a summary of the whole time an ancestor was in service. There are reports of physical exams prior to discharge (or retirement), medical and dental records including when he visited the dispensary (doctor’s office). The Report of Medical History includes health history about his family. Other highlights of the OMPF are Commissioning documents (for officers), special orders for transfers or promotions, and records of leave that was taken, and the address where he went. If the service member had been a military cadet, there would be an application, birth certificate, school transcripts, letters of recommendation.

There may be a complication in finding these files, but the records that were used to build them still exist!

Were all the OMPFs burned in the 1973 fire in St. Louis?

NO!

No Navy or Marine Corps OMPFs were burned.

Of the 80% of the Army and Air Force OMPFs that were burned, some files are being restored. It is always worth checking with NARA in case your ancestor’s file is one of those.

If the OMPF is truly unavailable, then a researcher has to consult the original records that were used to build the OMPF. These are the records that are held in a variety of NARA record groups that include information about all the service members of an organization. The researcher then needs to pull out information that either names the ancestor or applies to the ancestor’s service.  In future posts, we will cover the record sets at NARA locations that are most useful to researchers learning about their ancestor’s military service history.

Researcher gather the material

Please head over to the Twisted Twigs Blog for the second part of this post. It contains information about your options to get an OMPF, or a reconstructed OMPF.

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 and the Korean War 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.

RootsTech 2019 Videos and Handouts

Rootstech 2019 is over and if you did not make it, you can still be inspired by viewing some of the videos and all of the handouts at the link below. It is great that Rootstech lets us all be a part of it.


Videos for some sessions can be viewed here.


The handouts (syllabi) for the sessions can be viewed and downloaded here.

7 Categories for Genealogical Goals

7 Categories for Genealogy GoalsI

t’s a New Year!

For many, each new year comes with resolutions. These are typically about health and well being. How about some for genealogy? Since we are at the end of January, you need only do 11 to cover the rest of the year.

The first step is to define your current genealogical goals. You might be looking into one branch of the family, trying to find immigrants place of origin or make progress on a lineage society application.  

Make a list of your goal for each month.

To organize your efforts, and keep track of what you did and did not find, consider using a Research Log. You can learn more about them at the Family Search Wiki https://www.familysearch.org/wiki/en/Research_Logs or even take view an online class about them https://www.familysearch.org/ask/learningViewer/45.

Once you have made a list of your goals, consider how large each is. For larger goals, you will probably want to divide them into subgoals for a month and choose from one category to complete.  

Research shows we have greater success with smaller goals than larger ones, do here are some suggestions for categories of goals:

1. Write. Document your own life. Collect the documents that prove who you are and your relationships. Compiling a timeline of your life events would be great.

Or choose to write about an ancestor you have researched. Include all the data you have found and all the family stories. Writing about an ancestor gives a product to share with your family. It also sheds light on the gaps in your research.

2. DNA. Spend some time thinking about the use of DNA in your genealogical research. Consider taking a DNA test. There are definitely privacy concerns that you will want to consider. If you decide to test, consider getting family members on both your maternal and paternal sides. 

If you have already taken a test, do something to organize your matches.  For those who tested at Ancestry.com, the manual Leeds method may help. There are a large number of automated clustering tools to investigate.

3. Learning. Learn about an ethnic group and its migration and records. Learn about using a set of records or a subscription service. Learn about genealogical research in a state or county. There is a lot to learn, so there may be different learning goals over the year. Remember that the best way to retain what we have learned is to apply what you learn as soon after the class  as you can.  

Classes about many topics can be found on FamilySearch Learning Center.

Some Legacy Family Tree Webinars are free for a week after they are originally aired. They offer subscriptions, and individual webinars can be purchased.

Ancestry.com has a YouTube video channel to learn about research techniques and find out about their new collections. 

Search YouTube for videos about topics that relate to your research. There are classes and lectures. There are videos about genealogy tools and how to use them. There are tours of locations. Depending on your cable provider, you may find that you have access to YouTube on a channel. While the YouTube interface on FIOS is awkward, watching the video on a larger TV screen can be good.

4. Podcasts. Do you listen to genealogy podcasts? Have you searched iTunes for new genealogy podcasts? I never miss an episode of The Genealogy Guys Podcast. There are a bunch of others out there to enjoy!

5. Gather. Go to a genealogical event in person. This could be a meeting of a local society or a regional or national conference.

6. What’s at the Library? You can visit and ask. Most libraries have a website where you can find out what resources they access. You might find that your library card can unlock HeritageQuest, Fold3 or other resources for home use. The Library Edition of Ancestry.com usually requires you go to the library to use it. Also look for libraries in your ancestors’ regions. 

7. An Electronic Family Tree. Think of it as organizational step. It is great to have all the paper, but having it all electronically lets you print out forms and reports more easily. Capture data, scans of records and images you find in this electronic family tree. Decide if you want a tree on your own computer or online. You might want both, so look at software that synchronizes the trees. Needless to say, this will probably be a larger project, so set up subgoals by branches or groups of family.

This reminds me of housecleaning, which is something that can be hard to get excited about doing, but the results make you feel better. In fact, my Mother used to recommend cleaning when you felt low because you will have something to show for the time.


What if… ? Relax! You may not complete a monthly goal, or find you want a goal to spill into the next month. You may want to skip a monthly goal to do something more promising. You may not have time that month to do what you planned. It’s your list! It’s fluid!

If you can devote a weekend to each goal, or even a day per month, you can get closer to your genealogical goals. You will find that having  (changeable) goals will get you closer.

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.

7 Ways to Research WWI Veterans in Your Community


Seventy First Regiment Leaves for Camp of N.Y. Division.(NARA RG165-WW-288C-067)

Congratulations on taking the first step of wanting to learn more!

Ryan Hegg of the WWI Centennial Commission for New York City asked me if I believed that the WWI Generation was really the Greatest Generation. What a thought provoking question! Ryan makes a great case. WWI was a defining point in our Country’s history as a participant on the world stage. Theirs was a generation who decided to go overseas to fight the Great War for Civilization. They experienced the Great Depression.

Students have a number of resources to find WWI veterans who were  residents in their communities. The ideas below start with those that take least effort to those that require more advanced skills. (For those who do not know if they had ancestors who served in WWI, a future blog post will cover that topic.)

  1. Locate a WWI Memorial in your city or town. There may be a statue in a park or a plaque in a public building. You can contact your city or town office to ask if such a memorial exists. When you locate the memorial, you can take pictures of it and copy the names that you find. If you want to learn more about those individuals try some of the other steps.
  2. Ask at a local cemetery about WWI veterans’ graves. The tombstones for service members who died during the war or later should show the branch of the military, the war, and their military organization. The cemetery office should be able to help you locate the graves of WWI veterans.
  3. Go to your local library and ask to speak to the research librarian. The library may hold special books telling about local men and women who served in WWI. There many also be files of materials donated by local researchers, which may be called vertical files. They may have fold local newspapers or files of newspaper clippings.
  4. Contact the local chapter of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW). Each Post is unique and has different polices pertaining to its community service efforts. You can visit VFW’s Find-A-Post feature here to locate a VFW Post and its contact information. Ask to speak with the Commander or Quartermaster.
  5. If there is a local historical society, genealogical society, or historical museum in your area, call or send an email. I have found WWI collections in unlikely locations, such as the Laws Railroad Museum and the Holland Land Office Museum
  6. Research local newspapers of the time. You can check the Library of Congress Chronicling America website to find out what newspapers existed at the time, and see if any of them have been digitized. Many community newspapers printed articles about the men and women who served. Search for WWI and your community name. 
  7. Head back to your library and find out what databases are available. Your local library may have access to Ancestry.com, Fold3.com and ProQuest and other Historical Newspapers. Librarians should be able to help you search for more about a specific WWI Veteran using his or her name.

Beyond these steps, much of the research involves looking for material about a military organization in which the veteran served. There are several posts on this blog about learning more about WWI Veterans.

Good luck!

Researching North Carolina WWI Ancestors

Learning the military organization for your ancestor who served in WWI is important. With that information, you can find out what your ancestor did including duties, travels and battles.

For North Carolina WWI ancestors, you can access North Carolina, World War I Service Cards, 1917-1919

https://www.familysearch.org/search/collection/2568864

You will need to sign up for a free account with FamilySearch.org to be able to search and view results. FamilySearch is a resource that will be useful for you, as it contains many records online and indexes to records.

At FamilySearch you can search for records, or browse through the records. Try searching for your ancestor’s name.

For an example, I entered just a surname. This type of search is good to find other family members who served.

The search results are below.

Click on the camera for the result to view the record.

In this card you can find out the military organization, and information about overseas service, wounds, grades and discharge. If the ancestor died in service, the card will have a red tint and give information about when, where and how the ancestor died.

From here you can download and print the record.

The North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources is chronicling the experience of NC in WWI. You can read about the traveling exhibit and other resources on this page.

You can read about the digital collection here.

The State Archives of North Carolina have World War I Papers.

You might want to look for your ancestor’s name or military organization in the finding aids Private Collections of the State Archives of North Carolina. These items may not be online.