Introduction to Red Book: Military Records
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This entry was originally written by Alice Eichholz, Ph.D., CG for Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources.
War has been a frequent occurrence in United States history, and with it comes a monumental number of records. Besides chronicles of campaigns in various forms, both service records and pension records play a role in discovering ancestors.
There are military records for all the wars, although the most popularly used for genealogical purposes are undoubtedly those of the Revolutionary War (including Loyalists), War of 1812, and Civil War, principally because they can provide the most genealogical information for the most people through pension records.
Surviving records of military service during the colonial period are often in print. Service records for most states in the three principal wars of genealogical research interest listed above may also be found in print. Those that are available are outlined in each state’s section.
NARA has extensive holdings, not all in microform, of both military service and pension records beginning with the Revolutionary War, many of which are also available through its regional centers, the FHL, and online through subscription databases. James Neagles, U.S. Military Records: A Guide to Federal and State Sources, Colonial America to the Present (Salt Lake City: Ancestry, Inc., 1994), is the most comprehensive description of what records are available, where to find them and how to use them, although its publication pre-dates many of the online sources. Anne Bruner Eales and Robert M. Kvasnicka, Guide to Genealogical Research in the National Archives, 3d ed. (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 2001), has an important section on use of military records in its holdings.
Major publications or online service provide access to the follow important service or pension records:
- National Genealogical Society, Index of Revolutionary War Pension Applications in the National Archives. Washington, D.C.: National Genealogical Society, 1976.
- White, Virgil D., comp., Genealogical Abstracts of Revolutionary War Pension Files. 4 vols. Waynesboro, Tenn.: National Historical Publishing Co., 1990–92.
- ______. Index to Revolutionary War Service Records. 4 vols. Waynesboro, Tenn.: National Historical Publishing Co., 1995.
War of 1812
- National Archives and Records Service. Index to Compiled Service Records of Volunteer Soldiers Who Served During the War of 1812. 5 vols. Washington, D.C.: the compiler, 1966.
- White, Virgil D., comp. Index to War of 1812 Pension Files. 2 vols. Waynesboro, Tenn.: National Historical Publishing Co., 1987.
- White, Virgil D., comp. Index to Soldiers in the Indian Wars and Disturbances, 1815–1858. 2 vols. Waynesboro, Tenn.: National Historical Publishing Co., 1994
- ______. Index to Indian Wars Pension Files, 1892–1926. 2 vols. Waynesboro, Tenn.: National Historical Publishing Co., 1987.
- National Archives and Records Service. Index to Compiled Service Records of Volunteer Soldiers Who Served During the Mexican War. 4 vols. Washington, D.C.: the compiler, 1964.
- White, Virgil D., comp. Index to Mexican War Pension Files. Waynesboro, Tenn.: National Historical Publishing Co., 1989.
- Wolfe, Barbara Schull. Index to Mexican War Pension Applications. Indianapolis: Heritage House, 1985.
Civil War service records for both Union and Confederate soldiers are included in the NARA microfilm collection and are available through its Regional Centers and the FHL. Online subscription databases at www.ancestry.com provide an index to, and views of, Union Civil War original application cards for Civil War pensions, not the files themselves. A massive project of abstracting the pension files is presently being developed. They are not on microfilm and can only be accessed at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. in person, or by mail. Appropriate application forms are downloadable from the National Archives website.
Some individual and state projects for abstracting pension records can be found at www.usgenweb.com.
The Spanish-American War Compiled Military Service Records are located at the National Archives, Washington, D.C., with some its regional research centers also holding microfilm copies. See the NARA website for updated information.
Many states have published volumes or memorials to those who served in twentieth-century conflicts. Records for those serving in later wars are located at NARA’s National Personnel Records Center, 9700 Page Ave., St. Louis, MO 63132-5100. Restriction to access varies. It is best to consult the Records Center for specific details.
Selective Service Draft Registration Cards (1917–18) images are available via the online subscription database at http://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=6482.
An excellent discussion of military records and their use in research can be found in Johni Cerny, Lloyd DeWitt Bockstruck, and David T. Thackery, “Military Records,” in Szucs and Luebking, eds., The Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy, rev. ed. (Salt Lake City: Ancestry, Inc., 1997).