Find your U.S. ancestors with the help of military records. Learn how to send away to the US National Archives.

U. S. Military Records

Locate your ancestors using U. S. Military Records

The United States has kept records of the people who have served in its military since the formation of the country and it is amazing how much genealogical information these records contain. Because these records were created at the time the event happened, military records are considered primary genealogy records.

Below is a list of U.S. wars for which there are federal records:

  • Revolutionary War, 1775-83
  • Indian Wars, 1780s-1800
  • War of 1812, 1812-15
  • Mexican War, 1846-48
  • Civil War
  • Spanish-American War, 1898
  • Philippine Insurrection, 1899-1902
  • World War I, 1917-18
  • World War II, 1941-45
  • Korean War, 1950-53
  • Vietnam War, 1965-73
  • Gulf War, 1991

State Archives
In addition to Federal military records, State Archives contain:

Types of Federal Records

The Federal military records typically used for genealogy are:

  • Service Records

    According to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), service records will contain enlistment/appointment, duty stations and assignments, training, qualifications, performance, awards and medals, disciplinary actions, insurance, emergency data, administrative remarks, separation, discharge, retirement, and other personnel actions.

    Most service records include your ancestor's rank, age, physical description, marital status, occupation, city of birth, and place of residence at enlistment.

    Service records are available

  • Pension Records

    Most genealogists are interested in their ancestor's pension records because these are the records that provide the most genealogical data.

    Pension files contain the supporting documentation for the pension application such as marriage certificates, children's birth certificates, death certificate, interviews and physicals. Most pension records include spouse’s name, rank, military unit, length of enlistment, and residence at time of application. If you are lucky, you will also find children's names, names of deceased wives, physical description, marriage certificates and children's birth certificates. And if you are really lucky, you will find letters written by the veteran and a photograph of the veteran.

    The federal government has published indexed lists of pensioners at different times in history. These lists give the soldier’s name, service information, age, death date, and even his or her heirs. The index can be used to expedite requests to NARA for the complete soldier pension records. Here are some places to find the index:

Other ways to determine if your ancestor served in the military and possibly received a pension

Keep in mind that sometimes a person entered under a false name, that there could be spelling variations, or that your ancestor may have crossed county or even state lines to enlist.

How to request Military Service Records and Pension Records

You may write to the National Archives and Records Administration in Washington, DC at the following addresses: E-mail

  • or

    General Reference Branch (NNRG-P)
    National Archives and Records Administration
    7th and Pennsylvania Avenue NW
    Washington, DC 20408

    Or you may call: (202) 501-5652 or use the
  • Order Form . Give your name and mailing address, the form number and the number of forms you need (limit five per order). To order military service records, request NATF Form 86. To order military pension records, request NATF Form 85. These are the forms used by The National Archives for obtaining military and pensions records for men who have served before World War I.

    If you are a veteran or next-of-kin (surviving spouse that has not remarried, father, mother, son, daughter, sister, or brother.) of a deceased veteran, you may now use
  • eVetRecs to order copies of military records or use the paper form
  • SF-180

  • Ordering online is now available to order copies of:

    • Federal military pension applications for military service from the American Revolution up to before World War I.

    • Bounty-land warrant applications for Federal military service before 1856.

Supply information about your ancestor and NARA will search their rosters.

Length of mailing time, once you've sent the form, depends upon how the Archives is staffed. A few years ago, it took 4-6 weeks to receive a response. Sometimes it can now take 3 or more months. Only if you ask, will the Archives send you the veteran's complete file, at an extra charge.

The more information you supply, the better chance NARA has of finding your ancestor. But take care, sending information of which you are not sure may keep NARA from finding the right file.

NARA fees

  • Pension files more than 75 years old (order form NATF Form 85) - complete file $75.00 (often 100 pages or more)
  • Pension documents packet (order form NATF Form 85) $25.00
  • Military service files more than 75 years old (order form NATF Form 86) $25.00

Military Searches

  • US Military Research guides
    Assistance in using NARA's records for your research for all US wars

  • US State Archives
    Order Military records for the US militia.

  • Confederate Records
    How to order Confederate records held at state repositories.

  • NARA Guide
    Ordering military records from NARA