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
- Military service dated before the Revolutionary War
- Confederate records from the Civil War. More about Confederate Pension Records
Types of Federal Records
The Federal military records typically used for genealogy are:
Service RecordsAccording 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
- Fold3 (formerly Footnote) Service and other military records
- Ancestry.com Service and other military records
Pension RecordsMost 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.
- Locate your ancestor's obituary. Very often, a veteran's service record is listed. Write or call the local library where your ancestor died. Many libraries will do look-ups. You have to know an approximate death date.
- Check the newspaper of his locality during the war. (Hint: Many historical newspapers are now online). Sometimes during the war, there were articles about the local men and their units
- Many county histories written in the late 1800's and later contain individual biographical sketches which mention military service and usually include regiment, years served, battles fought (Hint: Many County History Books are now online). Choose state and county.
- Locate his tombstone. Again, many times a veteran's regiment is written on his tombstone.
- Ask the Historical Society located in your ancestor's county.
- There is the good source at the Library of Congress: 'The Index of Old Wars Pension File- 1815 - 1926, CS 68.W 477 1993'. The index covers the Civil War, Mexican War and World War I. Some large Public Libraries have this index.
- Check the 1840, 1890, and 1910 federal census which lists veterans and pensioners. Use the
Free two week subscription
- Check the Ancestry Civil War (and Spanish American War) Pension Index.
- Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System - National Park Service in collaboration with others is constructing a complete and searchable database of Civil War veterans.
- Carlisle Military History Institute
- National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)
- Civil War Records - research aides, descriptions of records
- Microfilm Publication T288. General Index to Pension Files, 1861-1934
- Microfilm Publication M123. Special Schedules of the Eleventh Census (1890) Enumerating Union Veterans and Widows of Union Veterans of the Civil War
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
- firstname.lastname@example.org 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
- 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.
- 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
Assistance in using NARA's records for your research for all US wars
Order Military records for the US militia.
How to order Confederate records held at state repositories.
Ordering military records from NARA