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Ordering Pension and Service Records from the National Archives (NARA)The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) is the official repository for records of military personnel who have been discharged from the U.S. Air Force, Army, Marine Corps, Navy and Coast Guard.
To view military records online from the National ArchivesMany of the records from the National Archives have been digitized and put online.
To order military records from the National Archives:
Note: Many military records were destroyed by fire in the St. Louis Center in 1973.
You may write to the The National Archives and Records Administration ( NARA ) in Washington, DC at the following addresses: 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. Whether you write or call, ask for form 85 and 86 for records before World War I, or form 180 for records World War I and after.
fee if the Archives finds information.
The more information you supply, the better chance NARA has of finding your ancestor. But only supply information of which you are positive. A wrong piece of information can keep NARA from locating the correct record. What you receive is variable. It can be anything from 4 pages with little info to hundreds of pages.
There is NO charge if your ancestor is not found, however, your best chance of having NARA locate records is to have some basic information about your ancestor.
Before you write to NARA for records, try to obtain as much information as possible to find if your ancestor served in the military , including his state and regiment. This will give NARA a better chance to locate his records.
The Research Guide will assist you in using NARA's records for your research.
Most of the information about a soldier are in his Service records. According to the National Archives and Records Administration, such records document 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.
The useful genealogical data you might learn from service records could include the individual’s full name, rank, age, physical description, marital status, occupation, city of birth, and place of residence at enlistment
Pension records represent the greatest reward for genealogy research, especially if your military ancestor served prior to the twentieth century. To get a pension, the veteran had to go through a lengthy application process. The federal government kept a pension file on every applicant.
Pension files contain all the paperwork associated with the application, including any supporting documentation. From these files you might learn some or all of the following: the applicant’s name, spouses name, rank, military unit, length of enlistment, and residence at time of application. There may also be children's names, names of deceased wives, physical description, medical records and marriage license.
When a widow applied for a pension in the name of her husband, she was required to submit evidence to prove her marriage; this often included the names of any children living with her at the time.
Pension records were compiled when a veteran applied for benefits on grounds of injury, illness, or disability (later, veterans could also receive benefits based on age) or when the mothers, fathers, widows, and minor children of veterans similarly applied for benefits. Pension records typically include the application forms, proof of marriage, proof of children's births, a summary of military service, and usually death certificates.
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