Finding United States Military Service Records

May 23, 2020  - by 
Father and son finding US Military Records on a tablet

If you have United States ancestry, it is possible that you have an ancestor or ancestors who served in the United States military. Military records from the Revolutionary War to more recent conflicts contain important information for your family’s history.

a muster roll record.

These records can tell you who among your ancestors served in the military and when they served. They can also give information about their family, what family members looked like, stories from their service, and more. The best part? Many of these records are available for you to search online!

Tips on Searching United States Military Records

When you search military records, it’s helpful to have as much information about your ancestor as you can gather. The name of your ancestors, their birth year and residences, and the names of wars they may have served in can all help your search. As you find military records, keep an eye out for the name of the military unit, commanding officer, rank, dates of enlistment, and discharge or date of death. This information will help identify your ancestor in additional records and create a timeline of military service.


Records You May Encounter as You Search

There are many different types of military records, and each can provide a peek into your ancestor’s military service. Records can be divided into two categories: those created before and during service and those created after service. If you’re new to searching military records, knowing a little about each type can help your search.

Below are three examples of different kinds of military records you may find as you search for your ancestors.

a united states military draft record.

Draft Registrations

Draft registrations are especially important in family history research for World War I (1917–1918) and World War II (1940–1945). In World War I, 24 million men registered, and in World War II, 50 million registered. Most of those serving in uniform were inducted or drafted. One thing to keep in mind is that not everyone who registered was actually drafted. Additional research will be needed to determine if there was military service.

Note that there was also a draft during the Civil War for the Union Army. Those enrollment records are at the National Archives and have been published on

Related Wiki Article

a pension request.

Pension Files

When a soldier died in battle, a dependent such as a wife or elderly parent would often apply for a pension. The information required for these applications—such as a date of marriage and the names of minor children—make them a wealth of information.

Pension records are usually the best military record for family information if the soldier or veteran was deceased. Most other military records have only information about the soldier.

Related Wiki Article

military gravestones with flags.

Cemetery Records

Cemetery records include applications for headstones, which were supplied at government expense. They also include interment or burial records at national cemeteries and state veteran cemeteries. For soldiers buried overseas, the American Battle Monuments Commission has an online searchable database.

FamilySearch has two main record collections for military cemetery records. One is for the period 1925–1949, and the other is for 1879–1903.

Related Wiki Article

an honorable discharge record for the military.

Finding United States Military Records

Most United States military records can be found online, at historical societies, or ordered from national or state archives. However, note that United States military records have a 62-year rule; records from less that 62 years ago are not available to the public. If you are looking for information on a recently deceased ancestor, know ahead of time that what you receive may be limited. Unless you are the spouse, parent, child, or sibling of the veteran, then you won’t be granted full access to the entire military record. However, what you find can still be very helpful!

Military records have a unique quality that sets them apart from other historical records. These documents represent the heavy sacrifices your ancestors made on behalf of their country. What better way to honor that sacrifice than by learning more about these ancestors and carrying their legacy forward?

Interested in Learning More?

For more information, head to the following wiki articles:

Annelie Hansen and Ken Nelson contributed to this article.

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  1. I knew father-in-law’s military record and that he passed away in 2009. Truth Finder only had two sons listed, not my husband, Gary Stertz and our family members.

    1. I am sure you would have noticed but it’s always worth a double check to see if there were any pages missing?
      Especially when limited space given on most forms or with a larger family.
      With my personal experience on some of the UK military records I found some extra info handwritten on the back of forms or additional pages scanned and indexed but that had not been linked correctly with the 1st page so info was therefore not listed on the transcript!
      Thankfully extra annotations were on the actual image when I clicked to the next record. So I saved the 2nd image screenshot as a new record to transcribe then add to my sources etc.
      Hope that helps.

  2. In the indexed version on the WWII draft card for one of my uncles, there is a minor error. Should that be reported? Can I simply correct the error?

  3. My father in law’s service records were lost in a major fire that destroyed thousands of records. Is there any other way to retrieve any information on his exploits and commendations? I have found a local newspaper article, but I was wondering if a separate list of recipients of the bronze star (for example) might exist.

  4. Hello I am trying to find my biological father he was in the Vietnam war he came out injured in 1968 hospital he was in was the Army hospital in philadelphia PA but it’s torn down. I need some help to finding him and maybe some many questions to ask. Please help thank you.