Military Records Tips for Beginners

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>Portal:United States Military Records

Tip 1. When would my ancestor have been recorded in a federal military record?

Your ancestor will probably appear in a federal military record if he:

  • Served in a state volunteer unit that was mustered into federal service during wartime.  Most men who served in wars before 1900 enlisted in state volunteer units.
  • Enlisted in the regular U.S. military forces during wartime or peacetime.
  • Served in a local militia or national guard unit that was mustered for federal service during an emergency.
  • Enrolled for the drafts for the Civil War, World War I, ora subsequent war and later enlisted or was drafted.

Tip 2. What kinds of information do I need to effectively use military records?

It is helpful to know:

  • War your ancestor may have served in.  You must know when your ancestor served in the military.  First determine the war or period in which your ancestor may hae served.  Remember the during the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, Americans served on both sides of the coflict.
  • State your ancestor was living in.  Your ancestor may have served in a local,state, or federal unit. You can best search military records if you know at least the state where your ancestor was living when he was of age to serve in the military.
  • Branch of service and rank.  It is helpful to know the branch of service (Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, Coast Guard) your ancestor may have served in and whether your ancestor was an officer or an enlisted man.
  • Regiment.  Many service records are arranged by the military unit, such as the regiment.  Regiments and companies were often composed of men from the same community or county.  Knowing the regiment can sometimes help you determine where a man was from.

Tip 3. How can I find which regiment to unit my ancestor served with?

In most cases, you can learn the unit from published military sources, such as:

  • Service indexes
  • Pension records
  • Published rosters
  • County histories
  • Tombstone inscriptions

You may also find clues in home sources, such as:

  • Photographs
  • Discharge papers
  • Records of membership in a veteran organization

Do a Place Search in the state and /or county that your ancestor was from and choose “military records” under topics in the Family History Library Catalog at