US Military Service Records

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United States  >  Military Records  >  Types of Military Records  >  Service Records

Service Records

Service records document an individual’s involvement with the military and can provide your ancestor’s unit or organization. This information makes it easier to search the pension records. Service records seldom provide information about other members of a soldier’s family.

Enlistment and Discharge Records.

Those who served in a military unit (company or regiment) were listed on muster rolls (similar to attendance rosters). These records generally give the soldier’s name and the date and place of enlistment and muster. You may also find descriptive rolls that provide the individual’s name, rank, age, physical description, marital status, occupation, place of birth, place of residence, and service information. The National Archives or the state’s adjutant general’s office may have these rolls. When an individual was discharged from military service, he or she was listed on muster-out rolls. Copies of the federal muster-out rolls were sent to the office of the state adjutant general. Discharge certificates, however, are not usually part of the service record. If a soldier served between 1865 and 1944, the discharge certificate may be in the family’s possession. Copies of the discharge were not kept in soldiers’ service files, but counties sometimes recorded discharges. The Family History Library has discharge records for some states, including Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, North Carolina, and Ohio. Check the Family History Library Catalog for additional state records under:


Compiled Service Records.

The federal government has compiled military service records for soldiers serving in volunteer units in wars between 1775 and 1902. These records, on cards, have abstracts of information taken from unmicrofilmed original records at the National Archives such as muster rolls, pay lists, hospital records, record books, orders, and correspondence found in Record Group 94, Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, 1780s–1917. For a description of the contents of this record group, see:

Pendell, Lucille H., and Elizabeth Bethel, comps. Preliminary Inventory of the Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, PI 17. Washington, D.C.: 1949. Reprint, 1981.

A card was made for each soldier and put in an envelope along with some original documents. These files are arranged by state, then by military unit, then alphabetically by the soldier’s name. The cards usually provide a soldier’s name, rank and unit, the state from which the soldier served, the date enlisted, and length of service. You may also find the age, residence, physical description, and date of discharge or death.

Other Service Records.

Other original records that may have been created include pay rolls, order books, hospital records, prisoner of war records, promotions, desertion records, and records of courts-martial. Many of these are found at the National Archives.

State Records of Service.

Each state keeps service records for its own militia, volunteer regiments, or national guard units. These are usually available at state archives, state historical societies, or state adjutant general’s offices. If a state unit was mustered into federal service, the federal government may have sent copies of records to the office of the state adjutant general.

The Family History Library has microfilmed state military records in many states, including Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Virginia. Many early militia and state records have also been published and indexed. These are described in the state Wiki pages.