Finding Missing Military Records at State Archives

By Moen, Margaret | VFW Magazine, January 2004 | Go to article overview

Finding Missing Military Records at State Archives


Moen, Margaret, VFW Magazine


If you can't locate your records in St. Louis, look no further than your state capital. Valuable documents are often housed close to home, by Margaret Moen

Old soldiers might never die, but their records can be destroyed.

The 1973 fire at the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) in St. Louis burned between 16 and 18 million records. This included about 80% of Army service records between 1912 and 1960 and 75% of Air Force service records between 1947 and 1964, for vets with the last names of Hubbard through the end of the alphabet.

But all that data didn't just fade away. Records in state archives can help you find family military information that was destroyed in the fire. These records also can help you obtain verification of military service from the NPRC. As you know, government agencies require verification in order to grant benefits.

When you send in the Standard Form 180 to the NPRC, include copies of the state records. Those that show service numbers, dates and places of entrance and separation, and units of assignment are particularly helpful. (See sidebar for more on obtaining NPRC verification and its privacy policy.)

Though copies of records in state archives or those in a veteran's personal possession won't suffice for government benefits, they may be acceptable for joining a veterans organization.

An Underused Resource

For family history purposes, going to the state archives is your best bet. You'll obtain information faster.

NPRC categorizes requests as either "priority" (such as medical emergencies, burial of veterans, homeless veterans requests) or "routine," which includes family history inquiries. NPRC's response time is therefore somewhat longer for a genealogy request.

"I think that state offices are underused when people think of military records, at least for the first half of the 20th century," says Charles Pellegrini, chief of the NPRC management systems staff. "Because of the fire here in 1973, a state office may well have much more information available and be able to provide it much quicker than we could."

Also, you can do an Internet search to find the Web site for your state archives. Web sites offer catalogs of archival materials, as well as the archive's hours and policies.

Holdings of military records will vary greatly among state archives, as will their availability. Privacy restrictions differ according to state law and for a particular archives' policies.

Here are some of the most common and useful types of documents found in state archives-ones that relate to the time frame of the burned St. Louis records:

* Bonus applications for both world wars and the Korean and Vietnam wars (these may include discharge papers).

* Gold Star Rolls, which give information on some veterans who died in WWI and on all veterans who died in WWII.

* Draft registration cards.

* Adjutant general's reports.

* County court documents, which can include discharge papers.

* Prisoner and casualty lists.

* Veterans grave registrations.

Look for Unique Holdings

Look for holdings that might be unique to your state.

For example, the Minnesota War Records Commission sent a post-war questionnaire to WWI veterans. Those questionnaires, now filed at the Minnesota History Center, are bursting with genealogical data:

* A veteran's full name, date and place of birth, parents' birthplaces, nearest relatives. …

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