Expand and Enhance Your World War II Research and Knowledge

Posted by Jennifer Holik on July 26, 2016 in In The Community

Are you stuck in your World War II research and unsure where to go next? Have you exhausted all of the resources on Ancestry.com trying to answer the questions you have about your soldier’s service? Have you taken the time to explore record sets which do not answer specific questions about your soldier? Record sets which are completely unrelated to your soldier?

"Gen. Douglas MacArthur wades ashore during initial landings at Leyte, P.I." October 1944. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.
“Gen. Douglas MacArthur wades ashore during initial landings at Leyte, P.I.” October 1944. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Wait, why would I suggest exploring record sets, which do not answer specific questions about your soldier, as something you should be doing? Isn’t that a waste of time? Actually it isn’t. I suggest it, because it allows you to gain a new perspective on your research. It also allows you to expand your knowledge of World War II records.

In every World War II lecture I give in the U.S. and in Europe, I discuss military records across all branches. I do not speak on one branch’s records at a time, because records are similar across all branches. This approach exposes my audience to a variety of records available, which then allows them more options for their research.

In genealogical and military research, we often become so focused on the question in front of us for our soldier, we fail to look at other possible answers or resources. Using the tips in this article, I’d like to expand your perspective on World War II research.

Let’s explore some record sets on Ancestry to illustrate what I mean.

Collection #1 New Mexico, World War II Records, 1941-1945

The New Mexico World War II Records, 1941-1945 collection includes documentation for all branches of the military. It also contains some documents which are official military records. These are the Separation and Discharge or Honorable Discharge papers, which you will find in a soldier’s Official Military Personnel File (OMPF) in St. Louis. The remaining documents in the collection are photographs, lists, and state or Museum of New Mexico created questionnaires. The Service Records are one example of the museum-created documents. These are not records you will find in a soldier’s Official Military Personnel File (OMPF.)

Even if your soldier was not from New Mexico, this entire collection is valuable because:

  • There are examples of official Separation and Discharge papers.
  • You learn what kind of information is available on military service.
  • You see examples of records created to capture this state’s military history.
  • And you should ask yourself, does my state have anything similar? Where are those records held if they exist and are not digitized? The State Archives?

Collection #2 Utah Military Records, 1861-1970

The Utah Military Records, 1861-1970, contain more than World War II-era documents. For the purpose of this article, we will focus on only the WWII-era. When you explore the record subset, Military Service Cards ca. 1898-1975, for your World War II soldier, you can learn many details about his service, including that sometimes elusive service number/serial number. These cards are another example of state-level records.

Collection #3 Casualty Records

Did your soldier die overseas, or listed as Missing In Action (MIA) while serving in World War II? There are several collections available to provide examples of the type of information kept by military branches, states, and local groups.

Note: The BIRLS Death File is the only one in this resource list for soldiers who survived the war. The information you need to search for additional information for those soldiers is contained in that database. Explore the records in these collections.

In many of these collections you will find:

  • Name
  • Rank
  • Serial number/service number
  • Enlistment
  • Death date

Collection #4 Muster Rolls

Marine Corps and Navy Muster Rolls are in some respects, the equivalent of the Army/Air Force Company Morning Reports. The information contained in these records is similar. You will find Marine Corps Muster Rolls and Navy Muster Rolls on Ancestry. You will not find the Company Morning Reports on Ancestry. Those have not been digitized, but are available on microfilm at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis.

Within these records you will often discover:

  • Name, rank, serial/service number.
  • MOS (job) the soldier, sailor, or Marine held.
  • Where the unit is located, although the Marines only provide “IN THE FIELD” once they leave U.S. soil.
  • Changes in the soldier’s status from healthy to sick or wounded. Prisoner of War (POW,) Missing In Action (MIA) or Killed In Action (KIA). Also changes in his Military Occupation Specialty (MOS) or rank are noted.
  • Record of the day or month’s events including enemy engagement.

The more you explore record sets that do not answer questions for your soldier, the more you will learn. The more possibilities for research arise when we think outside the box and look for similar record sets in state archives or dig deeper into digitized collections. Pay attention to the new collections added by Ancestry each month. You never know what you will discover to move your research forward.

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