A question we hear a lot is: “I’ve searched and searched, but I can’t find records of my grandfather’s service in WWII. Am I doing something wrong?” Same for WWI, Korean War and Vietnam War records.
You probably aren’t doing anything wrong. There’s a good chance the records may still be private or they may have been destroyed in a fire.
Privacy for Veterans
Veterans’ records are not accessible to the public until 62 years after the veteran has separated from the service. So if your veteran was still in the service after 1952, only he or she or an authorized person can access that veteran’s Official Military Personnel File (OMPF). You can learn more about these veterans and obtaining their records from the National Archives’ article, “Access to Official Military Personnel Files (OMPF) – for the General Public.”
If your veteran separated from the service before 1953, which includes most from WWII and earlier conflicts, you can have access to their Official Military Personnel File. For more on access to these files at NARA, which are not available digitally at this time, you should take a look at NARA’s “Official Military Personnel Files (OMPF), Archival Holdings.”
Disastrous Fire at the Military Personnel Record Center in St. Louis
Federal military records starting with WWI are kept at the Military Personnel Record Center. Then on July 12, 1973 there was a fire:
Not all records were lost, but it is estimated that over 80 percent of Army records for personnel discharged between 1912 and 1960 were destroyed and 75 percent of the Air Force records for those who were discharged between 1947 and 1964 were. No Navy, Marine, or Coast Guard records were lost. “The 1973 Fire, National Personnel Records Center” gives more information on what was lost, what happened during the fire, and the work being done to preserve and recover what was left.
Finding World War II Records on Ancestry.com and Fold3
While not all records exist and not every record has been digitized, there is still a lot for you to look at.
If you start on our Military page, you can focus your search by conflict, by clicking on World War II
Or if you want to see what individual collections we have, try the Ancestry.com Card Catalog filtering by Military and World War II or the Fold3 World War II title list, which includes:
- U.S. World War II Army Enlistment Records, 1938-1946 (Ancestry.com)
- U.S. World War II Marine Corp Muster Rolls, 1798-1958 (Ancestry.com)
- U.S. World War II Navy Muster Rolls, 1938-1949 (Ancestry.com)
- U.S. World War II Draft Registration Cards, 1942 (Ancestry.com)
- Honolulu, Hawaii, National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, 1941-2011 (Ancestry.com)
- WWII War Diaries (Fold3)
- WWII Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard Casualty List (Fold3)
Listings and records for other wars can be found in the same way.
Why Your Soldier May Not Show Up in the WWII Draft Registration Cards
Most of the WWII draft registration cards are not yet available in digitized form. First, you’ll need to determine which of the drafts your ancestor may have been in and discover whether they are on Ancestry or whether you will need to obtain them from NARA. Also, your ancestor may have enlisted and never filled out a draft card.
There were 7 drafts taken for the U.S. in World War II:
- 16 Oct. 1940: all men between the ages of 21 and 31
- 1 Jul. 1941: all men who reached 21 since the first registration
- 16 Feb. 1942: all men between ages 20 and 21 and between 35 and 44 (Note: Some of these are available on Ancestry.com)
- 27 Apr. 1942: all men between the ages of 45 and 65 (Note: This is called the “Old Man’s Draft” and these men were not expected to serve; these records are available on Ancestry.com)
- 30 Jun. 1942: all men between ages of 18 and 20
- Dec. 1942: all men who had turned 18 since the last registration
- 16 Dec. 1943: all men living abroad between the ages of 18 and 44
You might also want to check out our research guide: Find Them in World War II
About Anne Gillespie Mitchell
Anne Gillespie Mitchell is a Senior Product Manager at Ancestry.com. She is an active blogger on Ancestry.com and writes the Ancestry Anne column. She has been chasing her ancestors through Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina for many years. Anne holds a certificate from Boston University's Online Genealogical Research Program, and is currently on the clock working towards certification from the Board for Certification of Genealogists. You can also find her on Twitter, Facebook and Finding Forgotten Stories.