Posted by on July 2, 2014 in Ask Ancestry Anne, Military Records, Research

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:

fire

Southern Illinoisan, 13 July 1973, page 1. Accessed on Newspapers.com.

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

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:

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:

  1. 16 Oct. 1940: all men between the ages of 21 and 31
  2. 1 Jul. 1941: all men who reached 21 since the first registration
  3. 16 Feb. 1942: all men between ages 20 and 21 and between 35 and 44 (Note: Some of these are available on Ancestry.com)
  4. 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)
  5. 30 Jun. 1942: all men between ages of 18 and 20
  6. Dec. 1942: all men who had turned 18 since the last registration
  7. 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

Happy  Searching!

 

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.

16 Comments

Laurie Holloman Carlson 

My family lived 3 blocks from the records building when it burned. I was 10 years old and I remember smoke everywhere and for weeks afterwards, we were asked to collect burned papers that were blowing around the city in hopes that some of the records could be saved.

July 2, 2014 at 5:18 pm
Anne Gillespie Mitchell 

Laurie thanks for sharing that memory. Glad you helped collect papers!

July 3, 2014 at 6:15 am
Susan M. Olson 

I found the information I needed here in Iowa, at the Gold Star Museum at Camp Dodge, IA. They were very helpful and emailed me a copy of my grandfathers records.

July 4, 2014 at 12:26 am
Barbara Smith 

I wonder if it would be possible for Ann or someone to do a military records (or information) search based on military unit history sites? Or related sites? For example, I know my father’s number and at least one of the units he served in, so maybe that’s enough to find websites or books? Also know he transferred to Army Air Corp and found his enlistment information on ancestry.

Another thing–Perhaps learn how to deduce information from photographs taken during the war? I know my dad served in LIbya for awhile and have several photos taken throughout the course of his service. Pointers about how to determine who, where, when, etc. would give us a framework.

Thanks–hope you have opportunity to consider suggestions.
Barbara Smith

July 5, 2014 at 9:23 am
Julie 

I am still trying to find the registration or draft papers for my maternal grandfather. I have been able to find his Army Separation Card, but not anything else. I was hoping the article you linked about the 1973 fire would give me some clues as if his info was lost, but the page is not loading. All I get is a blank page.

July 5, 2014 at 1:31 pm
Sharon Brannon 

My daddy’s records were destroyed in this fire. We can not locate his discharge papers. We have the 1930 U.S. Census from Schofield Barack in Hawaii which he is listed on. We also have proof he was at a post in New York and Fort Screven, GA. We have pictures of him in uniform and letters he wrote mother. We know he was discharged in late 1931 or early 1932. He was not in the service when they married, March 14, 1932. We would like to obtain a bronze military marker for his grave and we can’t get one because we can’t prove when he was discharged. Any help or advice you can give would be greatly appreciated. Sharon Brannon

July 5, 2014 at 1:41 pm
Nathan Winstead 

My records of my 7 1/2 years of Army service were destroyed in this fire. In my inquiry all I received was copies of about 3 burned sheets. I happened to still have some records of my service in hand, and they asked me to send them copies. I assume that they are now in my files for future use.

July 7, 2014 at 2:42 pm
Barbara mccurtis 

I would go yo the national records center in st louis.they will tell you what they have.

July 7, 2014 at 2:55 pm
Nancy Bloomer 

My father in law’s were among those list in the fire. I had to use his newspaper obituary to join the American Legion’s Ladies Auxilkary.

July 7, 2014 at 3:31 pm
Maria Brown 

Shannon, Several years ago, a diligent clerk found a record of my dad’s travel pay stub when he mustered out from Schofield Barracks in 1924. The city he listed as his “bona fide place of residence” when he enlisted in 1918 blew us away! We did not know he had ever lived there. It gave us a new thread to follow.
Barbara, Check out history of your dad’s unit. It should tell you years and locations they served. Compare those years and locations to history of WW11 in North Africa. Also, look for places where U.S Army Air Corps had bases in North Africa. That might help you pinpoint wher pics were taken.

July 7, 2014 at 4:27 pm
John J. Guglielmi 

As a Veteran Service Officer for my county, I have to obtain records to file claims with the VA. A couple suggestions. Go to the county Recorders office. They have thousands of discharges on file. Either copies were sent by the government or dropped off by vets. Your county Veteran Service Office. Check & see if they have records of any claims filed with the VA. Your state archives. Call and ask for Military Records. If a navy veteran who was aboard ship, the DOD (Depart. of Defense) maintains records of all ships and their history. You can Google the ships name too.

July 8, 2014 at 6:20 am
Elaine Battista 

I have been searching for 3 years now regarding dad’s ww 2 records. I ‘ve done everything I’ve been told to do but got nothing but payroll records upon discharge also due to fire that was all they could give me. Recently, I decided to try a different route. My dad was injured so was involved with our local VA hospital. I went there and and they were able to trace those records. I am waiting for those. My dad also received a pension from those injuries. When I mentioned that they referred me back to normal procedures but this time they found some records . I’m not sure which but they are sending me those too. So, don’t give up and if there were med records check out that route. Good luck.

July 8, 2014 at 8:44 am
James E. Hurley 

It has already been referred to in a previous contribution, but here is personally experience. The county where I lived in had set up a system where copies of military documents could be copied and kept on file for free to discharged veterans. I took advantage of the offer and was able to prove my service connection as my official records were destroyed in the St. Louis fire. My personal records were destroyed in a 1948 flood. Copying in those days was not like it is today, but were still readable. Some of the records of my dad who served in WW1 were also destroyed in the fire.

July 8, 2014 at 9:24 am
Carol Carter 

Hi, am having trouble with the Ask Anne site. I’d like to know if you have any suggestions as to how to find French Canadians who immigrated about 1870 from the Quebec (Montreal?) area? If you can give me an address besides the Ask Anne option maybe we can chat. Lots of questions about this family-no answers. Please help direct me to the proper place for this discussion. Thank you.

July 8, 2014 at 12:33 pm
Lizbeth Glickman 

I have had years of frustration trying to find online information about my father. I have almost a foot-tall pile of documents that he saved from WWII, Western Pacific, including official surrender documents and telegrams. (Also best photos in existence of General Styer.) He was chief PR Officer based in Luzan. He took the sword of General Yamashita during the surrender, September 3, 1945. He was only one of two active military men in my family and all their records seem to be MIA. Am devastated.

Any ideas?

July 9, 2014 at 12:04 pm
Sherry Sievert 

I’m glad to hear a reasonable explanation why I can’t find hardly any information about my father who served in the WWII. Other than the fact that he was located in Wisconsin when the war broke out, I can’t find any other information about him until his death, again in Wisconsin.

July 14, 2014 at 7:06 am