Posted by Jennifer Holik on October 22, 2015 in Collections, Family History Month, Research

This is a guest post by Jennifer Holik.

Researching an individual in our family tree often requires us to create a timeline of the individual’s life. On that timeline we place important events such as birth, marriage, education, residence, and death. We follow the same process for a World War II soldier, except we are specifically looking at the time in which he served in the military.

Creating a timeline of service allows us to see where there are gaps in our research. Understand errors with dates or information, which may be due to our incorrect data entry or transcription or the records themselves. Timelines also help form the foundation for writing the soldier’s story when our research has progressed.

Creating the Timeline

Creating a timeline of service is simple. Start with the information you know from family stories, talking to the veteran, or what you compiled from the Military Service Questionnaire we discussed in September’s post.

To give you an example, let’s use some details from my cousin James Privoznik’s service history. The family said he entered service in 1943. He was Killed In Action 11 January 1945 during the Battle of the Bulge. He served in the 90th Division. His unit was part of the Utah Beach D-Day landing. The timeline looks like this:

1943    James enters the Army

6 June 1944     The 90th Division enters France through Utah Beach on D-Day

16 December 1944      Battle of the Bulge begins

11 January 1945         James is Killed In Action during the Battle of the Bulge

With this rough outline, where do we go from here? We look at home sources.

Military Home Sources

There are many places to locate military information within your home. These home sources may be a variety of things which contain clues to military service. To review genealogical home sources, please read Ancestry.com’s Wiki article on Home Sources. You can also download a list of military home sources on my World War II Research and Writing Center.

In searching James Privoznik’s home sources, I located a longyard unit photograph which provided the date January 1944, Camp Butner, NC 126th MM Ordnance. I found a Purple Heart awarded posthumously. A burial flag still in the original box dated 1948 from Hamm Cemetery in Luxembourg. These items allowed me to add to his timeline which began to take a fuller shape.

1943    James enters the Army

January 1944  James is in Camp Butner, NC in the 126th MM Ordnance Company

6 June 1944     The 90th Division enters France through Utah Beach on D-Day

16 December 1944      Battle of the Bulge begins

11 January 1945         James is Killed In Action during the Battle of the Bulge

1945    James is awarded the Purple Heart

1948    James is buried in Hamm Cemetery in Luxembourg

Knowing these details helps direct my research path. My next steps are to request James’ Official Military Personnel File and continue research into his death using Ancestry.com’s databases:

A word of caution. The information provided for James and his service state he was in the 358th Infantry Regiment, 90th Division. This was the final unit in which he served. This information is contained in his Individual Deceased Personnel File. However, Morning Reports show he was transferred from the 790th Ordnance Company 90th Division to the 358th Infantry Regiment 90th Division only 14 days before his death. General Patton needed replacement infantrymen and men from the rear echelons were transferred. To fully understand James’ military story, both Companies will need to be researched. To learn more, his Official Military Personnel File should be requested.

Requesting Military Records

The next step in creating a timeline of military service is to order the Official Military Personnel File (OMPF) from the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) in St. Louis, MO. The soldier’s Separation and Discharge record is the primary place to locate the information requested to begin a search. You will need at least the following, if you can find it:

  • Soldier’s full name
  • Date and place of birth
  • Service Number (this is not the individual’s Social Security Number)
  • Branch of service and unit(s)
  • Dates of service (enlistment, discharge or death)

There are three ways to request the OMPF.

  1. Mail in Form 180

The least expensive way to begin a search is to fill out Form 180 on the NPRC website and see if the file survived. If records are discovered, NPRC will send you a letter indicating such, as well as your fee for copies. Form 180 will ONLY search the OMPF and medical records. This will not search Morning Reports, Payroll, IDPFs, or other records.

2. Visit NPRC In-Person

Visit the NPRC website for current rules regarding making an appointment to visit and view records. Learn what is allowed in the research room and how to request files and microfilm.

3. Hire a Researcher

Another option is to hire an independent researcher who knows their way around the NPRC records. There are many additional records at the NPRC besides the OMPF which can be accessed by hiring a researcher.

Requesting Death Records

If your soldier, sailor, or Marine died while in service (not after discharge,) there will be an Individual Deceased Personnel File (IDPF) available. The IDPF varies in length, on average between 20 pages and over 100. It documents the death of a soldier, burial, disinterment and final burial location. In cases where the soldier was Missing In Action (MIA) and recovered days, weeks, months, or years after his death, there will also be search and recovery documentation.

For the European Theater, if the deceased was a Prisoner of War (POW), his POW card with photograph will usually be found in the IDPF. POWs in the Pacific, under the Japanese, do not have cards in the IDPFs. These are stored at National Archives in College Park, MD. Was your soldier a POW? You can find out on NARA’s POW Database.

To order the IDPF, send an email to the U.S. Army at Ft. Knox at USARMY.KNOX.HRC.MBX.FOIA@MAIL.MIL or write a letter indicating your request is under the Freedom of Information Act. The address is:

Department of the Army

U.S. Army Human Resources Command

ATTN: AHRC-FOIA

1600 Spearhead Division Avenue, Dept 107

Fort Knox, KY 40122-5504

Provide the following information in your request: Soldier’s Name, branch of military, military service number, date of death, unit. Also provide your contact information including email. When the IDPF is scanned, an email will be sent to you with a download code. While these files are free, they usually take up to 48 weeks to receive.

What’s Next?

Come back next month and we will explore new record sources to add to your timeline of service and document service history.

Jennifer Holik

Jennifer Holik is an international WWII researcher, speaker, and author of the only authoritative books on the market, “Stories from the World War II Battlefield,” which teach individuals how to research WWII service across any branch. She can be found at her website The World War II Research and Writing Center or on Facebook.

3 Comments

  1. EvelynHill

    I appreciate the information, but I am unable to find any of my father’s information from WWll in Scotland.

  2. Ann Kurtz

    I am so glad I found this post. I’ve been slow in getting started with my WWII project. I have nearly 200 letters and other mailings sent to my mother by her five brothers as they served in the war. I found these just over a year ago and want to turn them into a book. This post is giving me the motivation to get going. Thank you so much!

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