Wars are fought by men. Isn’t that what we are usually told? We have been so conditioned to look for records of men who participated that we often overlook the women who were involved. Many women participated in the war effort for World War II on the home front, taking jobs vacated by men who were sent to fight and working in factories to support the war effort. Many others joined the military, again often taking jobs men vacated. And we cannot forget the women who joined the nursing corps or Red Cross.
Tips for Searching for Women
- Search by maiden and married name if you are unsure which was used.
- Search newspapers to learn additional clues that can aid your records search.
- Locate a service or serial number and rough dates of service.
- Try to obtain copies of the separation and discharge papers for your female relative, which will provide a unit, dates of service, possibly dates/locations of overseas service.
Where do we search for records on women during the war?
Women who participated in military service as a volunteer or enlisted/officer personnel will have Official Military Personnel Files (OMPFs) at the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) in St. Louis, Missouri. You need their name and serial number, at the very least, to begin a records search. The process is the same one used to locate records for men.
Those who enlisted in the Army and were volunteers or enlisted/officer for the Army or Air Corps/Air Force might be listed in the U.S. World War II Army Enlistment Records, 1938-1946. This database is not 100 percent complete, as stated on National Archives website, but is often a good source of information.
Women who were missing in action and later given a finding of death or killed in action classification in any theater of war should be listed within casualty lists or burial registries on Ancestry. There are many casualty databases on Ancestry, but a few include:
- U.S., Department of Veterans Affairs BIRLS Death File, 1850-2010
- U.S. Veterans Gravesites, ca.1775-2006
- U.S., Headstone and Interment Records for U.S. Military Cemeteries on Foreign Soil, 1942-1949
- U.S. Rosters of World War II Dead, 1939-1945
- World War II Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard Casualties, 1941-1945
Women who worked with the Cadet Nursing Corps have more detailed records on Ancestry. You can search the U.S., World War II Cadet Nursing Corps Card Files, 1942-1948 for records on your nurse. The Cadet Nursing Corps was created during the war to educate and provide financial assistance to women who wanted to become nurses. They were required to serve for the duration of the war. These records contain information on their names, addresses, schools attended, transfers, and education. The same record set can also be found on Fold3.com.
On Ancestry you can also search case files for Red Cross nurses who served in World War I and World War II in the collection of U.S., American Red Cross Nurse Files, 1916-1959. This collection includes applications, recommendations for awards, lists of assignments, newspaper clippings, efficiency reports, and correspondence.
Compensation Act Files
After World War II, the government issued a bonus payment or additional compensation to veterans who fought overseas. These records are usually held within each state’s archives, but not all are available to the public. In the state of Illinois the World War II Bonus Applications are unavailable for roughly 50 more years due to a law on the books. The laws vary state to state, but Pennsylvania and Iowa have made their records available on Ancestry. These documents usually provide the soldier’s name, serial number, unit, next of kin, address, and sometimes additional military service information. If you can get copies online or through your state archives, they are valuable documents.
- Pennsylvania, Veteran Compensation Application Files, WWII, 1950-1966
- Iowa, World War II Bonus Case Files, 1947-1954
State World War II Records
Some state-level World War II service records are available on Ancestry. These are not the Official Military Personnel Files (OMPFs) you will obtain from St. Louis. They do often contain a great deal of military service information and sometimes photographs.
Two other record sources exist which may contain information on the service of women during World War II.
New York, State Veterans’ Questionnaires, 1861-1991. A partial description of this record set tells us, “These include questionnaires about military service, registration and enlistment forms, disability certificates, transcripts of interviews, newspaper clippings, and photographs.”
U.S., WWII Jewish Servicemen Cards, 1942-1947. These records are indexes only of records which are currently held by American Jewish Historical Society (AJHS). The documents held by the AJHS can be several pages long and contain a lot of military service information. Data on wounds and awards is also contained within these records.