Posted by Ancestry Team on April 27, 2016 in Research

Ancestry family trees provide researchers with a wealth of resources to help locate names, dates, and places within records, that can help us build a story about an individual and his or her family. Genealogical research should be more than a collection of names, dates, and places. Luckily, Ancestry family trees help us move beyond collecting dry facts, to writing a story using historical context.

Historical context places relevant events and details around a person based on the time and place in which he or she lived. We can apply this to our World War II research when we learn about the training of a soldier, sailor, or Marine. We have access to unit level histories and analyses of battles fought. All of these pieces add to our soldier’s story. is a good resource for finding those pieces that add context. Primarily a military records site, provides access to documents and images from the Revolutionary War to Vietnam. There are additional Commonwealth records, a few non-military record sets, and newspapers, as well.

With it’s focus mainly on military records, Fold3 dives deeper into contextual records. Some of the background information you may find may be on collections that may not specifically name of your soldier, unless he was an officer.

Record collections for World War II on Fold3 include:

  • Unit level histories.
  • Monographs written after the war which analyze major battles or units.
  • Donated records from military associations.
  • Naval War Diaries.
  • USMC Mission Reports.

Important Research Note! Fold3 does not have the Official Military Personnel Files for a soldier. You still have to get these records from the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, Missouri.

Searching Collections

There is an art to finding the best contextual information on your soldier’s service. To do so, researchers must move beyond the searching by name only and searching within record collections. How do we do this?

Searching within a record set means you browse the Fold3 Collections to a specific publication. Then, use the search box at the top of the form to search for a unit, soldier’s name, battle, or some other relevant piece of information.

Let’s use 1st Lt. Robert E. Bishop as an example for what we can find in Fold3 records. Robert E. Bishop was a Marine Corps aviator and member of the VMSB-341, MAG-21, 2nd MAW, lost at sea near New Britain on 17 January 1944. Serial Number O-21059.

WWII War Diaries - MMAR AIR GR 21 - War History - Image courtesy of Fold3.
WWII War Diaries – MMAR AIR GR 21 – War History – Image courtesy of Fold3.

Three matches appear when you search only Bishop’s name and focus on WWII War Diaries. They are:

Important Research Note! The Marines during World War II were under the authority of the U.S. Navy. Therefore, many of their records and aviation mission reports will be contained within WWII Naval War Diaries.

Documenting Facts in Ancestry Trees from Fold3 Records

When you locate records which name your soldier, Fold3 allows you to attach records to a tree on Ancestry. Be careful when you do this as you are often only providing one page of what could a lengthier packet of documents. Attaching only one page could cause context to be lost. People who browse trees on Ancestry may not understand what the record really means in the big picture.

Research Tip! Put a description of the full document in the fact description area on your Ancestry tree and note the number of pages so researchers can reference the full report.

Focusing on the Documents in Fold3

Once we link the three WWII War Diaries cited above to a tree for Robert E. Bishop, we have one small piece of the puzzle documented in the Ancestry tree. We can move the research further by reading the reports and writing our analysis of what Bishop experienced as part of VMSB-341 or MAG-21. When you cite the sources from the reports in your writing and upload a document to your tree on Ancestry, you are providing greater context for other researchers who browse your tree.

Adding Facts and Writing the Context Helps Everyone

There are thousands of people around the world who are just beginning their research on Ancestry and have little to no experience in military research or writing. When you write up an analysis of records you find on Fold3 and attach those notes to your tree with source citations, it serves as a guide to those who are unsure how to start or what to do. Your write-up will help them better understand this part of the research process. And of course, as you add these contextual pieces to your tree, you are also slowly building the story that helps bring that individual and his family to life.

Are you ready to start exploring other records and build your Ancestry family tree?



  1. Cathy

    Thanks for the great article. I love the ability to attach records from to people in my family tree on Ancestry. Being able to have everything in one place really helps to put a story together.

  2. Great article, Jennifer. I always enjoy your informative articles, and always learn something new. This article focus on the “What to do” question, more than the “How to do.” Personally, I prefer the What tips, as the How tips are so numerous! It’s good that readers can envision a day when all tools are interconnected and accessible, and available from a single source. We are not there yet! My favorite NEW discovery to help my research is!

  3. P J Evans

    Too many of the Fold3 records I’ve seen don’t have enough information included to even decide if they’re for the same person.

  4. Susan M

    BEE, if World Explorer is not right for you, then you’d have to subscribe to Fold3 and separately. Check out the costs for each and then make your decision.

  5. PJ Evans – The records on Fold3 for WWII are unit level records. If your soldier was not an officer, he likely won’t be named in them or if it is a common name, you could have trouble deciding if that soldier is yours.

    There is a process to the research which begins with a timeline of service to know exactly when and which units a soldier was in. Soldiers were usually not in just one unit their entire service. With a timeline and knowing where he was, you can investigate unit level records in more depth on Fold3. There is a lot of gold there if you know how to find it.

    You can learn how to research step-by-step using the only authoritative books on the market on WWII research – “Stories from the World War II Battlefield Volume 1” is for Army. You can find them on my website with many other research and writing resources

  6. KC

    Negativity is counter-productive no matter what context and it is very, very draining. Being assertive without the anger and hostile aggressiveness can bring more like-minded people together for better outcomes. I am no different than a vast majority of FTM/ users who have taken a personal hit from the avenue ancestry took this past year. They lost sight of the total picture when they got caught up with the frenzy of getting out the new concept of introducing “history” into the tree format. I see that it would have been better to add it as a separate optional “purchase” for those who want it, instead of force-feeding it as a dominate in their screen display. The only part I see as potentially useful to this “history component” is that reading it does help one find mistakes in what that person accepted and/or unknowingly put into their own trees. I personally get so much from that it is still well worth it BUT that is purchased with a.c has now taken on a negative that makes it less appealing … has over the last year required ADDITIONAL FEE to acquire anything of significance DESPITE having paid the extra fee for all-inclusive “world status at ancestry”. I think that is unethical and ancestry should be doing something about it. They should either add the extra required fee that requires (after the fact) or distinctly say up-front at time of advertising and purchase that the version of offered is a watered-down version. Why is it that we still find once reputable businesses putting important information is small print. That being said … as for Fold3 … I have paid for it for two years and have yet to investigate because I have so much coming from that I can’t keep up and feel intimidated because I know so little about rank and file and military terms and have no pre-knowledge as to what service or unit a relative may have served. It would be nice if Fold3 would have an option for building an SAR-DAR application using the bloodline of the tree or providing military photo hints for names in the tree showing that they do truly integrate with our family trees. We really shouldn’t have to re-enter anyone’s name and dates if that information is already in the tree. The photo hints has done a tremendously good job at doing just that – their interest in putting history into our trees could have been better served by handling history and military records and photos as another hint sub-category that their vast number of clients could choose as an option.

  7. BEE

    Actually, I was being facetious with my {rhetorical} question – adding my “two cents”. I had a subscription to Fold3 for a year or two, but had no use for it, especially at an added expense. I would hope would be better and of more help – although any that come up on ancestry are sometimes useless. The article might continue both the first and last name, but it’s not about the person I’m looking for! Again, I’m not going to pay “extra”.

  8. Pam

    At the end of your ancestry blog article, before the author’s bio note are a series of numbered boxes. One would assume that these indicated additional pages to the article. Unfortunately by clicking any of the boxes (2-5) you are immediately directed to a logon (or join now) choice for LinkdIn. Why would this presumably site be so prominently on the blog – with no labeling or explanation?

  9. Pam

    There does not appear to be any option to download or copy blog articles – not even a “printer friendly” choice.
    Some subjects may be very appealing but we don’t have time to study it immediately. How about adding one of these features?

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