Alternate Sources of Military Information
Ok, so let’s say you either couldn’t find a copy of your relative’s separation documents, or you could, but still want to learn more. You may be able to piece together information from other sources. Other places to look are:
Genealogy websites like Ancestry
Ancestry.com and other genealogical sites often return military records like,
- Enlistment records (but will not include serial number)
- Draft registration cards
- Navy muster rolls
- Department of Veterans Affairs BIRLS death file record, which includes branch of service, enlistment date, and release date
- Prisoner of War records
Fold3 military research website
Fold3.com is a paid site (on its own or with an Ancestry membership) for military information, but does offer a free basic membership so you can see what records are available before deciding whether to purchase a subscription or not. They also offer a 7-day free trial during which you can access everything. In my area, the local Mormon Church research library carries a subscription to Fold3, which I can use for free by visiting their location.
Fold3 does contain a lot of military records, even Missing Air Crew reports from the Army Air Forces, which you may not find on Ancestry.com.
The National Archives online search tool
The online electronic military records in the archival databases of NARA include,
- World War II Army and Army Air Forces enlistment records (including serial number – see Note below)
- World War II prisoner of war records
- Korean War casualties, records of dead and wounded
- Korean War prisoner of war records
- Vietnam Conflict records of dead, missing in action, and prisoners of war
- Vietnam Conflict records of awards and decorations of honor
- Vietnam Conflict Army ground combat operations records, air sorties, and records about hostile fire against US and Australian warships
- Civil War records
- Cold War records
For detail on how to get started with your NARA online search, review the Getting Started Guide.
For information about what you can find in the National Archives’ online military records by era, visit
The NARA online search screen basic search, accessed through https://aad.archives.gov/aad/
If too many records are returned, you may “Search within a field” to narrow down the results. You may narrow results by ASN, Name, Residence State, Residence County, Place of Enlistment, Date of Enlistment Year, Source of Army Personnel, and Year of Birth.
This site describes itself as
The American Air Museum website records the stories of the men and women of the US Army Air Forces (USAAF) who served their country from the UK in the Second World War. It also records the memories of the British people who befriended them. Browse, edit and upload your own photographs and memories to help us build an online memorial to their lives.
Scroll down the home page to the Getting Started article or further down to search the Archives of People, Aircraft, Places, Missions, Units, and Media (photographs). In the People category, you do not have to fill in any search information other than the name in the Keyword field to begin your search.
If you know your relative served in the 8th Air Force in England in WWII, you may find much more information like group and squadron assignments, base location, names of crew mates, and mission detail.
Individual Unit/Group websites
Once you have discovered the exact unit or group of the military in which your relative served, use Google to see if any of the group’s records are shared online. For example, my father’s group, the 384th Bomb Group of the 8th Air Force in WWII, has a very detailed site dedicated to the group and the individuals who served in it. The site contains extensive records of personnel, missions, aircraft, etc., and a large photo gallery.
Many WWII groups of NexGens have Facebook groups to connect with others whose relatives served in the same group/unit. Group researchers will offer assistance with questions and help with research once you become a member of the group.
Headstones and obituaries sometimes include branch of service or even unit/group information.
- Legacy.com may have an obituary that includes the group or unit of a deceased serviceman or veteran.
- Findagrave.com may have a memorial or photo of the headstone that includes group or unit information.
If your military research takes you into researching unit histories, you may find information at:
- National Archives and Record Administration in College Park, Maryland for Army (and Army Air Force) unit information – textual records, maps, photographs, films, computer records on magnetic tape. Click here for researcher info.
- Air Force Historical Research Agency at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama
- The research center at the Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force near Savannah in Pooler, Georgia. Donald Miller did research here for his book Masters of the Air.
National WWII Memorial Registry
The online registry may provide some information.
Uniform and Insignia/Decoration Clues in Photos
You may be able to determine your relative’s unit or group or at least branch, rank, and specialty through uniforms worn in wartime photos.
Patches top left to bottom: Communications, Armament, Photography, Engineering, and Weather from www.militaryspecialtiesinc.com:
Books and Articles
You can find old and new books with lots of military historical information. Of course, they likely won’t mention your relative specifically, but may fill you in on the history of the unit or group. Other than Amazon and eBay, search for used books on Abebooks and Alibris.
Military Times posted a good article on obtaining missing military records and awards here. And note the photo at the top of the article of a preservation technician restoring military personnel records damaged during the July 12, 1973 fire. More records are recovered every day.
Attend Military Historical Association Reunions, Connect with Veterans, and Connect with Other NexGens and Researchers
Many questions about a relative’s military history just can’t be answered through military records or information found online. Reach out to the historical association and attend one of their reunions. You will be able to talk face to face with veterans of the group. Their numbers are dwindling, so the sooner the better. By listening to the experiences of those who served in the same group as your relative, you will better understand the experiences of your relative.
You may even find yourself on the cover of the association’s magazine!
Start a Blog
If you can’t find enough information, let it find you. Start a blog – I suggest WordPress.com – and start writing about and posting all the information and names you have. Make sure to tag the information for which you think someone else might search. Include “Contact Me” information, specifically an e-mail address, and allow comments so it’s easy to be reached. I have had tremendous success connecting with relatives of airmen I write about in my blog. With every connection, my picture of my dad’s WWII service becomes a bit more complete.
Home page of TheArrowheadClub.com
A note about the Army Serial Number (ASN). At the time of enlistment, an 8-digit ASN was assigned. However, if your relative became an officer, he/she would have been reassigned a new ASN beginning with O- and followed by 6 digits. The enlistment record will include only the original serial number, not the reassigned officer serial number.
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2019