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Monday, July 18, 2016

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Discover Your Ancestor's Military History

What if you do not know which of your family members served in the military? You will learn some tips and resources to help you get started in this article.

Which wars might my ancestor have fought in?
You will need to know which wars occurred and how long they lasted. You will also need to know if your family member was around the typical age of other servicemen. That sounds pretty overwhelming, right? Well, it does not need to be because of the chart, Ages of Servicemen in Wars on the FamilySearch Wiki. This chart lists 20 American wars in chronological order. It lists the duration of each war and the typical ages and years of birth for those who may have served. You can use this chart to identify wars that your family member lived through or possibly fought in.

Identify what a military record might help you learn
If you thought identifying which war your ancestor fought in was a huge task, how do you know what records to search for that will help you learn something about your ancestor? Another table on the FamilySearch Wiki will help you determine which records will be of most use to you. It is called the U. S. Military Selection Table.
In the first column of the table choose, the detail that you would like to learn about your ancestor. Make a list of the record types with a square in the box. These records may help you learn the information you want to learn. Make a list of those records that you will need to locate.

Where do I find access to military records?
That is a loaded question. Many records can be found online and offline. It will not take you long to get overwhelmed by all the databases online that you will need to learn how to use. Just to keep things simple, start with online records first at (free),, and The last two subscription sites are available at many family history centers. Focus on the most recent events in your ancestor's life. For example, a cemetery record or a headstone application may be a lot easier to locate than the service record.

Assume your ancestor was born in 1920, according to the Ages of Servicemen in Wars chart, which wars may he have been drafted or served? The answers would be:
  • World War II
  • Korean War
  • Vietnam War
With the Ages of Servicemen chart you can determine which wars would be a possibility without any prior knowledge of military service. Next, you would go to the U. S. Military Selection Table to determine what detail you wanted to learn.
Suppose you did not have a death date. The cemetery record may be the easiest way to document the death. What if you did not know the name of the cemetery where the military veteran was buried? You would not be able to simply check the grave for signs of military service, but you could go to in hopes that someone applied for a military headstone.

The U. S., Headstone Applications for Military Veterans, 1925-1963 would be an important place to begin. U. S., Headstones and Interment Records for U. S. Military Cemeteries on Foreign Soil, 1942-1949 would also be useful if you knew your ancestor was killed in action outside of the U. S. The first database was particularly helpful in identifying military veterans buried in Fairview Cemetery. A search of all headstone applications received from Greenwood County, South Carolina revealed burials that were not even known to exist.


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