Today I was Googling and looking for information on WWII for a biography I’m writing for a client’s family member who served in the Signal Corps. When I research anything WWII, I start with Google and look for books that I can get at the fabulous Pritzker Military Museum and Library here in Chicago or through inter-library loan or to purchase my own copy. I look for digitized Field Manuals and Technical Manuals and Training Manuals. I look for records at various repositories so I know where to email or send a letter asking for a search if I cannot get there myself. And I search the NARA record groups thoroughly before moving on to the categorized list of websites I’ve gathered. Because of the type of research and writing I do, I dig very deeply and try to solve every question (this doesn’t always happen.)
As I was searching I ran across an “experts” website and a query posted by someone seeking information and a response by a man which really irked me. I read more of the queries this man responded to and searched online for him and saw he responds on many boards. Yet the more I read the more confused I became. His responses, even from 2013, told users that basically the records didn’t all burn in St. Louis and it was a crime that NARA was telling people they couldn’t get their ancestor’s record and that only next-of-kin could get records for WWII. He told people the IDPF (Individual Deceased Personnel Files) contained all the service record information. He told people the “Unit histories (Morning Reports)” were in the U.S. Army War College. Ummmmm…..no they are not the same record and no they are not there. His tone was also condescending and rude which I did not like. It also appeared that he was willing to take all your information but if you wanted any in return you had to pay for his services. Now I’m in the business of research but I really believe that you have to give something back to the community that helps you learn and grow.
Feeling irritated after reading all this, I spoke to my researcher in St. Louis to verify I was not losing my mind on a few topics:
- if the records I’ve been working with are where I thought they were (and where I’ve been receiving them from) or if I had imagined it all. (I did not imagine it.)
- if I had imagined that the IDPF had all the service information in it (It most certainly does not.)
- if I was confused and thought unit histories are NOT the same as Morning Reports. (They are two different records.)
The more I thought about his posts and the incorrect information he’s spreading around, the more irked I became. So, I’m going to tell you where you can find some major, very useful, WWII military records for your ancestors. Note: This is subject to change as soon as NARA moves more records out of Washington, D.C., and College Park, MD, after this is posted. What I’m going to share is not the end all be-all of records and resources. These are some major ones to get you started.
The Military Service Record
The service record is at the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) in St. Louis. Yes, 80% of the Army and Army Air Corps records burned in 1973 but not everything. Now, you can fill out the Form 180 and send it in, and NARA will search for the service record. That is all folks. They will not search for IDPFs or Morning Reports using this form. And they will not tell you about all the other records available – that isn’t part of their response process. The Army Air Corps IDPFs are now in St. Louis. This is a brand new thing and I believe you send a letter requesting a search.
Did you know that many servicemen and women filed a copy of their DD-214 or Discharge Papers with their County Clerk or County Recorder? In Cook County, Illinois, it was with the Recorder. If NPRC does not have a copy of the record, try the County in which your soldier lived after the war. You can also check with the attorney that handled the estate and the funeral home, especially if a military headstone was placed on the grave.
Do you have to be next-of-kin to obtain WWII records? Not if the individual died or was discharged by 1949. Those records and previous year discharges/deaths are now available to the public. If you have an ancestor who served in WWII and then later Korea or Vietnam, those records are still closed.
The Morning Reports can be searched in-person or by hiring a researcher. NARA has a list of researchers but if you want someone who lives right there and is excellent, contact Norm Richards. He is fabulous, prompt, helpful, and worth the money. he will search for IDPFs, VA Index Cards, Service Records, and Morning Reports for you. I’ve been working with him for over a year and a half now and highly recommend his services. His contact information is on my Generations site under Resources. Tell him I sent you.
Individual Deceased Personnel Files (IDPFs)
Did your soldier die in service? You will want to request his or her IDPF immediately. Then patiently wait roughly six months for it to arrive. These records DO NOT contain all the service information that burned in the fire. The IDPF will list only the last unit in which a soldier served. If you’ve heard me talk about James Privoznik, his IDPF says 90th Division 358th Infantry Regiment. You know what? He was in that unit the last 14 days of his life. The other eight-ish months he was overseas he was in the 90th Division, 790th Ordnance Company. That bit of information was not in his IDPF. The IDPFs will usually have letters from the family (grab your tissues!); Disinterment Directives; Condition of the remains upon temporary burial and permanent burial; Cause of death; location of death; location of burial; listing of personal effects; and other paperwork.
There are cases in which a soldier was unidentified and he would have an X-File then a full IDPF if he was identified. The X-files often contain dental records and some medical records obtained from St. Louis to use to compare to the remains brought to the Graves Registration Service.
Where are the IDPFs?
The NPRC in St. Louis has them now for Army Air Corps only.
Need other branches of the service? Write to: Department of the Army U.S. Army Human Resources Command ATTN: AHRC-FOIA 1600 Spearhead Division Avenue, Dept 107 Fort Knox, KY 40122-5504
A Morning Report is not a Unit History. Morning Reports were created each morning by the Company Clerk outlining events (action) of the day before and listing all those who were entering or exiting the Company (you need to know the unit down to the Company level) for any reason. The report will list the soldier by name, serial number, rank, and sometimes MOS. It will (usually) tell you the reason he or she is entering or leaving a unit or if a promotion or demotion occurred. These reports are dated and have the location of where the Company was stationed that morning. Using these reports you can compile the history of a soldier’s service and his whereabouts. Not completely but it is a REALLY good way to start.
It is difficult to see but the last guy entered is 36695605 Winkler, Frank J. Pvt. what is written under basically says the five above this note were added from the 29th Infantry Division Headquarters. (These guys were Replacement Soldiers.) The soldier listed first says fr dy to KIA Battle Casualty which means from duty to Killed in Action Battle Casualty. In other reports it will give a definitive unit from which the soldier was transferred so you can trace them backward or forward depending on which way they are moving.
These records are at the NPRC in St. Louis. (See Military Service Records if you need a researcher there.)
After Action Reports
After Action Reports may not list your soldier by name but will provide context and clues to service. These were written at the beginning of the month for a unit. They outline the action of the previous month and locations where the unit was stationed. You can view some great examples at the 90th Division Association’s website here. Many units are digitizing these types of records. If they cannot be found online and the unit has a website, contact them to see if they have copies. Next, check with the National Archives. You can search their guide here.
A Unit History is not a Morning Report. It is a compilation of the events of that unit during the course of the war. You can read many on the 90th Division Association’s website here. Many units are digitizing these types of records. If they cannot be found online and the unit has a website, contact them to see if they have copies. Also, many units created books after the war that were sent to the members of the unit whether they lived or died. James Privoznik died 11 January 1945 yet his mother received an envelope after the war with the history of the 358th Infantry Regiment address to James.
There are so many other resources available to researchers that it would take many more blog posts to discuss them all. These resources will get you started on a rich research path. Hopefully it clears up where some of these records are right now.
What should you do if you get stuck? Talk to researchers on FaceBook. You can join my Military Research and Storytelling group and ask questions. There are plenty of people willing to share what they know. Pose a question on Twitter. Shoot me an email.
What can you do when you have amassed information? Write the soldier’s story or have someone write it for you. It is so important to preserve these stories so start writing!
If you have found WWII records that have really helped your research, please share with us in the comments.
Like what you’ve seen and want to know more? Sign up for my newsletter on my author website. For military research and writing services, or to book a lecture on military records, please contact me through my website Generations.
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