Military Monday – Start in the Genealogy Box

Last week I wrote a post discussing the point of genealogy research not being like military research. You have to step outside the genealogy box to do this kind of research. This week we are going to start in the genealogy box and learn how to jump out of it. Please keep in mind I’m discussing World War II records only. While there is a lot of overlap between other wars and records, the focus here is only World War II.

Flow chart of researchFrom what I have observed and learned from others (think research librarians and those who pull records at the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC),) people typically come from one of two main research starting points. And they all seem to stop the research after they request a search for records at the NPRC. Let’s examine this thought by using the following chart. If you click the chart you can see a larger version.

We start out with a soldier’s information. Usually researchers have at least a name, date and place of birth, branch of service, family information. Some people are lucky enough to know the serial number, theater of war, and unit(s) in which the soldier served.

From here they choose one of two paths which lead to the search at the NPRC. You have the NPRC path which ends in either records burned or information found. There is a Genealogy/Home Sources section where you talk to family members about what you need which then either leads to NPRC or Genealogy Records and Databases.

Genealogy Records and Database include: Newspaper research, NARA database, databases, FamilySearch records (WWII Old Man’s Draft, Census, Enlisted Personnel Database, POW Databases, State Roll of Honor listing casualties, obituaries, etc.)  Some people choose to begin here and search the most obvious sources then proceed to requesting a soldier’s service record.

So, sitting in the genealogy box, you want to try to locate as much of the following information as possible BEFORE initiating a search at the NPRC.

  • Soldier’s full name
  • Date and place of birth
  • Service Number (this is not the individual’s Social Security Number)
  • Branch of service
  • Dates of service (enlistment, discharge or death)
  • Theater(s) of war
  • Unit(s) in which he or she served

Armed with this information, or as much as possible, you can contact the NPRC to request a search. When you do this, you will fill out Form 180 which will ONLY search for a service record and medical records. There are many other records in St. Louis (think Morning Reports) that are not searched unless you go in person or hire someone. Alternatively, if you have a unit, I encourage you to either go to the NPRC in person to conduct research or hire someone. I use a man named Norm Richards for all my NPRC work. He is an independent researcher who will request the service file and search Morning Reports, Payroll Records, and other sources quickly. What are Morning Reports? Valuable records which can help you trace your soldier’s service. I’ll be talking about those soon. Here is a quick guide to what records are available.

When you have located additional information, particularly about the unit in which the soldier served, there are many other non-genealogical resources and records you can search. How? Come back next week and we’ll start talking about some!

Are you ready to jump out of the genealogy box and tell your soldier’s story?

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.

© 2014, Jennifer Holik




Categories: Military Research | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

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11 thoughts on “Military Monday – Start in the Genealogy Box

  1. Cindy G

    Another helpful blog post…..thanks Jennifer! Love the “quick guide sheets”!

    Being all new to this, I have created a 3-ring binder. I am printing out your posts and using them as a reference. To get started I gathered all the information of my veterans in my family and put them on a spreadsheet. Then I Googled the heck out of each one (per your suggestion!) to find out any more information. Now in the next process of requesting a NPRC search. Let the adventure continue!

  2. Cindy G

    Question: If I sent a request for an IDPF on a soldier would I still need to send a request on the 180 form too on the same individual?

    • Yes. The IDPF is a separate file that is not a service file. It is also not part of the service file. When you send Form 180 to NPRC they will only search service records. In many cases for Army and Army Air Corps, those burned. However, if you have a unit in which your soldier served, you can contact an independent researcher I use, Norm Richards at and ask him to search everything. When the Morning Reports can be located if you have a unit – you can trace a soldier’s service usually very well.

      • Cindy G

        Thanks Jennifer. I thought of it after reading your blog. I had sent for the IDPF but not for the service file. Makes sense, thanks!

  3. Cindy G

    This is a WWI question, but when looking at your “quick guide” link to what records are available on this blog, I see that “All Branches of Burial Case Files from 1915-1939 are available. Then under the header “ARC” is 595318 and Request Form B. Where do I find this form to fill out and submit? Thanks Jennifer~!

    • Hi Cindy,

      That quick guide came from the NPRC and I believe it references a form AT the NPRC researchers on-site can fill out. For Burial Files you can send a letter to NPRC requesting a search and provide name, serial number (if known), unit, date and place of birth, residence, date of death. That is usually enough to initiate a search.

  4. Paul Davidson

    Great article. Thanks for the info, you made it easy to understand. BTW, if anyone needs to fill out a form 180, I found a blank form here This site PDFfiller also has some tutorials on how to fill it out and a few related forms that you might find useful.

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