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.
From 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, Ancestry.com 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?
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