There is a myth many family historians believe and that is, all the records I need are online. This is not true. Only a small percentage of records available throughout time have been digitized and placed online. This is especially true for military records. Family historians exploring their World War II ancestor’s service and lives should search online to see what information exists and provides contextual history for that soldier and his service. The researcher should also search offline record sources to obtain specific service and medical information and additional contextual history to properly place the soldier into historical context.
There are many online sources available today on Ancestry.com, Fold3.com, and the National Archives website. These sources range from Draft Cards, Army Enlistment Records, Missing Air Crew Reports, Naval War Diaries (Operational diaries), photographs, and war crime testimony.
Researchers should not overlook all of the World War II Reunion Groups and Associations for the specific unit(s) in which their soldier fought. Many of these groups are obtaining and digitizing or indexing record sets. The 90th Division Association is one such group. The 29th Infantry Division is another to explore as one veteran created a searchable Excel file of all the Morning Reports for the 29th.
After you exhaust the online sources, don’t stop there. Explore all the offline resources available too.
One of the first places to start your research is the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) in St. Louis. There are three main ways to explore records at this facility. First, you can go to their website and print Form 180, complete it and send it in. This will produce a search of military service records and medical records only. Nothing else. If your soldier served in the Army or Air Corps (today’s Air Force), chances are good they will send you a letter saying “the records burned.”
You can however, visit the NPRC in person to search these records in addition to the Morning Reports, payroll records, and other records held in this facility. The final way is to hire a researcher familiar with the procedures and records at the NPRC. I highly recommend Norm Richards as a researcher. He is efficient and knowledgeable. Norm is at the NPRC almost every day they are open conducting research.
Other offline resources include records held at Archives 2 in College Park, MD. These are the unit records (unit histories, rosters, photographs, maps, etc.)
Look for histories written and published by the official military branches, historians, and veterans. All of these resources will provide historical context.
Need more World War II Resources and assistance? Check out my book, Stories from the Battlefield: A Beginning Guide to World War II Research and my WWII Toolbox on my website.
© 2014 Jennifer Holik, Woodridge, IL