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 Generations.

© 2014, Generations, Woodridge, IL




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Military Monday – WWII Military Research Is NOT The Same As Genealogy Research

Last week I wrote a post called, Where ARE All the WWII Military Records. I wanted to provide some basic information on military records, specifically looking at WWII. After I wrote that post, I spoke to a few people in the genealogy field who are doing research on their military ancestors.  I realized I’m asking the wrong questions and most people have no idea where to start this kind of research or what is available.

The fact that military research is NOT the same as genealogy research……yes, let me repeat that – military research is NOT the same as genealogy research.  This brought up a realization that to successfully do research on your WWII soldier, you can start in the genealogy box but then must leave. Where do you go? Into the historian’s arena. There are some that would argue military research is just another aspect of genealogy research but I don’t see it that way. With genealogy we are looking for names, dates, and places and the records to support those facts and connections. A lot of people don’t dig into the history that accompanies the family. I see military research as history, not genealogy.

How We Have Been Trained

We have been trained to think genealogy for most aspects of any research related to our ancestors. For military research we are encouraged to seek out a few select genealogy databases or record sets. However, for this type of research, we need to go beyond those few databases and record sets. We need to think about historical records. And we must look for the “experts” who have more extensive and specialized knowledge. Harold Henderson explained the concept of “expert” well in his blog post last week called Everyone an “Expert?” Pay particular attention to his final paragraph.

As we learn we are encouraged to read the standard sources on genealogy which contain some information on WWII records. These sources include but are not limited to:

  1. James C. Neagles U.S. Military Records Some WWII records are discussed in here, many of which are references to online indexes through NARA or This book is heavier on pre-WWI records. It was published in 1994.
  2. Lou Szucs and Sandra Hargreaves Luebking’s The Source. The copy I have was published in 2006. This barely touches on WWII records and they are mostly what you can find online.
  3. Debra Johnson Knox’s World War II Records. This was published in 2003.
  4. Val D. Greenwood’s The Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy. The latest version of this book was published in 2000 and stops with WWI records. If you haven’t looked at this book in a while, I encourage you to read the first chapter on “Understanding Genealogical Research” and pay particular attention to this (one of my favorite quotes.)

“Genealogy and history (religious, economic, social, and political) cannot be separated. Men cannot be dissociated from the times and places in which they lived and still be understood. It is impossible to recognize the full extent of research possibilities if you are not aware of the historical background from which your ancestors came.” (Source: Greenwood, Val D. The Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy. Baltimore, MD: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2000, 11.)

That quote is fantastic because it encourages us to step outside the genealogy box. Think about historical context, social history, religious history, military history. Now consider this in regards to the above mentioned books. Not only are these books somewhat outdated as far as WWII records, they barely touch on Women in the military or on the home front. A lot has changed related to what WWII records are available and where they are located. And that location changes as NARA moves records.

We Must Change the Way We Think and Research

To successfully conduct military research we first have to jump out of the genealogy box once we’ve gathered initial facts. I will talk more about this in next week’s post. We also have to start thinking and behaving more like a historian. What does this mean? It means moving beyond the gathering of names, dates, and places. We must begin to look at the life of the soldier as a whole – his genealogy information plus the history surrounding his service through a variety of non-genealogical records, oral histories, published works, maps, POW testimony, IDPFs, photographs, and other scattered pieces of the puzzle. Most importantly, we have to go beyond the soldier himself and look into the lives of those with whom he served. You would be surprised at how the records overlap and how you can draw connections to your soldier based on experiences of others. These are all things I will show you throughout this year.

This is particularly important when researching the story of someone who was Missing in Action (MIA). My colleague Mike Boehler in Luxembourg, and I discuss this often. He works on MIA cases. I’ll give you two examples. First, sometimes the soldier is listed as MIA but there are possible unidentified remains that must first be ruled out as an option. Think of all those Unknown Soldiers buried in cemeteries around the world. Unknown Soldiers in these cemeteries may have the potential to be identified. Using new research methods, a variety of records, DNA, and ruling out all other possible candidates, sometimes a solid case can be put together to seek disinterment and possible identification.

Second, there are remains still buried all over battlefields, church yards, former POW camps and cemeteries, and on civilian property. There are many people who work on these cases, assisting families and the government to find the remains of their loved ones. These researchers think outside the genealogy box and incorporate all possible resources. This means they look at not only records pertaining to that specific MIA soldier, but also those with whom he served, those with whom he died, and any remains already recovered to rule out the possibility that he is buried as an Unknown Soldier. Armed with this information, maps, photographs, testimony, and records, particularly IDPFs and X-Files (more on those in the coming weeks,) researchers can go into the field to search for remains.

The bottom line is we have to examine every resource and the fact is, these are not genealogical records. These are historical records.

Stepping Out of the Box

I am going to help change this idea that genealogy research is the same as military research and help move you out of that box to which you are confined. How? Watch throughout this year for a series of blog posts where I dissect records and show you how to make new connections in your research. WARNING! You will have to step outside the genealogy box! I will also debut new lectures and workshops, short research consultations, a series of books soon to be released, and a valuable surprise! You didn’t know I’d been so busy did you?

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.

© 2014, Generations, Woodridge, IL

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Military Monday – Where ARE the WWII Military Records?

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… 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

Morning Reports

Morning Report pg1A 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.

Unit Histories

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.

What Else?

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.

© 2014, Generations, Woodridge, IL


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Military Monday – Roscoe Red Three Is Missing

20140125_125422I just read Roscoe Red Three Is Missing by Danny I.P. Keay. This was a very well-written and moving book about the life of 1LT Paul Mazal, 513th Fighter Squadron, 406th Fighter Group, 9th Army Air Force. The book was also about the men who researched his life and service and then recovered his remains.

The book is short but powerful. You will need tissues near the end as the story comes to its conclusion.  And if you ever wonder as a genealogist if the ancestors are helping us as we work – this book will leave you a believer. I have seen and experienced this many times as I work through the research and writing of my Stories of the Lost book. Clues pop up out of seemingly nowhere. The right person is placed in your path just went you need someone. A phone call you anticipate might provide a negative result provides something positive. Pay attention because it does happen!

Now, I’ve been doing a lot of research into World War II but not specifically pilots. My focus has been more on Army soldiers. Aviation is still a little too technical for me right now but I’m learning…..slowly. Danny writes in a way that anyone can understand the aviation lingo and events transpiring as Paul prepares for his final flight.

Danny outlined the steps he took to research Paul’s life and then recover his remains. He moves into the process by which the remains were identified and returned to the family. The book ends with a moving account of how Paul was honored upon his return home, both by his family and the military. Again – get your tissues because you will need them. (Spoiler alert: This is another part of the story that will make you believe the ancestors help us.)

As a researcher, the only thing I wish this book had was notes and sources. It is my hope in a future edition, the author will provide these pieces. As a research junkie, I love this type of information. As a writer, I really enjoyed the style he used as he looks back and then to the present, throughout the first part of the story. I do not write this way but after seeing how Danny did it, this style is something I could use in a future book. It worked.

I encourage you to read this book and catch a glimpse into the life of those brave men and women who fought to preserve our way of life and the men and women who bring them home. If Danny writes another book you better believe I’ll be one of the first in line to buy it.

© 2014, Generations, Woodridge, IL

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Military Monday – The Dead of World War II

I read two books this weekend about our honored dead of World War II. The first was Disposition of Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard World War II Dead. This was a pamphlet sent to families after the war was over explaining their choices as to the final interment of their Soldier Dead. The Army had a similar pamphlet.

20140112_195324I also read The Foreign Burial of American War Dead – A History by Chris Dickon. This book explained the history of how the U.S. handled the dead from the early days of our country through the present day. There was a lot of information on pre-WWI burials I had not previously read, as that has not been a focus. All that information explained why during the Civil War, the military began a group of soldiers in the Quartermaster Corps that handled the Soldier Dead. Of course there were no rules or regulations and war was hell so many men went unidentified or unrecovered for various reasons.

By World War I and World War II, the military had better procedures in place and many soldiers were recovered and identified. There are however, many who still sleep in foreign soil waiting to be discovered and waiting to be identified.

One thing that makes this book even more valuable is the extensive appendix listing cemeteries that are not American Battle Monuments Commission cemeteries formed after World War I and II, that hold American dead. The names of the cemeteries and its honored dead are listed.

If you are looking for a good overall read about what became the Graves Registration Service in World War II and beyond, this book will provide a good history. It is a good starting point for anyone thinking about researching this topic.

© 2014, Generations, Woodridge, IL

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In Memory of Pfc. James Privoznik

Photo of James' grave taken by Norbert Morbé January 11, 2012.

Photo of James’ grave taken by Norbert Morbé January 11, 2012.

Today we remember the ultimate sacrifice for his country, by Pfc. James Privoznik. Originally of the 90th Division, 790th Ordnance until 14 days before he was killed. Then he was moved into the 90th Division, 358th Infantry during the Battle of the Bulge.

James is buried in the Luxembourg American Cemetery.

James’ story is being written in my book “Stories of the Lost” that will be released in the spring. Please watch my Blog for more details.

© 2014, Generations, Woodridge, IL

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