This is the first article in a short series about researching your WWI Army Veteran online. Also, if your veteran served before the war, or after the war from 1918-1939, a lot of these tips may also help you discover puzzle pieces.
First please keep in mind that you will not find everything you need online, especially OMPFs (service files) and WWI Burial Files. These are vital records to obtain, even if you worry the OMPF may have burned in the 1973 Fire at the NPRC in St. Louis. So where do you begin your search? These are a few places to start. For more detailed instructions, grab a copy of one of my research books. While they are WWII focused, all the strategies, records, process applies to WWI, WWII, Korea, and Vietnam.
- You first begin by writing down everything you think you know or have heard about your veteran(s). Ask family for copies of any documents, photos, letters, and other war memorabilia.
- For each fact you write down, document where you obtained that information. Write a source citation so you can refer back to that source if needed. Sources are extremely important if you plan to write the story and share with others, family or the public.
- Create a timeline of service so you can view the facts you have, the gaps where information is missing and any errors you may have created or that were within records. Then, start an online search for more clues and speak with a researcher like myself to obtain archival records.
In the last two years we have seen a tremendous amount of digitized military records be placed online at Ancestry and FamilySearch, among other websites. These online records make it easier for you to locate information, but you still have records in the archives that you will need to obtain. With all this digitization, you may wonder a couple things.
Do I really need to hire a military researcher if so much is online?
Depends. If you do not want to do the research yourself, especially since you have to make appointments at all the archives and plan months in advance, then yes, hiring a researcher like me is a very good idea. You’ll save time, money, and frustration by working with me. View what you receive when you work with me. To set up a free phone consult to discuss what’s possible, how long it currently takes to receive records, fees, and what you receive, email me at email@example.com. Additionally, if you want to write the story, or have it written, I also offer writing services and coaching services.
Currently and for the foreseeable future, the fastest way to get service files and WWI Burial Files from the archives, along with any other rosters, court martial docs, civilian files, etc., that have not been digitized, is to hire a researcher. Additionally, no matter how you go about research, you may need someone like me to help you with the unit level records, which is part 2 of the research process.
What kind of information can I find online to tell the story of my WWI veteran?
Please note there are many more databases available on these and other websites, but these are key to start or add to your search.
U.S., World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918. This will not prove military service but provide clues like address, date and place of birth, and next of-kin.
U.S., Army Transport Passenger Manifests, 1910-1930 If your veteran sailed oversesas to Europe or the Pacific, you should find them leaving the U.S. and returning on these ship manifests. You’ll find units on each manifest which will help you build your timeline and correctly search unit level records. You will also discover Army Serial Numbers and next of-kin information and addresses. If your veteran was Killed or Died during this time period, their remains will be listed on a ship manifest by name as returning to the U.S. if the family chose to have the remains repatriated.
United States, Veterans Administration Master Index, 1917-1940. This database provides a wealth of information on service and address at discharge. Please be aware there may not always be a unit for you to work with. In some cases, the unit someone was placed in immediately after enlistment or a training unit at the end of service may be listed. Basically, if there is a unit, it may not be the only one in which your veteran served. Do your homework and find all the units before you start unit-level research.
United States, Enlisted and Officer Muster Rolls and Rosters, 1916-1939. This database is mostly indexed as of the date of this article (June 2022). Be sure to download not only the page your veteran is listed on but also the first page of that month/bi-monthly roster so you know what month and unit he was part of. These rosters, along with Morning Reports on Fold3 will help you reconstruct service even if the OMPF burned. This research is required to put your soldier into correct context.
U.S. Morning Reports 1912-1946. Please be aware that this digitization project is not complete as of June 2022. Also – you will find a lot of Punch Cards which are useless so scroll beyond those and find the typed or handwritten reports. These will help you reconstruct service. For more information about these records, please see my past articles:
- Company Morning Reports
- More on Company Morning Reports
- 5 Reasons Why You Must Have Army and Air Force Company Morning Reports
This research is required to put your soldier into correct context.
Have questions? Please ask in the comments.
Be sure to come back for additional parts of my Research a WWI Army Veteran Online series.
Are You Ready to Start Writing and Researching?
I would love to help you research and write the stories of your family members from World War I – Vietnam. If you are ready to start a research or writing project, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and let’s set up a free phone consultation. I’m excited to help you bring your family’s military history to life and preserve it for generations. Also visit the Ancestral Souls Wisdom School to learn how a Genogram Session can help you identify your ancestor’s trauma and patterns and start to heal.
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