One question I often get is Why isn’t my Naval grandpa on all the Navy Muster Rolls? I have looked and can’t find him on any. I also get questions from people who find their Naval man on a few rolls but nothing else.
Military research is complex and the Navy and Marine Corps made finding all the answers about service a bit more difficult than the Army and Army Air Forces because of how they created their personnel files and other records. You really have to start at the beginning and put a timeline together of everything you think you know plus what you can document from a personnel file plus all the other available records to really get a full picture. And this requires you to also retrieve unit records, deck logs, histories, photos, maps, and more. This article gives you some basic tips and information and is by no means the end all be all of Navy research.
Did You Know?
Before I answer the question posed, did you know that someone did not have to be on a ship to be listed on a Naval Muster Roll? There are rolls for stations – which are locations on land. This might have been a Naval Base in the U.S. or a location somewhere else in the world, perhaps an island in the Philippines. Fold3.com has many Naval Muster Rolls available for you to search.
Keep in mind: that military records may not exist because the ship they were carried on sank, was damaged by fire and water, or some other form of devastation destroyed the records. I have seen unit records and histories specifically state records from X month to X month, year, were destroyed by a fire on the ship in the records room. Additionally, not all rolls may have been digitized. What you find online is a small fraction of what is actually available to tell your service member’s story for WWI, WWII, Korea, or Vietnam.
The Simple Answer
The simple answer is, unless he was a sailor on a ship all the time, and there were changes to his health, job, rank, transfer to a new ship or station, etc., you might not find him listed very often.
You can view a Muster Roll here – I broke it into two pieces. The top of the Muster Roll provides the individual’s name, service number, rating (rank) and date of enlistment. All important information to trace him through future rolls especially if he has a common name.
The bottom part of the form shows what is happening (transfer, change for any reason, etc.) Find your sailor on the top – let’s say he’s Jack Amoroso line 9 – then go to the bottom of the document and find line 9 to see what his status was.
The More Complex Answer
If your family member was not on one or two ships the entire time he was in service, but moved between stations (on land) and ships (sometimes only to be transported), he may not appear on many rolls.
This means when a ship transported your Navy Seabee grandpa to one of the Pacific Islands, he is likely to appear on a ship’s Muster Roll until he gets to the island and transfers off that ship. He may be found on a station roll for that island but maybe not. This is where using his OMPF (Official Military Personnel File) comes in handy to help trace where he was.
What Do I Do Next To Find More Answers?
If you have not already obtained the OMPF, this is a must have document. These are held at the NPRC in St. Louis, MO. Because they contain so much information on each form, it can be confusing to sort out. If you need help, we can obtain the file and start a research project with you. Learn how below.
After you have created a timeline and sorted out the entire OMPF and know exactly where your Naval family member was and what he or she was doing, you can start investigating unit records – histories, deck logs, vessel histories, war diaries, photos, and more.
How can I help you?
Are you ready to learn the bigger picture of your family member’s military service? We are taking new clients and can help you find the answers and tell a deeper story about your family member. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to set up your free phone consultation today to discuss project options, fees, and time.
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