World War II research is a combination of online and offline research, which allows us to tell a more complete story about a soldier, sailor, or Marine’s service. The most common thought from most people we encounter at the World War II Research and Writing Center, is that all the records and resources you need are all free and online.
We observe conversations on social media that insist all the records are available online and if they aren’t, you don’t need them. The same handful of websites are referred to again and again. People get stuck because the information isn’t online, they get frustrated, and often quit. Instead, why not consider working with a researcher (yes you will pay for this service) and using a variety of sources?
Why don’t we also change the discussion? What would it take for those die hard folks who insist it is all free and online to step back and see there are many ways to conduct research? And for the research community as a whole, why not recognize there are many more resources available than the ones commonly suggested, which are:
- Any online newspaper website
Changing the Discussion
Did you know there are many more websites available where people can locate pieces of their soldier, sailor, or Marine’s service history? Each website you visit, each book you pick up, each record you analyze, each story you hear or photo you view that belongs to your family, adds a piece to the entire puzzle. Each piece allows you to view that soldier’s history in historical context. Only exploring the limited information online does not allow for the fuller picture to emerge. So where can we find more information that no one is talking about? Here are a few resources you may not have considered. Please note this is not an end-all-be-all list. Just some ideas to help you think outside the box of where to locate information. Please spend some time in the Research section of this website to find even more resources.
- U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center
- Pritzker Military Museum & Library.
- Internet Archive
- Library of Congress
- FamilySearch. FamilySearch is a free genealogy website with a few military records. Most of the same ones you will find for free on Ancestry.com and Fold3.com. If you are looking for family information to attempt to locate living family members, FamilySearch is another resource to help your search.
- WWII reunion groups. Are you Googling to see if there is a reunion group or association for your soldier, sailor, or Marine’s unit? These groups often have collections of records. Sometimes online but most often, offline with their historian.
- University Library Special Collections. Search special collections in the cities and states where your soldier lived after the war.
- Research libraries. There are research libraries around the country. Newberry Library in Chicago is one example. Are you searching within the collections of these institutions? Many have finding aids to help researchers locate information.
- Genealogical and historical societies. Most towns, counties, and states have societies that hold some information. If not, the members of the organizations know where to refer researchers to for more information.
- Local libraries. There are many small libraries around the country that do not have the staff or money to digitize their collections. Are you communicating with this resource? A visit to the Knightstown, Indiana library in December yielded a large collection of newspaper images for a project we have been working on. None of the Knightstown papers are online. They only exist in paper format, which is crumbling within bound volumes from the early 1900s to 1960s. The information contained in these newspapers is amazing. Contact the local libraries or a researcher nearby to do the legwork for you.
- European and PTO researchers. Did you know there are many hobbyist researchers in Europe and the Pacific Theater who have amassed a large amount of information? Have interviewed countless veterans? Are writing books on specific units, battles, divisions, or theaters of war? Know the battlefields? Are you working with any of these people? If not, search Facebook and LinkedIn for them. We have found by collaborating with these researchers a lot can be shared back and forth, which expands the story of WWII.
The above resources will hopefully start you thinking along a new path for research. Need more suggestions? Here are a few to keep pushing you forward with your research.
Books to help you learn how to research online and offline. Stories from the WWII Battlefield series.
Tips for Starting Your WWII Research
Educational articles for WWII research
WWII Research Guide
Do you have favorite websites or groups you contact for WWII research? Our readers would love to know about them. Please share in the comments.
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