Finding your ancestor in military records can help fill in missing facts for your
family tree. Most likely you have several ancestors that enlisted due to a draft
or served in one of our many wars. The information that you can find in their files
can give you a better understanding of your ancestor.
Where to begin? Well that depends on how much you know. Gather whatever you can
that can help with your
family research, such as mementoes, letters, and pictures. Try to
establish a chronology for your ancestor of where they were and what you have already
The military personnel records center (MPRC) keeps all current military service
files. However, the St. Louis Center had a fire July 12, 1973 and many documents
were destroyed. The fire destroyed many of the Army Veteran’s records that
were discharged or deceased between November 1, 1912 and December 31, 1959, as well
as, Air Force Veterans who were discharged, deceased, or retired before January
1, 1964, and whose names come alphabetically after Hubbard, James E. If you suspect
your ancestor’s file may have been involved in the 1973 fire, some data can
be pieced together from remaining files, but you need to know:
Place of military discharge
Last unit of assignment
Place of entry into the service, if known
Before Requesting Anything from MPRC
You are probably excited to get started and file for your ancestors military records,
but first you need to provide important facts that are going to help the MPRC locate
your military service documents. You will be required to know the following when
filling out the application:
The veteran's complete name used while in the military
Social security number
Branch of service
Dates of service
Date and place of birth (especially if the service number is not known).
All requests must be signed and dated by the veteran or next-of-kin.
If you are the next of kin of a deceased veteran, you must provide proof of death
of the veteran such as a copy of death certificate, letter from funeral home, or
How to Find Historical Documents
If you are missing some knowledge that will help to fill in the application, do
some research. The more complete your application is, the greater your chances of
getting the files you seek. Depending on what you are trying to find, certain genealogy records
can help provide the data you need.
Checking for the Right Social Security Number
You can get a deceased person’s SSN from the internet, but you are better
off filing for their original application. Names are common; if you only look up
what is on the web, you may get the wrong SSN for your ancestor. The original application
will also contain facts like where and when they were born, and it will have their
parents’ names. If you are trying to figure out the person’s mother's
maiden name, it most cases it will have that as well.
How to Find Birth Date and Place Information
Some common places that you can find birth data is in an old bible, birth certificate,
church records, obituaries, war ration books, social security forms known as SS-5
Form, death certificates, headstones, draft registrations, and passports.
Finding the Right Branch of Service
If you are not sure of the branch in which your ancestor served, go to the nearest
Veteran’s Affairs Office in your county. Based on the SN# (Service Number)
or the Social Security #, they may be able to locate the branch if his records have
been computerized. Another option is to try the County Courthouse in the county
where your ancestor lived. Many returning veterans’ left copies of their military
discharge papers there. However, the military discontinued to use SN#'s starting
with the Army in 1969, then the Navy and Marines in 1972, and finally with the Coast
Guard in 1974.
Requesting Military Service Records
Once you have enough facts to start your request, you will use Form SF-180. The
more complete your application is, the better your chances to obtaining your family ancestry documents.
The p documents. The processing of the application is free. When sending in your
packet,Always request the complete file. Your request will take
about 90 days to process. Don’t be shocked if they send you other forms to
fill out. Two common forms are the DD2168 and NA13075. DD2168 – Is the application
for military discharge that helps assist the secretaries of the Armed Forces in
issuing an appropriate certificate of service.
NA13705 may be sent to you by the military service department if you are requesting
information that cannot be found due to the fire, but might assist them in locating
an archived record that contains some data, but the records have to be at least
62 years old. The information will be sent to National Archives to be researched.
Always Make Copies of the Completed Applications
If you do not have a response in 6 months, send a new package. Do not give up
until you have tried at least tree times. If they cannot find any records, they
will not tell you. If your request arrives when they are very busy, it could get
What is the Difference in Filing FOIA vs. SF-180 for Military Service Documents?
If nothing comes after 6 months and trying at least 3 times, try the Freedom of
Information Act (FOIA). FOIA generally provides access to government records in
executive branch agencies. There is a cost to file this application, even if nothing
is found. The research is through a decentralized system with more than 400 geographically-dispersed
components that maintain the documents you are seeking. If your ancestor has been
discharged from the military for more than 62+ years, it most likely will not result
in a good search, as the records will have been dispersed to the National Archives
and are no longer the property of the agencies that created them.