Military Records — Getting Started, Part 1

Military records can provide valuable information about an individual and about families.

What Is the Time Period of Your Search?

Records may be available to the public (old) or only available to family members (current):

  1. Current (typically 1917 to present). Available to veterans and next-of-kin or with permission of veterans and next-of-kin. Records are located  at the National Personnel Records Center.  See this guide on the National Archives Web: How to Request Military Service Records.
  2. Old (typically prior to 1917). Available to the general public. Records are usually located at the National Archives.


There are many factors to consider, such as

  • War or conflict
  • Branch of service
  • Area which soldier served (not same as residence)

As a general rule, you will find less information in earlier records. In many cases, there is more information available about officers than enlisted men.

The Most Common Military Records

  • Service records
  • Pensions and benefits

Service Records

Contain information on a soldier, perhaps including physical description, date and place of birth, skill or occupation, enlistment dates, ranks, what units/regiments of service, where the unit moved and what action they saw, medical information (may be limited to injuries or death), state from which the soldier served, date of separation from service.

Compiled Military Service Records (CMSR) — records compiled from other sources, such as muster rolls, returns, and pay vouchers.  Record consists of an envelope (“jacket”) containing card abstracts of the sources. Typically includes rank, unit, basic biographical information, medical information, dates mustered in and mustered out. Compiled for volunteers only. See: Terminology for Military Records

Example: Compiled Military Service Record (envelope and a card)

Envelope for CMSR: William Colley

Envelope for CMSR: William Colley

Company Descriptive Book

Company Descriptive Book

Pensions and Benefits

Payments made to veterans, widows, or minor children. Pension application records can be extensive, including application letters, supporting documentation, and appeals. Land was given as a benefit, referred to as “Bounty Lands.” See: Terminology for Military Records

Example: index card to pension files

Pension application: Andrew Feaster

Pension application: Andrew Feaster

For more information on pension searching, see Pension Information — War of 1812 Example

Finding Records

Many of the indexes and collections of records have been microfilmed by the National Archives.  Some indexes/records have been scanned by companies or agencies, such as Ancestry or Footnote ( Some have been scanned or transcribed and are available on the Web.

The University of Delaware Library — the main library is named the Morris Library. The Library has huge book, map, and microform collections. The Library subscribes to many online databases and journals.  The online subscriptions can be accessed on the UD campus.  Remote access to online subscriptions is restricted to University of Delaware faculty, staff, and students (including members of the Academy of Lifelong Learning).

Ancestry —  a major genealogical publishing company and creator of huge searchable online  genealogy database collections. Individuals can subscribe to

The UD Library has a subscription to Ancestry Library Edition (Also: the New Castle County public libraries and the Delaware Public Archives in Dover.) See Using the Library Subscription to Ancestry

National Archives Microfilm (e.g., M series)

Identifying & Ordering Records from National Archives

Military Records: Sources for Service Records — shows examples of M collections

FamilySearch ( — website provided by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Includes access to the Family History Library catalog. Also provides research guides, indexes, and digital collections. Has a look-up to locate Family History Centers.

Family History Library — the library of the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City, Utah. The catalog of the collection is available on  Materials in the FHL may be borrowed through any of the Family History Centers located throughout the world.

HeritageQuest — a major genealogical publishing company. Not available at the UD Library. Available at the  New Castle County public libraries.

Footnote (

Guides to Military Genealogical Research

See Military Records: Guides


Continue to Part 2

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