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Requesting 20th Century Military Service Records

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.

You will be amazed at what you can discover through military records, such as the physical traits, where they were deployed, who their family members were, where they were living and what their occupation was. Military Service records can tell you about where they went, and the battles they fought, and how a war affected their lives.

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 genealogy 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
  • Service number
  • 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 published obituary.

How to Find Historical Documents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 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 misplaced.

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.