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Genealogy and War Records

Updated on May 31, 2010

Is it possible that you have an ancestor who served in the military or a United States Militia? It is possible, and even if you are unsure, it is a good idea to search for your ancestor in military records for the wealth of information you may uncover.

Military records include draft or service records, pension records, prisoner rolls, and histories. You can learn about enlistment dates, learn about famous battles your ancestor may have participated in, locate gravesites of veterans and their spouses, the unique histories and stories and details of military service to help you discover the heroes in your family.


What will War Records tell you?

You will often find fathers, brothers, or other family members that served in the military. Pension and burial records often include spousal and children information. You can learn when and where they enlisted, battles fought in, injuries and disabilities, histories of their units and family waiting for their return and where they are buried.

Many records include more detailed information such as physical descriptions, imagine finding an ancestor who served in the Civil War and finding a record that states that his eyes were blue, his hair brown, his height five-eight, and an average build.

Below we'll explore wars in which American soldiers participated in, the information available and where to find the information. Many of these records are available online, some for free, others available at sites which require membership. All of these records are kept at the National Archives and copies can be requested, just requires patience.

World War I Draft Card
World War I Draft Card

Various Wars which included Colonists, Militia and American Soldiers

  • Pequot War 1637 - An early war between Connecticut settlers and the Pequot Indians.
  • King Philip's War 1675-1676 -Was one of the bloodiest and most costly in American History. One in ten soldiers on both sides were killed. The war was between the colonists and the Wampanoag Indians. There are accounts, letters and some soldiers/officers referenced for this campaign. One particular transcription is available at Soldiers in King Philip's War.
  • King William's War 1689-1697 - Was primarily between the French and British and the conflict was mainly over land in the new territory.
  • Queen Anne's War 1702-1713 - Began with a conflict between the Indians and French against the colonists who were then aided by the British.

Little information is available on specific soldiers who fought in these early colonial wars. Many are contained in books and state records.

  • French and Indian War 1755 considered the last of the wars pitting the French and Indians against Colonists and Britain. There are collections out there, much more than is on the world wide web. However lists and indexes, accounts and battles can be found. Connecticut, New York and Massachusetts state sites and historical societies and at the links listed below. has a nice collection, for membership.
  • American Revolution 1775-1783 The war of independence. Due to it's historical significance to the United States of America, there are a great number of online and free records available on battles and soldiers. To have an ancestor who fought for the independence of our country is a great source of pride, however, proving the ancestry can be quite difficult. There are four types of military records of the Revolution to research: Service Records, such as Muster Rolls; Pension Records which include land bounties (payment for service was often paid in land bounties and could also have been filed by a spouse or child for a loss of life); Claim Records are documents where one filed a claim against the government for loss of real or personal property or for military service and Military Histories are personal accounts of battles, skirmishes and hardships of individuals. The National Society Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR)is a society that has researched and proved a direct ancestral line to a soldier and they do have research-able indexes.
  • War of 1812 -The war of 1812 included the Americans, British, French and Canadians and Native Americans. The National Archive records were created by various government agencies of the time, including Offices of the War, Interior and State Departments. The Adjutant General's Office of the War Department have the most comprehensive records. Probably the most comprehensive records include the Pension Applications filed by disabled veterans or spouses that died in service. These records not only include service information but names of children and spouse. For a widow to apply for pension she had to prove marriage including date and place of marriage and usually maiden name. Also interspersed among these records are bounty land applications. National Archives (NARA) holds records as well as many other websites. (Link below) However, NARA does not hold records for Militia those are found at the state level. USGenweb is an excellent source for state and county level military records.
  • Indian Wars - various wars including the Cherokee versus Creeks. Muster rolls and accounts can be found on the various sites listed below. If you are researching Native American lineage, this can be a possible resource as well.
  • Mexican-American War 1846-1848 -This war included one of the longest marches in history. The Mormon Battalion marched from Iowa to San Diego, California. Records can be found again at NARA and their new search-able site at, where you will find some accessible records for free and others for a fee.
  • Civil War 1861-1865 -This War probably has the most widely available information on the Internet. From pension applications, battles, soldier lists, and soldier records and profiles, and burial records. Often this war is referred to as the war against brothers due to the fact that brothers often fought on different sides. Just because your ancestor lived in Indiana does not mean that they fought for the Union side. They very possibly could have traveled south and signed up with the Confederate Army. NARA holds the comprehensive files for soldiers, many indexes and general information about a soldier can be found on the web and often a NARA microfilm series and roll number is referenced allowing you to order a copy of a particular file from the National Archives.
  • Spanish-American War 1898 -Online Military Indexes and Records are available for free lists of volunteer soldiers by state as well as historical information. Military Indexes is a good free resource.
  • World War I - The Draft Registration Cards for WWI, though short hold some wonderful surprises. Ever wondered if great grandpa had blue eyes, his brother's green? The Draft Cards will tell you. More comprehensive records of service were kept beginning with The Great War.
  • World War II - As with WWI, there are numerous records pertaining to this conflict. The Draft Registration Cards, Soldiers Lists, histories of conflicts, burials, pension records, the list goes on and on.


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    • Missi Darnell profile image

      Missi Darnell 7 years ago from Southern California

      Sally's Trove, these are the little things that get me excited about genealogy, the stories handed down and now you get to go out and find the truth. Good luck with your hunt. If you have any questions or need help just ask.

    • Sally's Trove profile image

      Sherri 7 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

      I was told as a child that this great-great-grand uncle or another, going back before the Civil War, served in some place or another. There is little in the family to document these stories. Thanks so much for a good list of links where I can go to try to sort these things out.

    • Missi Darnell profile image

      Missi Darnell 7 years ago from Southern California

      elayne001, glad you found this hub useful and that you are enjoying genealogy. I'm rather obsessed I must say. Happy Hunting and thank you for your comment.

    • elayne001 profile image

      Elayne 7 years ago from Rocky Mountains

      Chock full of useful info. I am enjoying getting to know my ancestors. Thanks for a great hub.

    • Missi Darnell profile image

      Missi Darnell 7 years ago from Southern California

      Thank you JY3502! With all of the wonderful stories about your family, I figured you would be into genealogy. Glad you enjoyed. Thank you for the link to your website.

    • JY3502 profile image

      John Young 7 years ago from Florence, South Carolina


    • Missi Darnell profile image

      Missi Darnell 7 years ago from Southern California

      Great Ann! The perfect combination learning and enjoying it.

    • Missi Darnell profile image

      Missi Darnell 7 years ago from Southern California

      JaneA - Very interesting! I was not aware of that. Terribly sad, what a great loss. Thank you for adding that.

    • Missi Darnell profile image

      Missi Darnell 7 years ago from Southern California

      Quill thank you. It was a very interesting article to write.

    • Ann Nonymous profile image

      Ann Nonymous 7 years ago from Virginia

      Very interesting. I learned a lot Missi and enjoyed reading it!

    • JaneA profile image

      JaneA 7 years ago from California

      Great hub.

      Sadly, around 18 million military records were destroyed in the National Personal Records Center fire in St. Louis MO of 1973, covering 80% of the Army records of those discharged between 1912 and 1960 and 75% of the Air Force records of those discharged between 1947 and 1964.

    • profile image

      "Quill" 7 years ago

      Great reference material and filled with hard work on your part...Thank You