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Tracing Our Ancestors in Military Records
Column published: 10 August 2006.
By: Shirley Gage Hodges   Biography & Archived Articles

Many times people have asked me how I started this addition that we call genealogy. I will have to admit that when I started out, I had two rather simple goals. I wanted to find a nice respectable Revolutionary War ancestor and a Civil War ancestor. I did find my Civil War ancestor in my great grandfather, Delorma Wisner. I am still looking for my Revolutionary War ancestor.

I have found it very interesting and informative to examine Delorma's military records. He served in 111 Ohio Inf., Co. C. The entry on his Civil War military record indicates his birthplace as Stark, Ohio. His physical description was: Height: 5', 8"; complexion: light; Eyes: hazel; Hair: brown; Occupation: farmer. It was interesting to me to see how much his description sounded like the physical description of his grandson, my father. After reading the following entry from that file I also learned why I had a difficult time locating the family at times. The record stated that he moved often first 8 years after leaving the service and then settled in Michigan.

Military service records are a tremendously valuable and reliable source for those researching family histories; Military records document a person's military service as well as their life outside of the military. These records are varied and extensive. Some examples of the types of records that we find in their military records are:
  • muster rolls
  • discharge papers
  • pension files
  • regimental histories
In these records we may find:
  • hints of the patterns of migration
  • births
  • marriages
  • deaths
  • divorces
Establish a time line for your ancestors. Determine the war in which your ancestor may have been involved and review general history of that war and specific battles.

Web pages to see Timelines for conflicts:
  • American History Timeline: American Involvement in Wars from Colonial Times to the Present
  • The War Scholar: A military history timeline of War and Conflict across the globe 3000 B.C. to A.D. 1999
  • A Presidential Memorial Certificate (PMC) is an engraved paper certificate, signed by the current President, to honor the memory of honorably discharged deceased veterans. Check out the following web page for details:
We should be proud of all of our ancestors who lived through any wars. The part played by them whether on the home front, in the hospitals, or in the battlefield is something that should be investigated and remembered. If we don't tell their stories, perhaps no one else will.

Suggested Readings:
  • Cerny, Johni; Bockstruck, Lloyd DeWitt; Thackery, David, editors. Research in Military Records in The Source , Ancestry, 1997. Chapter 9, pp. 289-334.
  • Meyerink, Kory L. ed. Printed Sources: a Guide to Published Genealogical Records. Salt Lake City, Utah: Ancestry, 1998.
  • Neagles, James C. U.S. Military Records: A Guide to Federal and State Sources, Colonial America to the Present, Ancestry, 1994.
  • There is a series of books that were written by Clarence Stewart Peterson who list soldiers and sailors who fell during major military actions undertaken by the United States of America. They list who died with the date of death and rank. They are as follows:
    • Known Military Dead During the American Revolutionary War, 1775-1783.
    • Known Military Dead During the War of 1812.
    • Known Military Dead During the Mexican War, 1846-1848.
    • Known Military Dead During the Spanish-American War and the Philippine Insurrection, 1898-1901.
Suggested Web Pages: Web Pages for each branch of the U. S. Military
Shirley Hodges, biography & genealogy lectures; email:

Editor's Note: Shirley Hodges is the author of the popular Guide to United States Census, 1790-1930

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