America fought for its independence, and it has been fighting — when necessary — to keep it ever since. The history of the American military forces is a storied one. Images of George Washington standing in a boat as it crossed the Delaware River during the Revolutionary War, to images we see today of our troops fighting overseas in the Middle East, show the complex history of American military. Nearly every American has a relative who has served in the Unites States Armed Forces. Some as far back as when this country began.

Military Genealogy - George Washington crossing Delaware River

How Can I Determine if My Ancestor Served in the Military?

A quick check of family records, and even a talk with your grandmother or grandfather will tell you if your ancestor was one of the soldiers who fought for our nations’ independence during the Revolutionary War, or fought for the United States in any of the historical wars or battles following the Independence period. Contact your eldest relative and ask questions, listen to family stories and see if he or she recalls previous military service. Spending the time with this family member will not only give you the opportunity to find the information you are looking for, but give them the precious company they are most likely craving. Take the time to go through family photographs they might have, and discuss where relatives are buried. See if your elder relative also has old newspaper clippings, or other types of telltale records, such as birth and death certificates and a knowledge of where your ancestors are buried.

If you don’t have an elderly family member to talk to, or they don’t remember much about the family history, do not panic. If you can find out where your ancestors came from, you can probably research local records to determine who was born where, died where, and whether they served in the military. Keep in mind, public resources like local libraries and city halls oftentimes have census records, birth and death records, and copies of any newspaper or local publication clippings that might discuss your relative and his or her military experience.

Dig a Little Deeper

Once you have a general idea of whom in your family served in the military and when and where, you can research military records for further information and, hopefully, confirmation of the armed service. Not only will these records tell you about your ancestor’s military service, they will also provide missing information about the soldier’s family at the time. Missing pieces of the puzzle can be found while reviewing military records, because they will confirm the soldier’s birthplace, birth date, current vocation, and the soldier’s immediate family members. Common research options include:

Here are some helpful resources to get you started:

National Archives: Genealogy Research in Military Records

Washington State Library: Selected Military Genealogy Holdings (PDF File)

State Historical Society of North Dakota: Archives — Military Records

Michigan Department of Education: Military Records

New York State Library: New York State Military Records

National Park Service: Historical and Genealogical Research Family History and Genealogy

Florida Department of State: Genealogical Collection

Tennessee Secretary of State: Research and Collections

City of San Diego: Genealogy Online Research

Free Library of Philadelphia: Military Records

Kentucky Historical Society: Online Genealogy Resources

Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission: Military Records

Ohio Department of Veteran’s Affairs: Military Records

Fairfax County Virginia: Genealogy and Local History

Indiana State Archives: Genealogy

Maine: Genealogy Resources

University of Maryland: Military Genealogy

University of Delaware: Military Records

The Libraries at Alfred University: Military Genealogy