Learning About Your WWI Relative
We are planning a major upgrade of this feature. We intend to cover more types of inquiries and to accommodate researching all combatants of the Great War. Please check back.
Frequently Asked Questions
Online resources mentioned in the replies to the questions can be found in the side-bar on the right.
Q: Is it true that almost all World War I military records kept at the St. Louis National Personnel Record center were lost in a fire?
A: The 1973 fire destroyed [many but not all] U.S. Army personnel records created from 1912 to 1963, but it did not damage U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps personnel files. See NARA article for details.
Q: Despite the fire at the National Personnel Records Center, I want to see if they have any information on my grandfather. How can I start this process?
A: To request a search of personnel records in the National Personnel Records Center, you will need a Standard Form 180, "Request Pertaining to Military Records." Copies of the form are available from the center at 8600 Page Boulevard, St. Louis, MO 63132, or from their Web site [on the right]:
Of course, any governmental form is going to have some tricky parts. In ordering a file from St. Louis that you MUST include the military service number. If you do NOT include the military service number, you will wait 6-9 months and St. Louis will return the request telling you they cannot process the request without the military service number, no exceptions.
An alternative approach is suggested by Genealogist Lynna Kay Shuffield [See the last question below for information on her Web site.] In her article on "WWI Statement of Service Cards", records of service that were sent to the Adjutant General of every state, she lists where to write for this resource in every state. You don't have to have the military service number to get this record. Once you have this card, and it will have service number on it, you can then write to St. Louis.
Q: I've had no luck with official records on my WWI relative. I want to learn what his experience was like. How can I get started to do my own research with published sources?
A: The key to getting started is to learn your relative's unit.
If the official approach has failed you, there are other ways, some unofficial, to dig up his unit. Here is a list of places to check:
Q: How can I learn the details of how my grandfather was wounded in World War I?
A: The National Archives holds reports on most of the 300,000 men wounded in the war. These include reports on Casualties, or Wound Chevron special orders, which can provide valuable military service information, including types of injuries and location of service. (NARA, Records of the U.S. Regular Army Mobile Units, 1821-1942, RG 391)
If he was killed in action, Lynna Kay Shuffield has also written an excellent online article on researching World War I Burial Case Files.
Q: What were the Gold Star Mothers. Did they make a trip to Europe to visit their son's graves?
Gold star mothers are women who lost a son or daughter in the United States armed forces during wartime. The term came into use during World War I through the use of service flags (or service banners) on which families would display a blue star shown for each family member serving in the military. If a family member died in the nation's service, the blue star on the service flag that represented that individual would be covered with a gold star.
Q: How do I learn about the military experience of my relative in the Great War without getting involved with government archives?
A: Depending on how deeply you wish to study and research published and generally available Sources we suggest three levels of inquiry.
1. For a general introduction to the operations of the American Expeditionary Forces:
2. For detailed information on every AEF unit and operation:
3. For very specific information on your relative's military service.
Q: But how to find these works?
A: There are many resources, including:
Q: My relative was killed in action during the war. I understand he was entitled to received the Purple Heart, but it was never awarded posthumously. Can the family apply for the award of the medal?
A: Yes, although you will probably have to provide some evidence of his service and his death in the war. Consult the "Purple Heart" and "America and the Akins Family Lose a Son" links on the right for details.
Q: My great grandfather was drafted during the Great War. Is there an online source for his draft registration record?
A: Yes, see the links listed on the right.
Q: My great uncle was in the National Guard of Colorado and served with their National Guard division during the war. Can I check their records of his service?
A: Yes, National Guard unit records are not federal records but are in the custody of state repositories or the Adjutant Generals' offices. THE GENEALOGIST'S ADDRESS BOOK, by Elizabeth Petty Bently (Genealogical Publishing Company, Inc., 1995) lists many of these repositories. [From NARA]
Q: Are there any databases comprehensive listings of World War I veterans organized by State?
A: Yes, both online and published. Here are a few examples:
Missourians in the First World Warhttp://www.usgennet.org/usa/mo/county/stlouis/mo1stww.htm
Indiana Veterans of World War Ihttp://wwvets.com/sources.asp
The Official Roster of OHIO SOLDIERS, SAILORS and MARINES IN THE WORLD WAR 1917-1918This monumental 23-volume work is gradually being added to the internet at: http://www.usgwarchives.net/oh/military/roster/
Q: How can I find out more about my late relative's disability payments and benefits?
A: Contact a Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) office in your vicinity to determine if a World War I veteran received a pension or other government benefits.
Q: My relative was a mechanic in the Air Service. How do I find his unit?
A: Documentation on personnel serving in the Air Service is normally found among the rosters included in Gorrell's History of the American Expeditionary Forces Air Service, 1917-1919, entry 644, Record Group 120. This history has been microfilmed by NARA on 58 rolls as publication M990 and is available for examination in the Microfilm Research Room at the National Archives in Washington, D.C., or for purchase from the National Archives Trust Fund. [From NARA]
Online Resources For the Genealogical Researcher