Course: 2024-15 – Marching Off to War: Advanced Military Research and Methodology

Coordinator: Michael L. Strauss, AG


Military conflicts and their resulting records span the history of the United States and provide firsthand information of documented events that occurred during periods without extensive formal government records. Classes include a critical thinking practicum at the end of each day’s lectures to provide the students with an opportunity for practical applications of new sources learned. Key terms will enhance the student’s journey through additional records and allow deeper thinking about additional documents that lead to further advanced research. Instruction includes looking at the FAN club for our military ancestors, including brothers, cousins, friends, and business associates.

Other Instructors: Sandra Rumble

Student Prerequisites:

The course has no specific requirements. Students should have working knowledge of genealogical sources commonly used by intermediate genealogists. Students should be familiar with the Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS) and the Friends Associates and Neighbors (FAN) club. Prior military knowledge and classes or courses taken previously are recommended.


  1. Plante, Trevor K. Military Service Records at the National Archives. Reference Information Paper 109. Washington, DC: National Archives and Records Administration, 2007. The book is available online for free at:
  2. Rose, Christine. Military Bounty Land, 1776-1855. San Jose: CR, 2001.

Day Session Title Description Instructor
Monday 1 Some Assembly Required “Some assembly required” is the mantra when researching military records. Military conflicts, large and small, are woven throughout American history, resulting in records documenting not just the soldier’s military service but that of his family and friends. Before delving into the records documenting two centuries of conflicts, we need to identify the conflicts in order to identify our ancestors who served. Rumble
2 Introduction to the Records of the National Archives The branches of the United States government have collected significant historical materials and have made them available for research. Over time, there has been significant record loss, which has prompted our government to look to place priceless documents in a safe, guarded environment for the general public to access for research. This lecture will introduce the student to the records, cataloging, and organization of the National Archives, Archives II, and the National Personnel Record Center in St. Louis, Missouri. Strauss
3 The Draft and the Selective Service System The history of the draft and conscripting men for military service dates back to the days of the Revolutionary War. Individual colonies were given the authority to draft men who were called up for militia service. It wasn’t until the Civil War that the first national legislation in 1862 was passed that would enact a national draft. Since then, several Selective Service Acts in 1917, 1940, 1948, and 1967 have accounted for men who would serve their country in times of crisis. Strauss
4 Practicum Number 1: Draft and Selective Service Records Students will each receive assigned packets of draft records from the Civil War
and one randomly assigned from one of the 20th-century Selective Service Acts
where time will be prearranged to study, read, and analyze the records and to
respond to a critical thinking exercise.
Extra Workshop Continuation of Practicum Number 1 Strauss
Tuesday 5 Military Service Records and Personnel Files The Compiled Military Service Records were first indexed and organized under the direction of General Fred C. Ainsworth. As genealogists, we owe a debt of gratitude for the creation of these records. The records were cataloged for volunteer soldiers from the Revolutionary War to the Philippine Insurrection. Afterward, these records became obsolete and were replaced by the Official Military Personnel Files. These records are in the custody of the National Personnel Record Center in St. Louis, MO, which is the repository of millions of military personnel, medical, and payroll records of discharged and deceased veterans of all the services during the 20th century. On July 12, 1973 a disastrous fire revenged the building housing the OMPFs for members of the U.S. Army and the U.S. Air Force. Strauss
6 The Adjutant Generals Office The records of the Adjutant General office add general correspondence, polish, shine, and sometimes tarnish to the service of our ancestors. These records reveal minute details of service and conflicts between the state the volunteer troops served from and the Federal government. Rumble
7 Tracing the Movements of a Military Unit Tracing the movements of a military unit can add depth to any ancestor’s military service to know not only what unit where service was rendered. To have an understanding of the lineage of the military unit, and the command structure will help determine the events that the regiment actively participated in during any given war period. This lecture focuses on various records to trace the steps of military units since the colonial period. Strauss
8 Practicum Number 2: Service Records & Personnel Files Students will each receive assigned packets of Compiled Military Service
Records and Official Military Personnel Files, where time will be allotted to
read and analyze the material, and respond to critical thinking questions in exercises.
Extra Workshop Continuation of Practicum Number 2 Strauss
Wednesday 9 Militia and Records of the National Guard The earliest Colonial Militia date to 1636, when the Massachusetts Bay Colony organized separate companies. Defending the frontier and providing for the common defense has always been at the heart of militia service. St. Clair’s military defeat at the hands of the Indians in 1791 led to the passage of the Militia Acts of 1792, which authorized the President to take command of the state militias in times of national emergency or insurrection. Starting afterward, individual states would have their own National Guard in some manner, whereas today, it is still providing defense for the nation. Strauss
10 Congress to the Rescue When damages resulted during a war, the soldier or his heirs could petition the Legislature to pass a private law to address a specific grievance. Congress passed private laws designed to benefit a specific named person(s), compensate for damages caused by troops, grant pensions to heirs otherwise ineligible to receive or inherit a pension, and resolve service issues. Rumble
11 Bounty Lands & Homesteading Between 1812 and 1855, Congress created an ever-changing landscape of bounty land laws, from the military tracts allocated for bounty lands, length of service for a soldier to qualify for lands, the ability for his widow or heirs to inherit his rights, and under what conditions. After discontinuing the bounty land program, Congress awarded veterans of U.S. military service credit for military time served that could be applied to the popular homesteading program. This popular program was used until the end of the homesteading program in 1976, providing a vehicle for soldiers from WW1 and WW2 to benefit from the government. Rumble
12 Practicum Number 3: Bounty Lands & Homestead Records Each student will delve into the lands received by two soldiers, one who received bounty lands and one who received credit for his service toward homestead lands. Rumble
Extra Workshop Continuation of Practicum Number 3 Rumble
Thursday 13 Headed to Court In the civilian world, civil and criminal trials and the attendant prison terms generate a paper trail that can be unraveled years later. Courts-martial and captains masts are the military equivalents of these common “civilian” trials. Just as we wouldn’t overlook these valuable records in our everyday courthouse research, these records are invaluable in shedding light on our soldiers’ and sailors’ time serving in the military. Rumble
14 19th Century Military Pensions In 1833, the Commissioner of Pensions (eventually the Bureau of Pensions)
was created by Congress as an office in the War Department, making the Army
responsible for administering their veterans’ pensions. The Bureau formalized
the application process and had the authority to determine which claims were
approved or denied. Formalized processes, including the ability to appeal
determinations and request benefits increase due to deteriorating health,
exponentially increases the amount of paperwork available to researchers.
15 20th-Century Military Pensions and Claim Files Records of pensions and military claim files for veterans and their dependents are available from the National Personnel Record Center in St. Louis, Missouri. The files also include veterans or dependants who survived well into the 20th century. Researchers can access a plethora of rich genealogical information not available is other commonly used military resources. Strauss
16 Practicum Number 4: Military Pensions & Claims Files Each student will explore a small pension or claims file to become familiar with the forms, affidavits (FAN club members), and other genealogically relevant information found in the file. Rumble
Extra Workshop Continuation of Practicum Number 3 Rumble
Friday 17 Using Diplomatic Records in Military Research Researching diplomatic and consular records tells an untold story of military history. Found inside the Continental Congress during the Revolutionary War and after we become a Republic inside the newly created United States Department of State. Some of the untapped genealogical sources in the diplomatic records of the United States include letters of marque, prize cases, pensions for privateers, seaman protection certificates, passports, and enemy alien records. Strauss
18 Following the Armies: Military Maps on the Road to Victory Military maps are invaluable source of information for determining where our ancestors may have served in a specific conflict. Knowing your ancestor’s military unit or organization can help place his regiment, battalion, brigade, or division on the field to determine the precise footsteps your family trod during a specific engagement. This lecture focuses on those maps that contain valuable military information on units and organizations from the colonial period through the Vietnam War. Strauss