Requesting Military Records from the National Archives
The National Archives and Records Administration, or NARA, is America’s repository for—records. A considerable portion of military records are collected by NARA and the public may now access them at archives.gov. Of course, it is necessary to know what types of military records NARA holds. The following tutorial discusses military records indexed by the National Archives and how to go about obtaining them.
According to the National Archives website:
“The National Archives Building, Washington, D.C., holds records relating to
• Volunteer enlisted men and officers whose military service was performed during an emergency and whose service was considered to be in the federal interest, 1775 to 1902
• Regular Army enlisted personnel, serving 1789 - October 31, 1912
• Regular Army officers, serving 1789 - June 30, 1917
• U.S. Navy enlisted personnel, serving 1798 - 1885
• U.S. Navy officers, serving 1798 - 1902
• U.S. Marine Corps enlisted personnel, serving 1798 - 1904
• Some U.S. Marine Corps officers, serving 1798 - 1895
• Those who served in predecessor agencies to the U.S. Coast Guard (i.e., the Revenue Cutter Service [Revenue Marine], the Life-Saving Service, and the Lighthouse Service, 1791 - 1919)”
Because of the sheer amount of documents held by the National Archives, only a very small portion is actually online. Therefore, obtaining records must be accomplished via forms. Also, veterans and next-of-kin have the most access to official military personnel records—the general public has more limited access, but there are procedures for the general public to request information about a veteran who is not a relation.
If you are a member of the public seeking information without the veteran’s or next-of-kin’s authorization, you may obtain access to such items as: name, service number, service dates, salary, duty status, assignments and geographical locations, military education, place of entrance and separation, etc…
The veterans themselves (and next-of-kin relatives like unmarried widow or widower, son, daughter, mother, father, brother or sister of the deceased veteran) may obtain records easily by following the prescribed methods outlined on archives.gov. The site stresses that all requests for records must be made in writing. However, they do provide a downloadable form to serve as the written request. It may be mailed or faxed.
Visit archives.gov. Then, click on National Personnel Records Center and from there you will click on Military Personnel Records. At this point, scroll down to the link for Standard Form 180. This takes you to the Military Records Request page—exactly where you need to be. There are three headings that are relevant to your search: Ways to Request Military Records, How to Submit Your Request and Order Processing Time. Simply scroll down to read all the information.
Veterans have the option to use the vetrecs.archives.gov link to electronically send their request or Standard Form 180. The public may also use the Standard Form 180 or write a letter. If you are seeking information about a non-relative, be sure to click on each link—it will specify how you go about filing your public request.
By continuing to scroll down, the page explains how to download Standard Form 180 or to apply to the National Archives “Fax on Demand” program to obtain the form. If you have difficulties downloading the form to your computer via Adobe Acrobat, call 301-837-0990 from your fax phone and follow the voice instructions—be sure to request document number 2255.
Additionally, you may contact the National Archives by mail. Request a form or make a request by mailing a letter to:
The National Archives and Records Administration
8601 Adelphi Road
College Park, MD 20740-6001
You may also call the National Archives at 866-272-6272 to request a form or for additional information about obtaining records.
Because requests must contain social security numbers and other sensitive information, NARA does not wish to receive them via email.
When you write to NARA with a request, be sure to include the following information: complete name (while in service), service or social security number, branch of service, service dates, date and place of birth. If you are requesting information about several servicemen, you must send separate requests for each person in question.
For to request military records held by the National Personnel Records Center (for records not kept by the National Archives) use the same Standard Form 180 or write a request containing the same necessary information as just stated and mail to:
National Personnel Records Center
Military Personnel Records
9700 Page Ave.
St. Louis, MO 63132-5100
You may also fax to them at 314-801-9195.
Obtaining military records has traditionally been difficult due to prescribed methods and questions that get bogged down by mail. The website, however, answers most questions and provides a step-by-step process for interested parties to obtain military records. Visit the National Archives at archives.gov to read more about their records and ways to retrieve them.
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