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Beginning March 3, 1873, the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has furnished government headstones or markers for unmarked graves of deceased eligible veterans. At first, this applied only to burials of honorably discharged Union Civil War veterans in national military cemeteries. But on Feb. 3, 1879, Congress extended the benefit to veterans interred in private cemeteries. The Secretary of War was to record the veteran’s name and place of burial.
In 1906, Congress authorized the furnishing of headstones for unmarked graves of Confederate soldiers. The headstone program continued for WWI veterans, including personnel who died overseas (where the American Battle Monuments Commission maintains US military cemeteries). Veterans of World War II, Korea, Vietnam and subsequent conflicts also are eligible for the headstone benefit. Where a headstone already exists, applicants can request a medallion to attach.
Headstone and medallion application forms, filled out by next-of-kin, can provide excellent information for your family research. The applications are on microfilm at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). Each application was meticulously checked for accuracy and to ensure the individual had honorably served or received an honorable discharge.
You can search two Ancestry.com databases of digitized applications. More than 166,000 card records for applications relating to Union veterans are in a collection named Headstones Provided for Deceased Union Civil War Veterans, 1861-1904. These contain information including name, rank, regimental unit, cemetery name and location. The second database is called Headstone Applications for Military Veterans, 1925-1963, and contains more than 1.9 million applications. Formats vary, but they contain more detail than the aforementioned database. This application was made in 1940 for a WWI veteran.
From the December 2017 issue of Family Tree Magazine.