How to Search Military Records on

By Dana McCullough

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Military records—such as service records, pensions, and draft registration cards (see above)—can provide valuable information about your ancestors and their military service. Fold3 is the undisputed US military records champion, but what’s the key to finding military records on the free

The free database boasts more than 160 military records collections. Author of the Unofficial Guide to Dana McCullough shares three strategies for searching for military records on

Learn military history

The United States has fought in many military incursions throughout the years. By learning about them and when they took place, you can identify which conflict your ancestor may have served in. See the table below for a list of major US military conflicts. Note that your ancestors may have draft records available even if they weren’t deployed. Your ancestor may also have served during one of these conflicts without having seen any actual combat.

Revolutionary War1775–1783
War of 18121812–1815
Mexican-American War1846–1848
Civil War1861–1865
Spanish American War1898
Philippine Insurrection1899–1902
World War I1917–1918
World War II1941–1945
Korean War1950–1953
Vietnam War1959–1973

Include residence in search criteria

Including where your ancestor lived will help you determine whether the John Smith listed is your John Smith. In addition, many military records were recorded or arranged by state, and most military records include the soldier’s place of residence.

You might also consider browsing collections by location. has several locations specific to a state or territory, such as “Delaware Civil War Service Records of Union Soldiers.

Add a family relationship

Particularly when searching for pensions records, try adding a family relationship. Why? Pensions included family members such as the soldier’s widow or children. Other military records may also include family members’ name, since soldiers often had to provide information about their next of kin or a contact person back home.