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Obtaining a Veteran's Records

The largest central repository for government records and those pertaining to military personnel is the National Archives. The main branch of the National Archives is based in Washington DC. It is a behemoth of an organization and is complicated to navigate with all its centers and holdings. The effective use of its online catalogue takes some time and dedication to master in and of itself. There are records you will be seeking that are specifically held at certain National Archives Regional Centers of which there are five. If you are looking to start your veteran research I would recommend contacting the National Archives at St. Louis which is also referred to as the National Personnel Records Center. To do so you will need a copy of the veterans DD-214. If you don't have a copy of the DD-214 you can request one. The DD-214 is the discharge paperwork a veteran receives when they leave the service and contains pertinent information as to their time in the military. If you have paperwork of a family member that was a veteran look for the form number in the bottom left hand footer. If you do not have a copy, your first step is to obtain one. This is possible if you are a parent, sibling, unmarried surviving spouse or child. If you are a more distant related relative - a researcher, government agency, personal representative etc. you will require permission through the NARA site. Prior to applying for the records you should know the branch of service the veteran served in and if you are not a direct relation you will also have to select from a drop down menu the purpose of your request. I have included the link below to begin this process.

It can take a very long time to get a response. At the height of Covid I waited two years and one day was delighted to receive an email with my father's records. However, there are some things you need to keep in mind. The Archives suffered a major fire in the 70's which destroyed large portions of their records. They saved what they could but you can look on the site to see if the records you are searching for were effected. If they were do not abandon this avenue of inquiry. First of all records can be reconstructed and secondly there are excellent researchers who specialize in researching the archives there. I think they are well worth the money due to their expertise in the organization of the records and collections. Take one look at the NARA online catalogue and you will see what I mean. This is the very first step I would suggest taking. While you are waiting for a response you can also be learning the NARA research process and search Fold 3 for records pertaining to your veteran. In the next few posts I will go through what your report from the National Records Center may contain.

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