One of the most frequent kinds of research requests we receive concerns gaining access to military veterans’ service records. To do our part to commemorate Veterans Day tomorrow, we’ve asked Theresa Fitzgerald of the Archives’ National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis to write a post on everything you ever wanted to know about accessing veterans’ records.
You can track a military member’s journey in the fight to defend freedom and hold documents that tell stories of courage and valor. The National Archives at St. Louis is the repository of millions of military personnel, health, and medical records of veterans of all services during the late 19th and 20th century. In 2004, the government designated Official Military Personnel Files (OMPFs) as permanent historical records. This expanded public access to records filled with a wealth of family history. You can access these records, after the legal transfer from the Department of Defense (DoD) into NARA’s holdings, 62 years following a military service member’s discharge, retirement, or death in service.
Though military personnel files constitute its core holdings, the National Archives at St. Louis is the repository for numerous related series such as the Selective Service System registration cards and classification ledgers that document the military draft in force between 1940 and 1975; Army General Courts Martial case files (including an index for records dated 1911-1976, and accessing records dated 1940-1976, with all records dated through 1917 in our Washington, DC building and those dated approximately 1918-1939 in our College Park, Maryland facility); and trade cards describing specific aspects of civilian work in Naval shipyards during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The holdings also include personnel files of individuals employed by the Civil Service such as the Civilian Conservation Corps, Works Progress Administration, Panama Canal Commission, Department of State, U.S. Customs Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs and several hundred additional government departments.
Registration card of Stanley Frank Musial, front and back.
MILITARY PERSONNEL RECORDS
Archival Records – The National Archives at St. Louis maintains Official Military Personnel Files (OMPFs) of those servicemen that were discharged, retired, or deceased 62 years from the current date. These records belong to the National Archives and become archival 62 years after the service member’s separation from the military. This is a rolling date. For example, the current year (2011) minus 62 years is 1949. Therefore, records with a discharge date of 1949 and prior are archival and open to the public. Additionally, various records of Persons of Exceptional Prominence (PEP) are also archival and open to the public. Requests for archival records do NOT require a signature.
In 1973, the National Personnel Records Center had a disastrous fire that destroyed 80% of our Army personnel records from 1912 to 1960 and 75% of our Air Force records from 1947 to 1964, with names alphabetically after Hubbard, James E. Please keep in mind when requesting a record from these particular service branches that the record may be fire related and require preservation treatment. If this is the case, it will take several weeks to either receive a copy of the record, if requested by mail, or view the record in the archival research room, if visiting our facility.
Non-Archival Records – Records of individuals who left service less than 62 years ago are not yet archival. These non-archival records are maintained at the National Personnel Records Center, but remain in the legal custody of the military service departments. A non-archival OMPF is open to the veteran, the next of kin, or to a third-party requester who has the veteran’s written authorization. Under the provisions of FOIA, the general public may only obtain limited information from these records. Requests for non-archival records must be signed and dated.
A request for a military personnel record, archival or non-archival, should include:
- The veteran’s complete name used in service
- Service number
- Branch of service
- Date and place of birth
- Dates of service
For archival or non-archival requests, submit a letter or Standard Form 180 with the above information to:
National Personnel Records Center
1 Archives Drive
St. Louis, MO 63138
Or, to request an archival or non-archival record via eVetRecs, visit our website and follow the steps provided.
Official Military Personnel Files, as well as auxiliary records, may also be viewed by visiting our research rooms. Archival and non-archival records are accessed in separate Research Rooms. If you would like to view both archival and non-archival records, you must schedule an appointment with each Research Room by calling 314-801-0850 for the Archival Research Room, or 314-801-0800 for the Non-Archival Research Room.