article written by Julia Nex
The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) operates a service known as the Veterans’ Service Records, which allows members of the public to access military service records and historical documents for the purposes of historic and genealogical research. As the official repository for records of discharged military personnel, the NARA should be the first place you look if you’re in need of military records, photos, documents and information regarding military documentation. Here are some of the more interesting things to know about the veterans’ archives.
1. They Can Connect You with Your Own Records
One of the most important functions of NARA is providing discharged military members with their own personal records. All men and women who have been discharged from service will find their personnel files in the NARA. This is the best place to look if you need your Official Military Personnel Files (OMPF) or DD Form 214 (Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty). Recent military records need to be requested by veterans and their next-of-kin through the National Archives’ eVetRecs system. Obtaining these important documents can help you receive important public services for veterans and may be useful in historic and genealogical research.
2. They Can Help You Recover Medals and Awards
A veteran’s medals and awards tell a story, often one of heroism and sacrifice. If you or a loved one has lost or never received military awards or decorations you earned during your service, the Veterans’ Service Records can help you obtain them through the National Personnel Records Center. Though the center doesn’t issue service medals (only the military itself can do that), it can help you replace issuance of medals, decorations and awards with instructions and documents that help you obtain the proper request forms. Veterans, next-of-kin, and the general public (when looking for those issued before 1957) can begin the replacement process through this service.
3. You Can Visit in Person
Ever wanted to see the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution or the Bill of Rights in its original form? The National Archives houses all of the Charters of Freedom in a display at its Washington, D.C. facility. Veterans and civilians alike might appreciate special exhibits held at the National Archives, including Remembering Vietnam and other prominent war displays. You can also visit various federal records centers throughout the country in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago and other cities. These centers are excellent resources for those conducting genealogical or historical research.
4. They House Famous Records
It should come as no surprise, but the Veterans’ Service Records includes documents, photos and information about many veterans, from everyday soldiers to highly decorated war heroes. You can browse around the archives online and discover fascinating relics of American history, like letters from General George Washington (or his last will and testament, if you’re feeling curious) and rare old photos of General George S. Patton. If you’re fascinated with the nitty-gritty of military history, you’ll be entertained for hours uncovering records of famous military greats.
5. They Contain Thousands of Photos
Although the archives primarily house administrative documents, they also contain many incredible military photos that could be of interest for your research project or simply due to personal curiosity. You can explore the archives online to see high-resolution images from important conflicts. When you’re searching the archives, you can filter file types by web pages, documents, images and videos to help you zero-in on the type of media you’re looking for. As an added bonus, many of these photos come with no access or use restrictions, so you can freely reproduce them in your work.
6. They Contain All Kinds of Documents
If you want to know something specific about a person’s military career, it’s a good idea to start with the National Archives. They include a wide range of military personnel records, which can help you find information on enlistment, duty stations and assignments, training, qualifications, awards and medals, emergency data, discharge papers, and more. The Military Medical and Health Records department includes documents covering outpatient, dental, and mental health treatment that former military members received while in service.
7. They Store Records of Pension Payments
Veterans, as well as their widows and family members, may be entitled to pension payments for service. Not only are these documents important for those who believe they may be entitled to pension payments, they are also valuable for those conducting important family research. Along with these payment records, there may be supporting documents such as detailed narratives regarding military service, marriage certificates, birth records, death certificates, family letters, and more. If you’re conducting family research of any sort, be sure to start with military pension records.
8. They Store Draft Records
Whether you have a particular family member with a fascinating history or are just curious about how certain military heroes rose to prominence, it can be fascinating to find draft records in the archives. Browsing the Selective Service Records, you may be able to obtain copies of draft registration cards and classification histories through the NARA for a fee. Historians often wish to obtain these cards to aid in their research, as they may include information such as name, residence, birthday, mailing address, employer, and much more.
Taking Advantage of the Veteran Archives
The mission of the National Archives is as follows: We drive openness, cultivate public participation and strengthen our nation’s democracy through public access to high-value government records.
If you’re a military historian, veteran, or curious family genealogist, it’s well worth your while to use the National Archives’ veteran records to help you grow your knowledge base or complete your special project. If you have a need to obtain important items or services—including military awards and public services for veterans—the National Archives can help you obtain the documentation required to take the next steps.
Julia Nex serves as the Content Strategist. Julia oversees web and print content from Medals of America. Before moving to the e-commerce department, Julia worked as a customer service representative at Medals of America.