Military service is an honorable and prestigious profession that offers many benefits, including free healthcare and housing incentives. Unfortunately, some people take advantage of these benefits by posing as service members. However, searching for military service records is relatively easy once you understand the basics.
Many people request military personnel files for various reasons, such as researching family history or confirming genealogy. Some individuals search for military records for historical research purposes. Whatever your reason, obtaining these records can provide valuable insights and information.
- 1 Types Of Military Records
- 2 Preparing For Your Search
- 3 Online Resources For Military Records
- 4 Offline Resources For Military Records
- 5 Requesting Military Records (Form DD214)
- 6 Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) Request
- 7 Conclusion
- 8 FAQs
Types Of Military Records
First of all, not all military records are the same. In fact, there are different types of military records kept by federal and state governments. These include the following:
Military Service Records (DD214)
These are primarily administrative records that can contain important information. This form specifies a service member’s enlistment date, duty stations, and assignments. It also includes an individual’s performance, awards, and medals.
Military Pension Records
These service records verify if specific individuals qualify for pensions because of their service in the Revolutionary War and other subsequent conflicts. There are three subtypes: disability or invalid pensions, service pensions, and widows’ pensions.
Bounty Land Grants
Before the Civil War, some states granted veterans free land as an inducement or reward for military service. This document verifies that an individual was legally entitled to the property as part of their military service.
Unit Or Regimental Histories
This broad category encompasses documents generated to record a military unit’s collective history rather than a serviceman’s records.
Veterans And Lineage Society Record
This provides additional resources for locating information on veteran ancestors. This is especially useful for people researching their family tree.
Preparing For Your Search
Fortunately, you don’t have to search far and wide to confirm military records. The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) serves as the official repository for records of military personnel discharged from the US Air Force, Army, Marine Corps, Navy, and Coast Guard.
However, you can’t just walk into the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) and obtain military records. Detailed military records are available for select individuals only. These include the following:
- Military veterans
- The next of kin of a deceased former member (the surviving spouse who hasn’t remarried, father, mother, son, daughter, sister, or brother)
Even if the person who submitted the records request is qualified to check that person’s military history, they must have sufficient information to conduct the search, to begin with. That person can find military records easily if they have all the required information. To formally request military records, a person needs the following information:
- The individual’s full name. Apart from the first and surname, you should have the person’s maiden name (if married) and middle name. There are plenty of military personnel that share the same name. The search can be narrowed by providing complete details.
- Branch of service. It should be specified if that person comes from the United States Army, air force, marine corps, navy, or coast guard. This makes it easier for the National Archives to search the records in the proper department.
- Service number or social security number. This information is not readily available to everyone. This searches quicker because there’s only one number assigned to that military personnel.
- Birth and death dates. If the person whose records are being requested is also deceased, the date of their passing must be included in the request form.
Online Resources For Military Records
National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)
The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) is an independent federal agency of the United States government that is tasked with the preservation and documentation of government and historical records. The NARA preserves US government records, manages the Presidential Libraries system, and publishes laws, regulations, and other public documents.
The National Archives holds records from the Revolutionary War to 1912 in Washington, DC. Military records from World War I to the present day can be located at the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) in St. Louis, Missouri. Thus, if you’re searching for military histories before World War I, you must go to Washington or contact their office for assistance.
Access to Archival Databases (AAD) allows the public to access available records, which can be helpful for people searching military records for historical research. The AAD simplifies public access to a selection of accessioned military electronic documents in the National Archives.
This data access utility provides a single, consistent interface for inquiries and access to structured data. The web portal permits researchers and other people to search, view and retrieve records from selected accessions. However, the only data available on the AAD are archival files without access restrictions.
It should be noted that recent military service and medical records are not readily accessible to the public. However, veterans and their next of kin may request a copy of military records online. If the person requesting the records isn’t the veteran or next of kin, the files can be obtained if the military member’s date of separation from service is more than 62 years already.
Records of individuals who left the service less than 62 years ago are subject to access restrictions. The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) limits access to the records created in recent years, meaning that only limited information is available to the public in these cases.
Using SCRA Service
Another way to verify if a person is a member of the Armed Forces or not is through the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, commonly known as SCRA. This is a program that provides certain protections in lending for servicemembers who are called to Active Duty.
The SCRA allows people to request military verification status documents. Upon request of an individual’s military status as of a specific date, military records can be obtained as easily as 24 hours after the date of request. The purpose of the SCRA is to determine if the individual being searched is on Active Duty and is eligible for the protection of the law. This service is typically used by lenders, landlords, and other individuals who are required to verify active duty status.
Defense Manpower Data Center (DMDC)
People can also request military records from the Defense Manpower Data Center (DMDC). This government branch keeps records of military service records for the purpose of benefit entitlement.
To search for military records via the DMDC, a person needs to submit an individual’s name, social security number as well as status-as-of-date. From there, the DMDC will search for records for this individual within 367 days prior to the given date.
Offline Resources For Military Records
People can also get military records offline. There are various resources available that enable individuals to submit requests pertaining to military status without having to use the Internet. These resources include the National Archives research facilities, state and local archives, and military museums and organizations.
Research rooms at the National Archives are available to the public upon request only. The National Archives has a network of facilities that people can access. These facilities are found in Washington, Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, College Park, Denver, Fort Worth, Kansas, New York, Philadelphia, Riverside, San Francisco, Seattle, and St. Louis.
Meanwhile, there are also Presidential Libraries nationwide where people can conduct their respective research. It would be best to search the Presidential Library within the state or area where the military personnel was assigned to or based for easier access to records.
People can also access military records through the state and local archives. State military records have the information of military personnel enlisted in their respective jurisdiction. A person who’s served in the military or their next of kin can access their military records through the states where they’re registered in.
Likewise, individuals can also access military records through county and city records. This type of search is limited to people enlisted in that particular county or city. This search is only ideal if that person is certain that their records are available in that particular area. Otherwise, it would be wiser to refer to the National Personnel Records Center instead.
If the military records pertain to a veteran, individuals can also request for military records at military museums or organizations. There are various veteran organizations people can refer to in order to confirm the service records of their members. Some of the veteran organizations that people can refer to include the Air Force Association, Association of the United States Army, Military Officer Association of America, Navy League of the United States and Marine Corps League.
Likewise, people can also search for military records offline through military unit histories. Histories of military units may contain biographies of officers, rosters of soldiers in that unit, and clues to where the soldiers were living when they were enlisted. From this resource, people may also obtain dates of death of veterans or their place of residence after service.
Requesting Military Records (Form DD214)
There are various ways to gain access to military records. People can request their Form DD214 at the milConnect website or vetrecs.archives.gov. If you can’t submit a request online, there are alternative methods that you can explore.
People can get records via fax or mail (Standard Form SF 180) from the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC). They can also submit a letter to the NPRC in Missouri. People can also request military records in person at the NPRC. However, that person needs to have evidence that they are qualified to obtain service records.
Alternatively, people can also contact their county or state veteran agency. Every state, city and county usually has veteran agencies to help people with their queries. If that individual has the means to do so, they can also hire an independent researcher to access their service records for them.
Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) Request
The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) generally provides any person with the statutory right to obtain access to Government information in the executive branch agency records. Under this law, the public may have access to certain military information without the veteran’s authorization or that of the next of kin.
Some of the information that may be available from Federal (non-archival) Official Military Personnel Files (OMPF) without an unwarranted invasion of privacy include the veteran’s name, service number, date and branch of service, final duty status and rank, assignments and geographical location, military education level and photographs.
People have their own reasons for requesting military records. The National Personnel Records Center and National Archives permit people to access service records primarily to the service members themselves as well as their next of kin. However, some information is available to the public. Comprehensive information can be accessed if that veteran was on Active Duty more than 62 years ago.
Fortunately, it is easier to access military records nowadays. People don’t necessarily have to visit county or city records. Requests for service records can be made online as long as that person has the right to do so and they have all the necessary requirements to submit a request.
Moreover, the aforementioned resources aren’t the only places where people can conduct their research. The US Department of Veteran Affairs has a lot of useful information for people who are conducting research on veterans. Local records may also provide additional insight into that military member’s past.
Can I look up someone’s military record?
Technically speaking, only the service member and their next of kin can have access to detailed military records. However, the public can have limited access to these records as long as they have all the necessary information to conduct the search.
Are military records public?
Military records are only public in detail if that veteran was in service more than 62 years ago. The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) limits the public’s access to detailed records of people who were in service recently.
Is military DD-214 public record?
Generally speaking, not all military records are available to the public. However, if that person was in service more than 62 years ago, the public may obtain their military records.
Is it illegal to ask for DD-214?
Potential employers who want to verify the military background of veterans may request DD-214. For other purposes, it may not be necessary for military personnel to show that form.