If you’ve researched your family history and found that you have ancestors who served in the military, you may be engrossed in finding photos that were taken during their time of service. In the United States, every military action since the Civil War has been well-preserved by photography. The biggest dilemma you will face is finding your particular family member, either in action or proudly posing for posterity. Follow this process in locating family military photos and pinpointing your own ancestor in his patriotic moment.
Ask your family members whether they know of any existing photos. You may be pleasantly surprised to learn that Great Aunt Mabel kept a scrapbook of all the family military members. If there are no family photos but there is a record of military service, check the local newspaper for the time your relative served. In many instances, local media spotlighted servicemen and women before deployments and again when they returned home, particularly if these events occurred during wartime.
Identify the regiment or unit and the branch of service your family member served in. Typically, this may be found by interviewing family members or consulting local, state and federal service records for the person who served in the military. Follow up with the branch of service to determine if it has photos available.
Contact a re-enactment group that depicts your family member’s military unit. For example, the website Olive-Drab has links for dozens of re-enactment groups. The group depicting your family member will typically have a collection of historic photographs that include your ancestor.
Research the military unit itself and track descendants of your family member’s fellow soldiers. By using a genealogy website such as Cyndi’s List, you may find your family member in a group photo that is in the possession of a private individual. When searching photos on Ancestry.com, the site suggests using the keyword field to enter the name or number of your ancestor’s military unit or the location of a battle in which they served. Other keyword searches could include the locations or the ship name where you suspect your ancestor was stationed.
Check with the U.S. Army Heritage & Education Center. The center has more than 1.5 million photos in its archives and has an integrated search engine for its digitized collection. While photography began in 1839 with the daguerreotype, the center’s collection is mainly focused on the Civil War and later conflicts.
- An online search of the specific military unit may provide images and sources that can further your research.