Government paperwork is the butt of lots of jokes, but it comes in handy when you need to see official records. If you're researching a parent's military history for any reason ‒ compiling a family history, proving your father qualifies for military burial ‒ the government probably has the details filed away. There are several different options for tapping the files.
If your parent left the military 62 years ago or longer, the information is public and accessible. If the discharge was more recent, the records aren't public. You can only ask for the more recent files if your parent is already deceased or you have a written authorization from them to do the research.
If your parent has passed on, you can initiate the process with eVetRecs, an online system for creating a customized records request. At the end of the process, you get a detailed form ready to print out, which can speed up the process. You'll need to include a copy of the death certificate or other proof of death. If your parent is alive, just fax or mail in a signed, dated request to the Archives' Personnel Records Center.
Normally, there's no charge for delivering the records.
Information You Need
To get information, you need to provide it. The Center needs this information to track down your parent's records among the millions of others:
- The veteran's complete name used while in service
- Service number
- Social security number
- Branch of service
- Dates of service
- Date and place of birth (especially if the service number is not known)
If your parent's records were destroyed in the center's 1973 fire, you may need to provide additional information, such as the place where your parent was discharged. It may take as long as six months to find duplicate records. Other requests may take only 10 days, but the National Archives requests that you wait at least 90 days before checking up.
If you don't have authorization from the veteran and the records aren't old enough to be public, federal law limits the amount of information the government can release. However, the list may be extensive enough for your purposes. It includes dates of service, branch of service, places served, eligibility for medals and final rank, among other information. The process for filing a written request remains the same.
You can visit the National Archives in person and take a look at the hard-copy records. However, the same restrictions apply as to which records you can see.