Many of us are familiar with some of the common records available to find information about our ancestors, such as immigration, census, birth, and death records, among others. But did you know military records are also a valuable resource for researching our family history? Many countries required young men to serve in the military, and many of our ancestors participated in the military or in military conflicts in the past. These military records include information about enlistments, drafts, military company histories, pensions, casualties, and cemeteries where servicemen and women were buried. In some cases, we have access to military members’ journals, photos, and biographies.
For more information about military records in various countries, you can search the FamiySearch Wiki for articles about using military records. If you are looking for an ancestor who was an immigrant to a new country, you can find information about searching for their military records on the wiki page “Tracing Immigrants Origins: Military Records.” In addition, if you are researching a military conflict involving the United States, you can search the vast collection of records available at the National Archives. You can also find a lot of useful information about finding your ancestors in military records in the FamilySearch blog post “Discover the Military Records of Your Family’s War Veterans.”
Once we garner all of these military records about our ancestors, we can use them to reconstruct the military aspect of our ancestors’ stories, including battles they fought in, whether they were wounded, and many other details.
Consider, for example, the story of poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s son Charles. With the use of wartime records, letters, and diary entries, the story of Charles’s military career and his father’s reaction to it is well preserved. Through these records, we know Charles joined the Union army during the Civil War in Massachusetts, against his father’s wishes. Charles was ill and didn’t fight with his company in the Battle of Gettysburg, but he was wounded in the Battle of New Hope Church in December 1863. His father was very concerned for Charles and brought him home to recover. Just weeks later, on Christmas Day in 1863, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote the words to the renowned and beloved Christmas melody “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day,” which expressed both his sorrow and his ultimate hope.
Using resources available on FamilySearch.org, we can find Charles Longfellow’s service record in the “United States Civil War Soldiers Index, 1861–1865.” From this record, we know what company he was in and can find more information on that company’s history. We can also learn about Massachusetts’s involvement in the Civil War. As we dig deeper into other resources, we find images of him in his military uniform as well.
Try including these records in your research, if you haven’t started already. As you use these resources to look for your ancestors in military records, try looking for clues that will piece their story together. You might be surprised at what details you will find!
This article was submitted by Maurianne Baker, who works as an editor for the LDS Church and loves to write whenever she gets a chance.