Official Military Personnel Files for US Military Ancestors in WWI, WWII and Beyond

Official Military Personnel Files (OMPFs) are 20th and 21st U.S. military records for conflicts such as WWI, WWII, and beyond. OMPFs are packed with great genealogy clues, but millions were destroyed by a 1973 fire. Here’s how to find what records still remain, and what you might find if your relative’s OMPF went up in flames.

What are Official Military Personnel Files?

If your ancestor served in the U.S. military during the 20th or 21st century, related service records are called Official Military Personnel Files (OMPFs), or sometimes “201 files,” named after the brown file folder that holds them. These are available for each of the military branches: Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard. They are generally held at the National Personnel Record Center in St. Louis, Missouri. (Exceptions for veterans discharged since 1995 may be at other government offices.)

According to the National Archives, Official Military Personnel Files are “primarily an administrative record, containing information about the subject’s service history such as: date and type of enlistment/appointment; duty stations and assignments; training, qualifications, performance; awards and decorations received; disciplinary actions; insurance; emergency data; administrative remarks; date and type of separation/discharge/retirement; and other personnel actions.” The level of detail in complete files make them invaluable genealogical records.

How to Access Official Military Personnel Files

On July 12, 1973, a disastrous fire ravaged the building where the OMPFs were housed. Between 16 and 18 million personnel files were destroyed or damaged; these affected names alphabetically after James E. Hubbard. It was a serious loss for two particular branches of the military:

  • Army Personnel discharged 1912-1960: 80% Loss (4 in every 5 files). 
  • Air Force Personnel discharged 1947-1964: 75%  Loss (3 in every 4 files). (Remember: the Air Force wasn’t officially organized until September 14, 1947. Before this date Air Force records were part of the United States Army Air Corps, then part of the U.S. Army.)

The Navy, Marines, and Coast Guard records were largely unaffected by the fire.

Surviving OMPFs and reconstructed records relating to destroyed files are considered to be archival (or open to researchers without restrictions) 62 years after the date of discharge. This is a rolling date, so discharge dates of 1955 and earlier are open to the public. In 2018, that date will change to 1956, and so on. More recent records are considered non-archival and subject to restrictions; only the veteran or next-of-kin have full access to the files.

You can access Official Military Personnel Files in three ways:

1. Go to St. Louis in person. Appointments are recommended, as research space is limited. Click here for information about requesting an appointment, the availability of records, copy fees, and hours of operation.

2. Employ an independent researcher. Click here for the National Archives’ list of researchers.

3. Request records by mail. Here’s a link to the online portal for requesting these records; here’s a direct link to the PDF format of Standard Form 180, which you can print and mail in.

My grandfather’s OMPF: What survived?

I didn’t fully grasp how many records were lost in the fire in 1973 until I ordered a record of one of my family members. When my grandfather Richard Keller was a small child, he received postcards from his great Uncle Zerbe Howard: I remember him. He died when I was 10 years old. Zerbe served during World War I and was a resident of Lebanon, PA.

Official military personnel files

I have in my possession the 2 postcards sent my grandfather that listed his name, rank, and military unit. I ordered his file which took several months, and when it arrived I expected it to be full of information. Unfortunately, his file was completely destroyed.

The only reconstructed records located were three pages recording him on a final payment roll with other men from his unit. Here’s an image of that record, which seems so sparse compared to what that original OMPF may have contained:

 

This final payment roll from Camp Dix, New Jersey is dated from April 1918 to May of 1919. It reveals that the soldiers on this roll were discharged on this date, that they were entitled to travel allowance and foreign service bonus pay of $60 and what their individual payments were. Zerbe even appears to have signed the record in his own scrawling handwriting. While it may be discouraging to have such limited information available due to the 1973 fire, it’s still worth pulling records such as these to track your military ancestors.

The National Personnel Record Center now has other records available to researchers to help fill in some of the gaps. For example, the Army filed Morning Reports, organized by unit. I also found local records in Pennsylvania that were not in the hands of the federal government. Listen to the free Genealogy Gems Podcast or come back to this blog for future tips on researching your 20th-century U.S. relatives’ military service.

Looking for 19th century US military records?

If your ancestor served in the military during the 1800s or earlier, you’ll want to look for his Compiled Military Service Records at the National Archives in Washington, DC. The exact dates for each military branch vary in years accordingly. Click here to learn more about those.

For more ongoing training in tracing your military ancestors, tune in to the free Genealogy Gems Podcastand listen for my segment, “Military Minutes.”

 

 

Genetic Genealogy: DNA Tests Another Step Forward

dna_in_test_tube_400_wht_8965Recently a group of 100 residents from Wellington, New Zealand assembled together to determine what exactly it was they had in common. Their host? Dr. Spencer Wells, Director of the National Genographic project.  Their admittance fee to this party? A cheek swab.

What they learned about themselves that evening, has a direct impact on YOU, a genealogist interested in identifying your ancestors.

You see, 800 years ago the first inhabitants of New Zealand were just beginning to explore their new territory. They had arrived from the eastern islands of Polynesia and lived in relative isolation for over 500 years.

While first discovered by the Dutch in 1642, New Zealand wasn’t regularly visited by Europeans until the late 18th century. For Spencer Wells and the National Genographic Project, sampling people of New Zealand would provide a rare opportunity to study the genetic effect of a recent collision of indigenous and outside population groups.

We can think of mixing populations like adding a tablespoon of salt to a glass of water. At first it is easy to see the two different substances co-existing in the same location. But soon the salt becomes part of the water- creating a new substance, with only a small portion of the original substances remaining. This is what happened throughout history as outside groups arrived and intermarried with indigenous populations.

The goal of population genetics as a field of study, and specifically of the National Genographic project, is to look at the modern day population (in our example the salt water), and be able to identify which ancestral populations are present (in our example, determine which parts are salt, and which parts are water. This of course, without knowing beforehand that you were dealing with salt water!).

The National Geneographic project has identified 9 ancestral regions from which they believe all modern populations descend. These nine would be like our salt, and our water. They have then described how 43 reference population groups (our salt water) are comprised of their own unique mix of these 9 groups. They can also describe the origins of your direct maternal line, and if you are male, your direct paternal line.

This information was gathered for the Wellington residents. It was determined that the original Polynesian population and a small East Asian population are certainly the minority among a predominately Western European population group. This information will help groups like the National Genographic Project to determine the possible migration patterns of other peoples and cultures.

What does this mean for genealogy?  This kind of research helps fuel the admixture results (the pie charts and percentages) reported to you by a genetic genealogy testing company when you take an autosomal DNA test.  It is this research that helps genetic genealogists look at your DNA and pick out the essential, ancestral elements–your salt and your water–and determine how your unique mix reveals information about the origins and migration patterns of your ancestors.

Check out an article on this topic here.

Genealogy Gems Podcast Episode 212

The Genealogy Gems Podcast
Episode #212
with Lisa Louise Cooke

In this episode, Lisa Louise Cooke speaks with Contributing Editor Sunny Morton about turning our fleeting scraps of recollections into meaningful memories.Also:

Genealogist Margaret Linford tells us how she got started in family history. Like many of our best stories, it’s not just about her, but someone who inspired her.

2017 could be called “the year of DNA.” Diahan Southard looks back with a special DNA news digest.

Finding missing ancestors: tips and success stories from Genealogy Gems fans

NEWS: WIKITREE HONOR CODE

WikiTree.com

WikiTree Press Release on 100,000 signatures

Learn more about using individual v. global/community family trees on Ancestry.com, FamilySearch.org, Findmypast.com and MyHeritage.com in Sunny Morton’s quick reference guide, Genealogy Giants: Comparing the 4 Major Websites.

NEWS: FAMICITY ADDS GEDCOM UPLOAD

Famicity.com

NEWS: DNA YEAR IN REVIEW WITH DIAHAN SOUTHARD

As evidence of its now proven usefulness in genealogy research, the genetic genealogy industry is growing at a fast pace. Ancestry.com has amassed the largest database, now boasting over 6 million people tested, and is growing at breakneck speeds, having doubled the size of its database in 2017. As the databases grow larger and our genealogy finds become more frequent, we can’t ignore that this kind of data, the correlated genetic and genealogical data, amassed by these companies, has great value.

In November, MyHeritage announced an effort by their scientific team to “study the relationship between genetics and behavior, personal characteristics, and culture.” These studies are not new, as 23andMe is in open hot pursuit of the connections between genetics and our health, and always has been.

All of our genetic genealogy companies are involved in research on one level or another and every person who swabs or spits has the opportunity to participate in other research projects (click here to read up on the consent policies at each company). At the time of testing, you have the option to opt in or out of this research, and the ability to alter that decision at any time after you test, by accessing your settings. According to an article in Fast Company, it seems we as a community are very interested in helping with research: 23andMe reports an over 80% opt-in-to-research rate among their customers. And I’ve got some breaking news for you: Family Tree DNA just started a consumer awareness campaign to reinforce the message that they will never sell your genetic data. That’s another important topic worth talking about in a future episode, so stay tuned!

All our genetic genealogy companies realize that you might want to do more with your data than just look for your ancestors. This year Family Tree DNA has partnered with Vitagene in an effort to provide insight into your health via your genetic genealogy test results. Of course 23andMe is the leader in health testing when we look at our top genetic genealogy companies. This year 23andMe finally succeeded ipassing several of their health tests through the FDA, a huge leap forward in their efforts to provide health testing directly to consumers.

While health testing has certainly seen an explosion of interest this year, it is not the only way that our companies are using the data they have amassed. AncestryDNA took the DNA and pedigree charts of two million customers who consented to research and, using some really fancy science, were able to provide amazing insight into our recent ancestral past with the creation of their genetic communities. These genetic communities enhance our understanding of our heritage by showing us where our ancestors may have been between 1750 and 1850, the genealogical “sweet spot” that most of us are trying to fill in.

Living DNA, a relative newcomer to the genetic genealogy arena, announced in October of 2017 their intention to use their database to help create a One World Family Tree. To do so, they are collecting DNA samples from all over the world, specifically those who four grandparents lived in close proximity to each other. Along with this announcement, Living DNA is allowing individuals who have results from other companies and want to help with this project, to transfer into their database.

So it seems that with growing databases come growing options, whether to opt-in to research, to pursue health information from your DNA test results, or to help build global databases for health or genealogy purposes. Recognizing the growing appeal to non-genealogists as well, AncestryDNA added to their list of options the ability to opt-out of the match page, and there are rumors that Living DNA will soon be adding the option to opt-in to matching (they do not currently have a cousin-matching feature as part of their offering). It can be tricky to keep up with all that goes on, but be sure we at Genealogy Gems are doing our best to keep you up-to-date with any news that might help you make better decisions about your genealogy, and ultimately better equipped to find your ancestors.

GENEALOGY GEMS NEWS

Premium Podcast Episode 154 (publishing later this month)

NEW Premium Video: “Your Guide to Cloud Backup

This video answers the questions:

  • What is cloud backup?
  • Why should I use cloud backup?
  • How does cloud backup work?
  • Is cloud backup safe?
  • What should I look for when selecting a cloud backup service?
  • My personal cloud backup choice

Click here to subscribe to Genealogy Gems Premium eLearning membership

BONUS CONTENT in the Genealogy Gems App

If you’re listening through the Genealogy Gems app, your bonus content for this episode a reading of an excerpt of the Book of Christmas: Descriptive of the Customs, Ceremonies, Traditions by Thomas Kibble Hervey (The chapter Signs of the Season) published in 1845 ? available for free in Google Books.

The Genealogy Gems app is FREE in Google Play and is only $2.99 for Windows, iPhone and iPad users

MAILBOX

Genealogy Gems blog post on finding missing ancestors

Learn more about using Google Books and Google Patents in Lisa Louise Cooke’s book, The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox

 

Keep your family history research, photos, tree software files, videos and all other computer files safely backed up with Backblaze, the official cloud-based computer backup system for Lisa Louise Cooke’s Genealogy Gems. Learn more at https://www.backblaze.com/Lisa.

 

Lovepop Cards

Unlock special pricing for 5 or more cards AND get free shipping on any order by going to https://www.lovepopcards.com/gems

 

GEM: MARGARET LINFORD’S GENEALOGICAL ORIGINS

Genealogy Gems Podcast episode #208

Click here to read Margaret’s memories and see her pictures of Grandma Overbay

Start creating fabulous, irresistible videos about your family history with Animoto.com. You don’t need special video-editing skills: just drag and drop your photos and videos, pick a layout and music, add a little text and voila! You’ve got an awesome video! Try this out for yourself at Animoto.com.

 

INTERVIEW: TURN MEMORY FRAGMENTS INTO MEANINGFUL STORIES

Sunny Morton is a Contributing Editor at Genealogy Gems and presenter of the new Premium Video, “Share Your Own Life Stories More Meaningfully” (click here to watch a quick preview). She is also author of Story of My Life: A Workbook for Preserving Your Legacy (use coupon code GEMS17 for an extra 10% off by December 31, 2017).

Strategies for turning memory fragments into meaningful stories (learn more about all of these in the Premium Video, “Share Your Own Life Stories More Meaningfully”):

Gather together even the smallest fragments of your memories together by writing them down.

Think about what missing details you could research by finding pictures, books, chronologies, maps and other resources (both online and offline).

Look for common patterns or recurring themes in groups of memory fragments. (For example, Sunny shared memories of swimming in this episode.) What kind of story do these memories tell over time about your personality, circumstances, relationships or other aspects of your life?

 

PRODUCTION CREDITS

Lisa Louise Cooke, Host and Producer

Sunny Morton, Editor

Diahan Southard, Your DNA Guide, Content Contributor

Hannah Fullerton, Audio Editor

Lacey Cooke, Service Manager

Disclosure: This page contains affiliate links and Genealogy Gems will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links (at no additional cost to you). Thank you for supporting this free podcast and blog!

 

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Download the episode

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Recent New and Updated Genealogy Records Online

There are a wide range of genealogical records newly available online. Here are new and updated collections as of this week. We’ve included important information about each collection that will help you determine whether it is suitable for your genealogical research. We include affiliate links for which we may be compensated, at no expense to you. Thank you for supporting free article like this by using our links. 

new genealogy records

The latest genealogy records from Genealogy Gems.

NEW: HALL COUNTY NEBRASKA NEWSPAPER DIGITIZATION PROJECT

About the collection:

“The Hall County Newspaper Digitization Project is a collaborative project supported by the historical and genealogical societies, newspapers, public libraries, and museums in Hall County. This project will digitize the 28 historic newspapers published in Hall County since 1870. The Grand Island Independent (up to 1924) is included in this project.”  

Newspapers included in the first completed phase of digitization include:

  • Platte Valley Independent (1870-1884);
  • Grand Island Times (1873-1892);
  • Grand Island Independent (1884-1900);
  • Wood River Gazette (1884-1892);
  • Doniphan Eagle (1892-1895);
  • Staats-Anzeiger und Herald (1894-1918);
  • Wood River Interests (1894-1919);
  • Wood River Sunbeam (1906-2003).

Search the collection here. 
 

DIGITAL LIBRARY OF GEORGIA

Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps (Select Georgia towns and cities. 1923-1941)

Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps at the Digital Library of Georgia

Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps at the Digital Library of Georgia

About the collection:

“The Digital Library of Georgia has just made Sanborn fire insurance maps produced between 1923-1941 for 39 Georgia towns and cities in 35 counties freely available online. The maps, which are now in the public domain, can be retrieved at dlg.usg.edu/collection/dlg_sanb, and complement the DLG’s existing collection of the University of Georgia Map and Government Information Library’s 539 Sanborn maps dating from 1884-1922 that have been available since 2005. The DLG has also upgraded its image viewer, which will allow better access and improved navigation to the new and older Sanborn images from this collection.”

Search the collection here. 

MYHERITAGE

Search the following collections here at MyHeritage

NEW: New York, Birth Index, 1881-1942

About the collection: 

“This collection consists of indexes of births from the state of New York between the years 1881 and 1942. The State of New York began statewide registration of births in 1881, supervised by the local board of health. A record may include the following information when it is available: given name and surname, birth date, town of birth, and gender. The images in this collection have been obtained through the outstanding work and efforts of Reclaim the Records.

This index does not contain lists of births from New York City. New York City is considered to be a separate vital records jurisdiction from the rest of New York state, and consequently the city has its own birth indices. However, a small number of New York City birth listings are found throughout this index. This is due to the births happening in towns that were previously independent before the consolidation of the city in 1898 (for example, a pre-1898 birth in a place like Canarsie [Brooklyn] or Flushing [Queens] might be listed here) or because there was a late birth registration.”

NEW: Minnesota, Death Index, 1904-2001

About this collection: 

“This collection includes an index of death records from Minnesota, between 1904-2001. Information may include the deceased name, date of death, county of death, date of birth, county of birth and certificate number. It may also include the mother’s maiden name when available. 

Information for the years 1908-2001 is recorded from death certificates as recorded by a physician or a mortician. Information in this collection for years prior to 1908 is taken from death cards. Unlike death certificates, many death cards were filled out very incompletely. Cards, especially for the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, frequently contain little more information than the name of the decedent, date of death, sex, marital status, birthplace, cause of death, and person reporting the death.”

Number of records: 4,460,579

NEW: Minnesota, Birth Index, 1900-1934

About this collection: 

“This collection contains an index to birth records from Minnesota between 1900-1934. Information may include: first name, middle name, and last name of the child. It may also include the date and county of birth, certificate number. It may also include the mother’s maiden name when available.

Birth certificates were used to record birth information beginning in 1907. When a child was born, a physician or midwife compiled information about the child on a birth certificate. The certificate was registered with the local county registrar. Birth cards were used to collect birth information from 1900 to 1907. Unlike birth certificates, many birth cards were not completely filled out. 80% of this collection takes place between 1907-1937, 19% is from 1900-1907 and 1% is from before 1900.”

Number of records: 3,406,802

Updated: MyHeritage Photos and Docs

About this collection: 

“This collection includes public photos, videos and documents posted by MyHeritage members on their family sites. You may contact a member who submitted a photo to get in touch or request additional information.”

Number of records: 141,129,707

ANCESTRY

U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995

About the collection: “This database is a collection of directories for U.S. cities and counties in various years. The database currently contains directories for all states except Alaska.

Generally a city directory will contain an alphabetical list of citizens, listing the names of the heads of households, their addresses, and occupational information. Sometimes a wife’s name will be listed in parentheses or italics following the husband’s. Other helpful information might include death dates for individuals who had been listed in the previous year’s directory, names of partners in firms, and forwarding addresses or post offices for people who had moved to another town.”

Search the collection here.

NEW: New York State, Address Notification and Absentee Ballot Application Cards, 1944

About the collection:

“This collection consists of notices received in 1944 by the War Ballot Commission from members of the United States Armed Forces, American Red Cross, and other service organizations serving in World War II that resided in New York requesting absentee ballots or notifying the office of a change in address. For more information on this collection, please visit the Finding Aid page on the New York State Archives site. There are two main forms present in this collection – pre-printed applications for war ballot, and postcards with change of address information.”

Information contained varies, and may include:

  • soldier’s name
  • soldier’s rank or rating and service number
  • soldier’s birth date
  • soldier’s residence at time of request

Search the collection here.

Updated: 1860 U.S. Federal Census – Slave Schedules

About the collection:

“The slave schedule was used in the following states: Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, New Jersey, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia.”

Search the collection here.

Updated: 1850 U.S. Federal Census – Slave Schedules

About the collection: 

“The slave schedule was used in the following states: Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, New Jersey, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia.”

Search the collection here. 

Updated: New Zealand, Cemetery Records, 1800-2007

About the collection: 

“These transcriptions of headstones from cemeteries in New Zealand typically include details such as name, birth date, death date, and the cemetery name and plot location. But they may also provide family relationships with name and other details about a spouse, cause of death, military dates, an epitaph, or even a description of the headstone.”

378,207 new records were added.

Search the collection here.

Updated: U.S. Virgin Islands, Danish West Indies Slave Records, 1672-1917

About the collection: 

“This database contains Danish records relating to slavery in what became the U.S. Virgin Islands. 

During Danish rule, officials kept voluminous records, including the slave-related records found in this database. They include the following:

  • case papers concerning contested slave ownership
  • emancipation records
  • registers of free men, women, and children of color
  • lists of baptisms, marriages, and burials
  • lists of slave owners and former slaves
  • mortgages and loans
  • slave lists and censuses
  • records of Royal Blacks
  • compensation agreements
  • courts martial

The records can be a valuable source of names, dates, places, and other details. These records have not yet been indexed, but they can be browsed by record type. Most of the records are in Danish.

This collection was previously published as image only. The collection has since been indexed and this update adds 80,184 new records.”

Search the collection here.

About the collection: “This database consists primarily of the voter indexes published every two years, including indexes to the Great Registers, to affidavits for registration, and to precinct registers.

Voter registrations were kept on the county level by the county clerk. Indexes to these records are organized according to county and voting wards and/or precincts. Within each precinct voters are listed alphabetically according to surname.”

Information may include:

  • Name
  • Age
  • Address
  • Occupation
  • Political Affiliation

Search the collection here

UNIVERSITY OF NEVADA, RENO – CITY DIRECTORIES

The University Libraries has recently digitized early city directories of Reno, Sparks, and the surrounding areas, which date from 1900.

Nevada City Directories at the University of Nevada

Nevada City Directories at the University of Nevada

Search the collection here. 

FINDMYPAST

NEW: Canadian Directories & Almanacs

Findmypast has launched brand new collection with records from the province of Prince Edward Island. According to the company, more will be added from across Canada over the coming months.

About the collection:

“The eclectic mix of five directories cover the late 19th century from 1880 to 1899.”

The titles included are:

  • Frederick’s Prince Edward Island Directory
  • McMillian’s Agricultural and Nautical Almanac
  • McMullan’s Almanac
  • Teare’s Directory & Hand Book Of The Province of Prince Edward Island
  • The Prince Edward Island Almanac

Search the collection here. 

Updated: PERiodical Source Index (PERSI)

About the collection:

“Over 7,000 images have been added covering a variety of PERSI publications, perfect for fleshing out family stories. The new periodical titles that have been added are:

  • Vermont Quarterly Gazetteer: A Historical Magazine / Bound With New Title: Vermont Historical Gazetteer
  • Recherches Historiques
  • Cambridge Historical Society Publications/proceedings
  • Archivium Hibernicum / Irish Historical Records
  • Queen City Heritage / Ohio Valley History
  • Connecticut Historical Society Collections

Simply filter by periodical to get to the latest additions.”

Search the collection here. 

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