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.”

 

 

New Archival Collections: How to Know What’s New at Your Favorite Repository

New archival collections at your favorite repository may be the long-awaited key to solving your family history mysteries! But how can you keep up with what’s new at archives and libraries? Professional archivist Melissa Barker shares her favorite tips.

new archival collections

 

Not long ago, Lisa Louise Cooke read my article on what’s new at the Utah State Archives. She asked me how I keep up with new archival collections at my favorite repositories.

New Archival Collections May Be Just What We Need

Many of us can say that our ancestors were living in a certain area and their records should be located at certain local archives, libraries, or genealogical or historical societies. Maybe we have even done research there in the past, either by visiting the facility, contacting them by phone or email, or using their records online. Records, photographs, ephemera, and artifacts are constantly being discovered and made available in all of our wonderful archives. Many of these records may not make it to microfilm or online, but they are so rich with family information. (Don’t know where to look? Click here to learn how to find archives and libraries near your ancestor’s locale.)

But trying to keep up with all the new records that are being processed in archives, libraries, and genealogical societies can make your head spin! So how are genealogists supposed to stay current?

3 Ways to Keep Up with New Archival Collections

new archival collections uniforms1. Check the archives website. See if they have announced new records collections that are available for research (many archives do). The archives may even have a blog or newsletter that you can subscribe to, which will give you the latest news right at your fingertips. Not only will the archives announce new records that are available but they will even let their patrons know what has been recently donated to the archives and which records are currently being processed.

2. See if the archive has a social media presence. Archives like to post photos of new discoveries and records collections that are ready for the researcher. I know at the Houston County, TN. Archives I like to scan and post images of great documents or artifacts to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest. (Like the post pictured here that I shared recently.)

LISA’S TIP: Remember to use Google search terms to find your favorite archive’s website and social media homes! A quick search such as National Archives Pinterest might be faster than trying to find it on the actual social media site. That search brings up tempting boards for National Archives in both the US and the UK:

3. When visiting an archive, ask: “What’s new?” Talk to archivists about records collections that have recently been processed and made available for research. This is a great way to find more information and records about your ancestors. As an archivist who processes records on a daily basis that are not online or even microfilmed, I get excited about sharing what I find with the genealogy community.

Until next time, this is The Archive Lady, remember it’s not all online, so contact or visit an archive today!

Learn More about Using Archival Collections

Listen to me on the free Genealogy Gems Podcast! This year the podcast is celebrating its 10th-year anniversary. Tune in to hear more inspiring stories and tips to help your family history research. Listen on your computer or on your mobile device through the Genealogy Gems app. Click here to learn more.

 

Georgia Genealogical Society Seminar

The Georgia Genealogical Society is hosting an all-day seminar on September 16, 2017 in Marietta, Georgia. I’m the invited speaker–and you’re invited, too! Come learn cutting-edge skills and tools you can start using in your family history research immediately. Register online until September 12, 2017.  You can book me for your genealogy event here.

Georgia Genealogy Seminar

If you can make it to Marietta, Georgia on Saturday, September 16, I hope you’ll join me for an all-day seminar sponsored by the Georgia Genealogical Society. The event organizers have chosen a well-rounded set of classes I’m excited to teach! You’ll get cutting-edge tips on online search strategies, an in-depth newspaper research class, a unique and fun approach to working a “genealogical cold case,” and inspiring, attention-getting ideas to share your family history discoveries with your relatives.

Georgia Genealogical Society Seminar Details

Here’s what you’ll want to know now about this event:

What: All-Day Seminar with Lisa Louise Cooke
Where: First Presbyterian Church, 189 Church St., Marietta, GA
When: Saturday, September 16, 2017, 9:45 am – 4:15 pm (doors open at 9:15 am for registration)
Hosted by: Georgia Genealogical Society; co-sponsored by Cobb County Genealogical Society
Registration: Register online via PayPal by midnight on Tuesday, September 12, 2017, to get the regular event price and the class handouts.

And boy oh boy are we going to dig into genealogy!:

10:15 am: Google Books: The Tool You Should Use Every Day! Over 25 million digitized and searchable free books are at your fingertips with Google Books. Learn how to make the most of this goldmine chock full of historical data. (This is a brand new class in 2017 and was a BIG hit at Rootstech,)

11:30: Get the Scoop on your Ancestors with Newspapers. Yearning to “read all about it?” Newspapers are a fantastic source of research leads, information and historical context for your family history. Learn the specialized approach that is required to achieve success in locating the news on your ancestors.  Includes 3 Cool Tech Tools that will get you started.

(12:30-2:00 pm: Lunch is on your own)

2:00 pm: How to Reopen and Work a Genealogy Cold Case. Become a genealogical detective in this vital session. You’ll learn to track ancestors like a criminal cold case detective, sniffing out holes in your research and getting missing information on the record with cutting edge technology.

3:15 pm: Inspiring Ways to Capture the Interest of Non-Genealogists. If you are researching your family tree but haven’t shared it with your family in a way that sparks their interest, then you are only experiencing half of the joy of genealogy! And if your descendants don’t grasp the importance of their heritage, your hard work may tragically find it’s way to the city dump when you are gone. Don’t just collect your family history and store it away in binders and files! Learn how creative displays and crafts can capture the imagination of your non-historian friends and relatives, while honoring your ancestors. These projects are guaranteed to inspire your family to ask you to tell them more about the family tree!

Click here for more about the event and to register.

4 More Ways to Learn New Genealogy Skills

If you can’t be in Marietta (darn!) on September 16, check out these free options for learning with me and the rest of my team here at Genealogy Gems:

    • Subscribe to my free weekly e-newsletter. You’ll get my free Google research e-book as a thank you gift. Simply enter your email address into this box, and I’ll deliver news, how-tos and stories from my blog, including my popular weekly update of new genealogy records online.

Newsletter Sign Up

  • Listen to the free Genealogy Gems podcast. My flagship audio show has been delivering in-depth stories, research strategies, tech tips and more for more than 10 years–with more than 2 million times worldwide. Why not listen for yourself?
  • Subscribe to my YouTube channel. Watch, learn and be inspired with the many genealogy how-to videos I’ve shared on my YouTube channel.

Thanks for sharing this event invitation with your friends. I hope to meet you in Marietta, on social media or as a new listener or email subscriber!

FGS Webinar Series on Society Management Begins Soon

The FGS Webinar Series on Society Management has just been announced and it’s starting soon. This new free webinar series is focused on the leadership and management of non-profit societies. If you belong to a genealogical society you’ll want to let your leadership know about this opportunity from the The Federation of Genealogical Societies. Read on for more from FGS.

Webinar Series-Jul 2017-Fred Moss

FGS Webinar Series Details

Press Release: July 12, 2017 – Austin, TX.

The Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) announces the launch of their Society Management webinar series, scheduled to begin July 20, 2017. This series of free events will bring a much-needed aspect to the array of learning opportunities currently provided in the genealogical community, focusing solely on the leadership and management of non-profit societies.

The series will begin July 20, 2017 at 7:00pm central with a presentation by Fred Moss discussing The Open Death Records Initiative. The August session will feature David Rencher, CG, presenting on the best practices – and challenges – surrounding The Nominating Committee.

Each month thereafter will feature a new and interesting topic, ranging from recruitment and volunteer management to technology, publications, and working with your local tourism board. Registration will be necessary, and regular updates will be shared via the FGS Voice blogFGS Voice Newsletter, and social media. Webinars will occur every 3rd Thursday of the month.

Registration for the July program can be found here.

Speakers interested in presenting topics should contact Jen Baldwin, Education Chair, at education@fgs.org.

More Support for Genealogical Societies

Finding affordable quality programming is probably one of the biggest challenges genealogy societies face.

Genealogy Gems for Societies is an annual premium subscription service just for genealogical societies and groups* (such as libraries). This is a cost-effective way for your group to provide quality family history video presentations by internationally-renowned speaker Lisa Louise Cooke at your regular meetings.

With a society subscription, your group may show video recordings of Lisa’s most popular classes! This applies to group presentations for a single location, one video per event–but with more than a dozen 50-60 minute videos, several more 25-30 minute videos and a growing number of quick video tips (4-15 minutes), you’ll have plenty of video classes to show all year long! Click here to see a full list of videos available to societies. (Videos are not for individual use by society members.)

In addition, society subscribers receive:

  • Permission to republish articles from our extensive article archive in your society newsletter (your editor will LOVE this feature!)
  • 10% discount for your society on live seminars by Lisa Louise Cooke
  • 10% discount code for your society members to use in the Genealogy Gems Store (details will be sent to your society membership email address after purchase)
  • BONUS: exclusive digital PDF ebook of a collection of Lisa’s most popular articles from Family Tree Magazine! Share this in the members-only section of your group’s website (or if you don’t have a members-only section, your Programming Director may keep it and enjoy).

All of this costs only $199.00 a yearabout the cost of one typical webinar! Click here for more details and ordering information.

Please support your local genealogical society or group by sharing this post with them by email or social media. Thank you! You’re a Gem.

 

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