Meta question: How to do research to find info on specific people who served?

This is more of a question for techniques rather than looking for specific information about the war. My grandfather served with the US Army in Italy but I don’t really know much more than that and was interested in seeing what I could find and, quite frankly, have no idea where to even begin.

So I was thinking this could be a more general question for people in various countries as there were so many millions of people involved, it might be a good idea to compile a resource list to help how exactly we go about looking for records and information for people who served. And aside from specific resources, any specific technique you need to help search various databases, what’s been digitized and what not, etc…


I second this. I have a relative who served, and I’m having a hard time finding details online.

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The problem you will run in to is that privacy protection periods for Second World War records have not yet expired. I found my great-grandfather’s entire service record online at Library and Archives Canada, but their website states Second World War records are not published online and still subject to privacy protections.

For the United States, service records for everyone is held by the National Archives. The website you will go to in the future is Veterans' Service Records | National Archives. Since you are not an immediate family member, you can’t put in a request for your grandfather’s service records. You can only request your grandfather’s service records 62 years after he was discharged from military service. The vast majority of veterans of World War 2 for the US were released from service in 1948. January 2031 is the earliest month that you can make a request for your grandfather’s service record.

Your grandfather’s service is not online in some government server. Your grandfather’s service is stored on microfiche or microfilm in Washington DC and St. Louis, Missouri. Additonal copies of your grandfather’s service record is also kept in regional archives and the state archives. When you make your request, the archives would make either a paper printout of the microfiches or microfilm or an electronic printout of the photographs created from the microfiches or microfilm. So, it is going to take about a month to six weeks for the request to be processed.

You can also request a copy of the microfiche or microfilm that you read using the microfiche or microfilm machines in your public or university libraries.

In truth, microfilm and microfiche is superior to the internet for the storage of information. Microfilm and microfiche can’t be corrupted and lost by a computer virus, destroyed by a hard drive crash, accidentally deleted by an idiot, or purposely deleted by a vindictive person. Microfiche and microfilm are very easy to mass produce with a high-speed camera.

I hope this helps out in researching your grandfather.


Thanks, I’ve flagged the date in my Calendar with a hefty note so when it pings me in 8 years, I’ll remember why.

My additional question on that is if it will be an issue that he had a very common name? I’m guessing knowing where he was from, plus the theater, plus that he was an officer rather than enlisted would make that easier.

Wait, something’s wrong with the math there. 62 years after 1948 would be 2010. So either the year or the amount of time before request is off.

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Sorry about that, I typed in the wrong date. I accidentally gave you the completion date for the Union Army company musters rolls and the Union Navy and Marine Corps enlistment rolls for the Civil War that are starting to be digitized. I was doing research into family members that fought in the Union in the Civil War. I should never type up posts at the end of a long workday.

All of the World War 2 service records are available now for service members that have passed away since 2011. The main thing for researching your grandfather that you are going to need is his Social Security number, his service number, and the address he was living at when he entered military service. You can ask your parents if they have that information. If not, you can go to something like where they will research and provide that basic information which will allow you to put in a request to the National Archives.

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Wow, thank you all for the detailed information! This gives me a much better idea of where to start.

Hate to be the bearer of bad news, but upwards of 80% of the military records were destroyed in a fire in 1973 at the National Personnel Records Center. There were no duplicated or microfilm back up. What you are looking for may not exist anymore, but you may have been in the percentage that survived. Ancillary records on units, graves registration (sounds like that would not apply in your case), etc. can still be found.

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