Thursday, August 30, 2012

How to Order a Pre-WWI Military Service Record

            Back in April I promised to talk about getting military records for relatives who served prior to WWI or for people to whom you are not related. So here it goes:
            First head to the National Archives site and you should have a screen that looks like this:

            In the “Research Using Military Records” box (the one with the magnifying glass) go down to the line “Locate older (pre-WWI) military service records” line and click there. The next screen you see looks like this:

            Scroll down to the section that says “How to Order Older Military Service or Pension Records” and you will see “Order Online” in blue with a shopping cart next to it:

Military Service Records

Order Online  |   Download the Form
Form Number:   NATF 86
Use to:   Order compiled records based on pre-1917 military service in the United States forces.
            Click on the shopping cart, which takes you to this screen:

            From here follow the directions to set up an account and then you get to this screen:

            Click on the “Order Reproductions” tab in the upper left for this screen:

            And click on “Compiled Military Service File” in the “Most Requested” box in the center. The screen you see looks like this:

            In the way of the government, first we order it, then we tell them what we want. You will notice that these records will cost you $25 and you can end up with 6 or 8 pages or 40  or 50 pages all for the same price. Select the delivery method (I prefer the CD or DVD version because I have a literal hard copy that I can make paper copies of to my heart’s content) and then click on the “Add to Cart” button. And now we get to the heart of the matter:

            This screen is pretty self-explanatory, and as you complete sections, sometimes additional sections show up, so make sure that once you think you are finished that you look over the whole thing to see if anything new cropped up along the way.
            Obviously, the more info you can provide, the better. If you know the middle initial include it. If you don’t know the company, leave it blank. And be sure to include any other information that you have in the comments box. Real live people read and fulfill these orders, so help them out! I recently requested records for a man who had a common enough name, so I included his race, his commander’s name, and a few other bits that would help to distinguish him from all the others out there.
            Once you are satisfied that you have completed the information as best you can, click on the “Continue to Pay and Ship” button and fill in the information from there.
            You’ll get a confirmation email that they have received it, and usually a follow-up letting you know they are mailing it. Turn-around time can take as little as 4 weeks and as long as 12 weeks, so be patient.
            Then one day you will receive a large envelope in the mail (lately they have been sending them certified, so I have to sign for it) and you can enjoy the luxury of reading (hopefully) page after page of information about your relative’s military service.


  1. Kate, I'd also point out that you can hire a researcher (non-NARA employee) to get service and pension records for you. Professional researchers often charge a bit less, give faster service, and provide full-color digital images.