How to research your family’s military history

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If you’ve ever ventured into the attics, basements, and storage areas of your parents’ and grandparents’ homes, more than likely you’ll come across faded photographs, old letters, and other memorabilia — capturing moments of time in your family.

While rich, they can’t capture the whole story of your ancestry. If you’re up to the challenge, you can discover many more treasures that reveal the details of the family members who came before you.

We recently talked to professional genealogist Jane Wilcox, who is also an author and host of the radio podcast The Forget Me Not Hour: Your Ancestors Want Their Stories to Be Told.

Here are five of her tips on how to get started with the process of researching your family’s military history:

  1. Commit to starting. There are no straightforward rules about starting the process of genealogy research. It’s important to just make a commitment to start. It also may require setting aside a designated time each week to pursue your quest for more details.
  2. Ask relatives for details. It may seem relatively simple, but starting a conversation with aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins, and other relatives may reveal an incredible amount of details.“ Contact your nearest and dearest,” Wilcox suggests. “They may have things you didn’t know about.”
  3. Interview family members who served in the military. Dust off your tape recorder or grab a smartphone or camcorder, and schedule time to talk to family members who served in the military, young and old. “The most important thing is getting their stories down before they’re gone,” Wilcox said.
  4. With your relatives’ permission, snoop in their personal belongings. “When my dad died, I found letters from World War II that he had written home,” Wilcox said. “Chances are there are documents sitting in attics and trunks that you may not know some of your relatives have.”
  5. Research official documents. Once you have names, birthdates, and locations, take the next step by searching online on sites like Ancestry.com. These companies have agreements with federal government agencies that allow them to release digital records. You also can check with your local courthouse or the National Archives Building in Washington, D.C.

Want to learn more? Read the full story “Tracing Your Military Roots” in the August 2015 issue of Auxiliary magazine.

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