Monday, March 28, 2011

Value of military records - Military Monday

A few days ago I was browsing through some genealogy blogs and came across a comment that I found interesting. I can't remember now where I read it, as I follow quite a few blogs, but the comment really stuck in my mind. A researcher had noted that they did not research military files; they were not a big fan of today's military. I can't say whether they were just inexperienced in researching military records or chose not to utilize them based on their feelings toward today's military. I am a big fan of today's military, it's service members and all the veterans that have come before us, but that is not really what made the comment stick in my mind. I kept returning to my disbelief that this researcher was missing the wealth of information that comes with military records.

Being in the military myself, I can perfectly understand the long standing military tradition of paperwork. Lots and lots of paperwork. If it is not in writing it cannot possibly be true. I have written a plethora of genealogy narratives just by filling out standard military forms. And this is not a new process. The military has always been adept at tracking genealogical details. Most often it is so there is a record of next of kin. As gruesome as that thought is, it leaves a veritable gold mine for descendants.

Case in point #1: Last week I received a copy of the bounty land warrant for the widow of David Reed, Mary Reed. I had found many websites that had given her maiden name as Bryan, but I had no source documentation for that information. I was able to determine that she had applied for a widow's land warrant as her husband was a veteran of the War of 1812. As I flipped through the packet I came across sworn affidavits attesting to Mary's marriage to David written by her mother, Elizabeth Bryan, and sister, Esther Morris. On one page I learned her maiden name, the county and date of her marriage, her mother's name and a sibling with married name. In one fell swoop I had obtained the source documentation I needed and I knew it to be fact as it was legally attested to (of course someone could have fibbed, but in this case I doubt it). There are not many records that provide this kind of information on women and I was very pleased with my find.

Case in point #2: I wrote here about finding the casualty file for a distant cousin, James S. Trabue. I had been able to find some information on his family through census records, but after his death I was not aware of what happened to his family. A document in his casualty file lists his wife and son, parents and siblings and each of their addresses at the time. The purpose of the document was to provide contact information for the disposition of his remains. A list of six to eight family members with their addresses? Seriously, that is genealogical money.

It is not for me to discuss political or military stances or views. A major purpose of our military is to help provide opportunities for individuals to carry and express their own views. But to overlook a type of document because of a political stance seems to be a missed opportunity. I appreciate values, but I would highly suggest doing research on the ultimate value of military records before dismissing them.


Greta Koehl said...

I think that poster needs to take a course in Logic 101. I actually love using military records, both because they provide so much information and because my husband helps me by looking up all the units, battles, etc.

Heather Kuhn Roelker said...

I like researching the unit and battles as well. It gives me an insight in to what the Soldier went through. We have also visited many adds a new perspective to walk in their footsteps.