Reconstructing your ancestor’s military service records

This postcard shows a formation of 21,000 officers and men depicting former President Woodrow Wilson at Camp Sherman in Chillicothe during WWI.

A century ago, the world was engaged in the “Great War” or the “War to End All Wars.” Only later was it renamed World War I. England and France had been besieged by German forces, since 1914.

The United States’ involvement officially commenced with President Woodrow Wilson’s request for the House and Senate to declare war on Germany, to “make the world safe for democracy.” 

On April 6, 1917, war became a reality for Americans. The need to quickly add millions of men to a 133,000 standing army was crucial. Over 9 million men, ages 21-31, were registered at their local draft boards on June 5, 1917, with the first group of draftees to be chosen by lottery, on July 20, 1917. The need for men was so great that two more draft registrations were necessary in 1918: June 5 and Aug. 24 for those who had just attained age 21, and Sept. 12 for men age 18 through 45. 

Fighting on the Western Front did not end until Germany signed the Armistice agreement, in Paris, at 11:00 a.m., on Nov. 11, 1918. Troops began to look forward to returning home and the Selective Service System for World War I was terminated on July 15, 1919.

Why is the Selective Service Registration of significance to those who are researching family history?  

Fast forward to July 12, 1973.   

On this date, a major fire destroyed veterans’ records at the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC), in Overland, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis. Approximately 16-18 million Official Military Personnel Files (OMPF), or 80 percent of Army and Air Force records from Nov. 1, 1912, to Jan. 1, 1960, were destroyed by fire and water damage. No duplicates of these records were maintained, no microfilm copies were made and no indexes were created, prior to the fire. 

Furthermore, millions of veterans’ documents were loaned to the Department of Veteran Affairs, without an inventory of these loaned items being taken. This means that many Army and Air Force veterans, or their surviving family members, have been unable to obtain a record of their military service. Naval and Marine records were not burned in this fire, because they were kept at a separate facility.

Over the years since the fire, NPRC has collected numerous series of Auxiliary Records, in an effort to reconstruct basic service information for the veterans.

But, other possibilities are at hand. Eric Johnson, Ohio Genealogical Society trustee, retired U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel and author of several military books, will share his knowledge of ways to reconstruct military veterans’ service records, at the Wednesday, April 18, meeting of Cuyahoga West Chapter, OGS. While Eric will address WWI specifically, many of his methods can be applied in reconstructing WWII veterans’ records. 

Program begins at 7:00 p.m. in the Porter Room of Westlake Porter Public Library 27333 Center Ridge Road. Social time is from 6:30-7:00 p.m. The public is invited at no cost. A listing of future chapter programs is posted at For additional questions, email


Jayne Broestl

Publicity Chair for the Cuyahoga West Chapter of the Ohio Genealogical Society that meets at Westlake Porter Public Library.

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Volume 10, Issue 7, Posted 9:35 AM, 04.03.2018