A Guide to Discovering Your Ancestors’ Military History

soldiers serving in the US army
Written by Nancy

Most Americans have family members or ancestors who have served in the US military. We’re still a couple of months away from Veterans Day, so why not use this time to learn more about your ancestors’ military history?

For many people, this is trickier than it seems. They may not have the specific details of the veterans in their families. Others may not even know if an ancestor served in the military. How do you explore your ancestral history when you don’t have all—or any—details?

Here’s how you can get started.

Talk to Your Relatives

The first thing you need to do is talk to your family. If you know who you’re looking for, you already have a head start. Ask your relatives about the ancestor you wish to learn more about, inquiring about their military service. Even if you can’t get the exact dates or service details, you’ll still get an insight into your ancestor’s life.

Typically, enlisting in the military is seen as an honorable thing. Many families have several generations of military officers and soldiers. It’s highly likely that you’ll  hear stories of your ancestors’ past and learn more about the nature of their service when you speak to family members.

If you’re looking farther back down the ancestral line and aren’t sure if anybody in your family was ever in the military, talking to  existing family members still make sense. They may be able to provide you with clues that can help you learn more. For instance, you can visit gravesites or go through old journals to learn if an ancestor served in the military, and there are online resources, as well.

Check Out Old Family Photos

Next up, dig out all those old family photos and look out for images showing individuals in uniforms or wearing medals and ribbons. Look closely for any other signs that may indicate that your ancestors were in the military. For example, are they standing next to prominent landmarks? Do the photos include places, people, or objects that signify an era during which there was a conflict, or war or some  military affiliation?  Additionally, you can check out platforms like and to search online databases and learn more about historical photography.

a person looking at a photo album

Examine Military Records

Make sure you investigate available military records for clues. These documents contain important family historical information. They may also contain genealogical information like date and place of birth/death, locations, and names of family members.

These records are also useful for determining the role your ancestor played while serving in the military. You can find  details about their rank, regiment leader, time spent at certain locations, and much more. These records may also offer clues about individuals who weren’t in the military but were related to your ancestors.

Types of records to search for:

  • Service records
  • Draft registration cards
  • Pension records
  • Bounty land warrants
  • Governmental records

Need help with your family research or want to find family history? Contact the traditional genealogists at DavisDNA And Family Research. They’ll help you acquire more information about your ancestors’ military history. Get started today!

About the author


I’m Nancy and no, I didn’t always look like I do in that picture on the right. My foray into health and fitness began as a brace-faced, 16 year-old who was too afraid to wear a two-piece at the beach because I felt my body paled in comparison to my much more toned friends.

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