Friday, August 13, 2010

Availability of WWI Military Records (USA)

The following information was provided by the National Archives (US) in response to an inquiry made to the US Archivist during his "Meet the Archivist" meeting during the National Genealogical Society conference last May. The query was: "Despite the fact that the last World War I veteran died several years ago, the entire class of service and pension records from that conflict still requires paperwork and signatures of spouses or children before they can be accessed. Why is this and what can you do to change it?" NB: One WWI Veteran is still alive: Frank Buckles, who he lives in West Virginia. He is 109.

The reply from Susan Nash, Archives Specialist with the Archival Programs Division at the National Personnel Records Center (Military Personnel Records), stated: "Any military personnel service record that is 62 years old or older since the veteran was discharged, died in service or retired is an archival public record and does not require any kind of authorization from the next of kin nor proof of death."

The following has permission to be posted by the National Archives (in fact they suggest this should be posted to a website or blog for edification of the genealogical community) and as attachments are not permitted on this forum I am copying the written below. As stated in the memo the records have been available for several years and have been added to , but due to a freeze on website updates at the St. Louis National Personnel Records Center they have not been able to provide the information on availability to the public.

The memo is dated May 14, 2010 from Maureen McDonald to the Archivist of the United States:

The World War I official military personnel files (OMPFs) were opened in November 2007. The opening of these records allows genealogists, historians, and other members of the public full access to these records. Prior to the legal transfer, access was limited to the specific veteran, the primary next-of-kin, and Federal agencies.

Researchers can receive a complete copy of the file for a fee. These records are subject to a limited exemption under the Freedom of Information Act. All social security numbers are redacted before releasing the record to the public.

Records opened include:

U.S. Navy Enlisted OMPFs with discharge dates beginning in 1885 through 1947;
U.S. Navy Officer OMPFs with discharge dates beginning in 1902 through 1947;
U.S. Marine Corps Enlisted OMPFs with discharge dates beginning in 1906 through 1947;
U.S. Marine Corps Officer OMPFs with discharge dates beginning in 1905 through 1947;
U.S. Army OMPFs with discharge dates beginning in 1912 through 1947; and
U.S. Coast Guard OMPFs with discharge dates beginning in 1898 through 1947;

Additional military personnel records will be made available to the public each year, for individuals who served in the U.S. Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard who have been discharged, deceased, or retired for at least 62 years. For example, records for veterans who were discharged, deceased, or retired in 1948 will be opened 62 years to the day in 2010.

Researchers can access these records by:

1. Visiting the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC), Archival
Research Center, in St. Louis, MO

2. Requesting copies of the records (for a copy fee) via mail, fax, or
online. NPRC encourages interested individuals to submit requests via
www.vetrecs.archives.gov or on a Standard Form 180, available at
www.archives.gov/research/order/standard-form-180.pdf.

The fee schedule for OMPFs is:
OMPF of 5 pages or fewer: $20
OMPFs of greater than 5 pages: $60 (Most OMPFs fall in this category.)
Persons of Exceptional Prominence OMPF: $.75 per page.

Besides getting up-to-date information on the web site, a blog posting could definitely help spread the word about the availability of these records, especially to the genealogy community.

A new brochure for NPRC might also help researchers understand what records are open for military service. This brochure could be handed out at NARA research facilities and conferences to get the correct information out there to researchers. NPRC is working on a brochure, but they do not want to print anything since they are moving next year. In the interim, they are doing a rack card which gives basic information about the facility, hours of operation, phone, and address. It does not address what records are there and the availability to the public.

The OMPF information for St. Louis is available in Reference Information Paper 109 Military Service Records at the National Archives. Also, NPRC has created a handout to explain what records are now open and how much it costs to get copies of these records. Distribution of this handout in all research facilities would help spread the word.

Jan Meisels Allen
IAJGS Director-at-large
Chairperson, IAJGS Public Records Access Monitoring Committee

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