13 August 2010

Access to US Military Records at NARA Explained

At a recent “Meet the Archivist” session, Melinde Sanborn, a member of the Records Preservation and Access Committee (RPAC), posed the following question:

“As the administrator of a broad array of records, why are there such discrepancies in the access rules for researchers? For instance, 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?”

Maureen MacDonald of the National Archives and Records Administration sent a detailed answer that should interest many genealogists. Here is the answer:

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:
-  Visiting the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC), Archival Research Center, in St. Louis, MO
-  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.
-  Copies of individual OMPF documents made in the Archival Research Room: $.75 per page

The OMPF information for St. Louis is available in Reference Information Paper 109 Military Service Records at the National Archives.

Also, please note that researchers can order records by mail, online, or schedule an appointment with the Archival Research Room at (314) 801-0850.