For military records before 1900, there is no greater repository than the National Archives. Here's how to contact them for copies of your Revolutionary War patriot's military records.
Time Required: varies
- Determine if you had ancestors living in America between 1775 and 1783, the years in which the American Revolution took place.
- Calculate the estimated age of your U.S. ancestors during the Revolutionary War. Boys as young as 16 were considered eligible to serve.
- Consult National Archives microfilm series M860, General Index to Compiled Military Service Records of Revolutionary War Soldiers, for an alphabetical index of soldiers, sailors, staff and civilian employees of the Army and Navy (such as cooks and teamsters). It can be viewed on microfilm through the National Archives, your local Family History Center, or many larger genealogical libraries.
- The above index, the most comprehensive name index to American soldiers who served during the Revolution, provides the name and unit of a soldier or civilian and sometimes his rank, profession, or office. This is the information you need to locate the actual Compiled Military Service Record file.
- Further details about each individual can then be found in National Archives microfilm series M881, Compiled Service Records of Soldiers who Served in the American Army During the Revolutionary War. These military records were compiled for men who fought in the Revolutionary War (1775-83) from records held by the War Department, as substitutes for records destroyed by fire in 1800 and 1814.
- You can also request service records on NATF Form 86 for a $17.00 fee. Expect a 6-8 week processing time. You will first need to request the free form through the National Archives using the link above. It should arrive within a week or so - they're usually very fast!
- Another source to check for military service is the DAR Patriot Index, a list of established Revolutionary War ancestors of DAR members. You may request a free lookup in this index through the DAR Patriot Index Volunteer Lookup Service. Be sure to provide as much information as possible and remember to say thanks!
- Now that you have documented that your ancestor served in the Revolutionary War, two of the richest records for genealogical information are the soldier's pension file and bounty land warrant application files.
- The complete pension file for each soldier has been filmed in National Archive series M804 - 2,670 rolls of alphabetically arranged records titled Revolutionary War Pension & Bounty Land Warrant Application Files, 1800-1906.
- The Pension and Bounty Land Warrant Application files can also be requested on NATF Form 85. The fee for Pension files is $14.75 for selected files or $37.00 for the complete file (recommended for genealogists). The Bounty Land Warrant files are available for $14.75. Expect a 6-8 week processing time.
- A quick alternative to the microfilm series M804, is the Index of Revolutionary War Pension Applications in the National Archives in book form. It is more widely available and lists all applicants and their file designations.
- Microfilm series M805 also reproduces the Revolutionary pension files, but doesn't include the complete file for each soldier. If you have this record, you may find it worth your while to go back and check M804.
- To flesh out the story of your Revolutionary War ancestor, check military histories which chronicle the people and events surrounding the Revolution. One often excellent source for this type of material are local re-enactment societies.
- Now that you have documented your Revolutionary War ancestor, you may want to reward yourself by joining a lineage society such as Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) or Sons of the American Revolution (SAR).
- Look for these books and microfilm publications at the National Archives in D.C. and its regional branches, as well as Family History Centers and larger genealogy libraries.
- A typical compiled military service record includes name, rank, military unit, date of entry into service, and sometimes the date of separation.
- The compiled military service record may also include personal details such as age, physical description, date/place of birth and residence at time of enlistment.
- The Daughters of the American Revolution Lineage Books (152 Volumes) are available for searching online for paid subscribers to Ancestry.com.
- Many Revolutionary War roster lists and other service records have been published. Check with a genealogical library or society in the area where your ancestor lived for specific titles.
More How To's from your Guide To Genealogy
~ Kimberly Powell