Guide to Locating WW2 Ancestors

2-3 minute read

By The Findmypast Team | December 5, 2016


Many of you may have known someone who served during World War 2, and some of you may have been lucky enough to hear firsthand accounts of their experience serving. World War 2 records can be very rewarding to look through because chances are the people you're searching for, you know or had direct contact with at some point in time. There are many resources available for you to find your World War 2 ancestors.

The World War II Army Enlistment Records are a great record set because they reveal details about your ancestors that you might not find elsewhere. Currently these records are only transcript-based records, but they provide great details about your ancestor. In this record set you could find:

Since World War 2 wasn't that long ago, there was mass media coverage of all the events that took place, so chances are that you might find your ancestor, his or her place of enlistment, or other items from his/her life listed in an article somewhere. Newspapers provide great insight and context to your ancestor's service and can provide photos of the events as well as firsthand accounts and detailed information on the events that occurred.

From Brownsville Herald December 8, 1941

From Brownsville Herald December 8, 1941

Don't forget to search local records! Various states also have enlistment and draft records on hand, so if you know where your ancestor was located when they joined or signed up for the draft, chances are that state will have a record of it. The information provided will vary from state to state, but some information you could find could be:

Don't forget to search your family's house high and low for memorabilia. You might be surprised by what you find. Often those who served in WW2 and traveled to different regions of the world collected souvenirs or took photos of their time abroad as this was the first time many of those people traveled abroad. These photos or souvenirs can be extremely helpful in your research. Say you find currency from Panama, for example, if you know your ancestor served overseas, but are unsure of where, you could use this as a tiny clue to search the records for those stationed in Panama. Your family might also have your ancestor's uniform, photos, letters, postcards, and more. Remember, the keys to breaking through brick walls might be just under your nose!

If your ancestor served in World War 2, then there's a large possibility they could be found in both the 1930 and 1940 census. The census is a great place to look for your ancestor because it could help you identify timelines of when your ancestor served, if he or she was single or married before or after service, what occupation they had prior to serving, and more. The census is a great way to help piece together your ancestor's unique history.

Search the 1930 Census

Search the 1940 Census

The 1930 Merchant Seaman Schedule is a unique record set that covers your family members who served in the United States Merchant Marine in 1930. This won't apply to everyone, but if your family served in the US Merchant Marine in 1930, this is definitely the record set for you to explore. This particular census was created to cover the numbers of sailors and ships operating out of U.S. ports.

This record set can reveal:

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