Many of us are off work next Monday for Memorial Day—what a great opportunity to explore online resources for researching military ancestors.
Originally called Decoration Day, Memorial Day first honored Civil War soldiers. Grand Army of the Republic Gen. John Logan proclaimed a day of observance May 30, 1868, when flowers were placed on graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery.
New York officially recognized the holiday in 1873 and other Northern states had followed suit by 1890. After World War I, when the day came to memorialize all US war dead, Southern states also began to acknowledge the observance.
Wearing a red poppy on Memorial Day became traditional after WWI Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps surgeon John McCrae wrote the poem “In Flanders Fields” in 1915.
The name Memorial Day was first used in 1882, but it wasn’t common for decades. Federal law didn’t declare it the official name until 1967. In 1971, the date was set to the last Monday in May.
Ready to research your military ancestors? You’ll find digitized military records collections on subscription sites Ancestry.com and Footnote. (PS: Footnote is having a 50 percent off subscription sale for a limited time.) World Vital Records has announced it’s providing free access to its US military databases from May 27 through June 1.
Military records at the free FamilySearch RecordSearch Pilot site include Civil War pension index cards, Revolutionary War pension and bounty land warrant applications, and WWII draft registration cards for 1942 (not yet indexed).
For more military records resources, links and research help, see these free FamilyTreeMagazine.com articles:
- 10 best websites for military research
- Military records toolkit
- Four resources for military ancestors
- Common abbreviations in military records
- Civil War genealogy toolkit
- WWI genealogy resources
- Military Records category of this Genealogy Insider blog
How-to resources from Family Tree Shop:
- Online Military Records: Document Your Family’s Service webinar recording
- May 2008 Family Tree Magazine with our guide to online military records
- July 2007 Family Tree Magazine (available as a PDF digital download) with our Civil War research guide
- The Everything Civil War Book By Brooke C. Stoddard and Daniel P. Murphy, PhD