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Getting Started

EnvelopeGather every scrap of information that you can. A lot of your initial facts may come from oral histories passed around the family. These can be important leads but should never be looked at as absolutes. Family stories have a tendency to lose accuracy over time through retelling, or be based on simple misunderstandings of events.

Look for photos, old letters, telegrams, local newspaper clippings, government documents, diaries, uniform items. Anything that might tell a portion of the story can be critical to putting you on the path to discovery.

As a researcher you should always strive to find the truth - so don't get upset if that old family story turns out not to be accurate. Your research can lead you in directions that you might never have considered at the start of the process.

You are also going to need patience. Some aspects of your research may come very quickly thanks to resources like ArmyAirForces.com. Others, may take months or years to develop fully. As the information age evolves, some information is becoming more accessible, but the march of time is also working against you as our access to first hand accounts of World War II passes, 

Our forums are a great place to help you understand some of documents and clues you may find.



The Army Air Forces of W.W.II generated a lot of paperwork. Many of these records exist today in their original form or on microfilm and microfiche. These records are maintained at a handful of facilities around the country. One of the benefits of progress is that a lot of these records are now being made available for sale on CD-ROM by the archives, some are even finding their way online. It's a slow process. There are millions of records and government resources are limited.

Personnel records

Finding your subject's personnel records is a logical starting point. These records are maintained by the National Personnel Records Center, Military Personnel Records in St. Louis Missouri. Unfortunately, a fire in 1973 destroyed many records, but you should always start here. If you are not a family member you will be prevented by the Privacy Act of 1974 in the amount of information you can obtain via this source.

  • Records request can now be made online if you are the veteran, or the next of kin of a deceased veteran. Next of kin is defined by the archives as; surviving spouse that has not remarried, father, mother, son, daughter, sister, or brother. - [Records Request Link]
  • National Personnel Records Center, Military Personnel Records: Link to SF-180 and other information you'll need.
  • A note from NPRC on delays: "Response times for records requested from the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) vary greatly depending on the nature of the request. For example, the NPRC Military Records Facility currently has a backlog of 180,000 requests and receives approximately 5,000 requests per day. Routine requests for separation documents currently require only 2-4 weeks for servicing. However, requests that involve reconstruction efforts due to the 1973 fire or older records which require extensive search efforts may take much longer. The average turnaround time on all requests is currently running at approximately 12 weeks".
  • Alternative Source -- County Courthouse -- after WWII a lot of servicemen were encouraged to store copies of their separation papers at their local county courthouse. It's a long shot, but one that has paid off in a number of cases.
  • On replacing medals, see this NPRC information page.

TIP - WWII Army Enlistment Records at NARA. A quick way to find a serviceman's serial number and other basic details. Click on the World War II link under Wars / International Relations. The records do not include Army officers, but note that most officers enlisted first and were commissioned after training - so you may be able to locate their initial enlistment records.  

Missing Air Crew Reports (MACR)

If your research involves the loss of an aircraft in a combat situation, not in Allied territory, the MACR will be invaluable. This document was normally generated shortly after the loss of the aircraft (usually within a day or so) and lists the crew roster, aircraft, and basic details of the loss including eye witness statements if they were available. ArmyAirForces.com has a fairly complete index of MACRs which may aid you.

These records are maintained by the National Archives and Records Administration II in College Park, Maryland. Over time, the MACR report became a file, containing a collection of documents relating to the aircraft loss. You should request the entire file.

  • Mailing address

    National Archives and Records Administration
    Textual Reference Branch
    8601 Adelphi Road
    College Park, MD 20740-6001
  • NOTE: most 15th AF records are stored at AFHRA, Maxwell AFB instead of the National Archives. 
  • A commercial site, Fold3 (formerly footnote.com) has a 99% complete archive of MACRs they obtained from NARA.  You can pay a modest fee to access scans of the MACRs, but can search the site for free.

KU Report

If the loss of the aircraft occurred over German territory, a German Kampf Flugzeuge USA [Battle Planes USA] document was prepared by the Luftwaffe concerning the location of the aircraft wreckage and fate of the crew. National Archives has the original reports as well as translations available. Sometimes portions are contained within the MACR file. I know of no Japanese equivalent - [See NARA address].  

POW Questionnaire

If crew members survived the loss of the aircraft, and were captured and interred by the Luftwaffe, there may be a brief questionnaire on file.  Filled out after the crew member was repatriated to Allied Control, or even after they returned to civilian life.  These are contained within the Missing Air Crew Report file.

World War II Prisoners of War Data File

These records identify World War II U.S. military officers and soldiers and U.S. and some Allied civilians who were prisoners of war (POWs) and internees. NARA - POW Data File. Found under "Wars / International Relations: World War II" link, Records of World War II Prisoners of War, created, 1942 - 1947 "Search" button. You can enter a search term right away if you know what terms to search for, or I suggest clicking on the "Search" button link for more detailed search options.

Escape and Evasion Reports

NARA E&E Reports: "This series consists of Escape and Evasion Report Files. Reports typically include a brief questionnaire concerning the use of escape and evasion (E&E) training and equipment; an interrogation form with unit designation, target information (if applicable), number of missions flown (if applicable), date considered missing in action, date returned to U.S. or allied control, country of escape or evasion, and a listing of crew members (or other service personnel) with official disposition; a verification of the identity and trustworthiness of escapee or evader; a certificate safeguarding prisoner of war and/or escape and evasion information; an outline of topics to be covered in the narrative; and a typed or handwritten narrative that documents the escape and evasion experience of the escapee or evader."

The veteran's hometown newspaper

This overlooked resource can be a huge asset. Dig through those archives and look for notices about service members. The public relations guys in WWII were great about getting notices posted in local papers about local servicemen; when they graduated from boot camp, complete training phases, were promoted, sometimes even in action overseas - it's worth your time.

293 file, Individual Deceased Personnel File

If the veteran you are researching was Killed in Action you will definitely want to obtain this file. This file documents the activities of the Graves Registration Command and the Army to locate, identify, and provide a final resting place for the deceased. 

  • US Army Human Resources Command
    1600 Spearhead Division Avenue, Dept 107
    Fort Knox KY 40122

    or via email (preferred):


    The requester should cite the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and provide when known full name of the individual, service number, and date of death (or whether the death was during WWII, Korea, or Vietnam).

    "We provide electronic copies of the IDPF in most instances in order to save money on reproduction and mailing. We do not charge for our service since the files are important links to the past and may aid in genealogical research. We scan every file we retrieve from Archives so as to have a readily available copy for immediate release to a subsequent requester."

Accident Reports

Sometimes difficult to locate, maintained by the Air Force Historical Research Agency (AFHRA) on microfilm. An accident report can run from just a few pages to a half dozen or more pages and may even include photos of the accident - [see AFHRA address].  There is a commercial entity or two online that have accident reports for sale.

Wing & Division records

Can be extremely useful but also a large collection of material.  If there are 3 groups per Wing and maybe a dozen per Divsion.  NARA and AFHRA hold these materials.  What's held where can be unclear.

Unit Histories, War Diaries, Daily Reports, Station Memorandum, Special Orders, Public Relations Reports, Loading Lists, etc.

These unit documents are archived by the Air Force Historical Research Agency (AFHRA) at Maxwell AFB, Alabama, usually within the Group records.

You can usually obtain squadron and group historical summaries at no cost through written request. You should also be able to obtain a specific monthly squadron diary upon request. A larger request, say for the entire War Diary, would probably necessitate a copying fee.

You can order Group & Unit microfilm from AFHRA. The microfilm rolls are usually divided up between Group histories, Squadron histories, and tenant command histories.  You can also order the digital version of the paper records that have been scanned and put onto CD in PDF format.  You can e-mail AFHRA to obtain the roll numbers for your unit and other details.

  • Air Force Historical Research Agency (AFHRA): Located at Maxwell AFB, Alabama.

    Mailing address
    600 Chennault Circle
    Maxwell AFB, Alabama 36112-6424
  • Note: A private group has set up a searchable index of AFHRA documents.  See Air Force History Index.
  • Air Force History Support Office (AFHSO): Located at Bolling Air Force Base, Washington, D.C. In conjunction with the Air Force Historical Research Agency (AFHRA) at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, which is the primary repository of historical information, the office responds to requests for information from private organizations, government agencies, and the general public.

    Mailing address
    Reference and Analysis Division
    200 McChord Street, Box 94
    Bolling AFB, DC 20332-1111
    Phone 202-404-2261

Group and Unit Associations

These associations were started after the war, many in the 1970s. Formed by the veterans themselves, they are tremendous resources for information. The associations have published books, documented their histories on videotape, compiled rosters, lists of aircraft, and many other details valuable to the researcher. Note that most associations are for overseas combat units since stateside training units rarely have associations.

Many associations hold yearly reunions. If you are a veteran of a group, or a descendant, these groups want to hear from you and would welcome your membership! 

You can find many of these associations by checking the numbered unit sub-forums here on ArmyAirForces.com. When known, we pin posts about these associations to the top of every group forum.Unfortunately,some associations have been forced to close or cease holding reunions due to declining membership. It will be up to the succeeding generations to maintain these associations, many through the internet and social media outlets.

Veterans Administration

This resource shouldn't be overlooked. The VA also handled claims by the families of those KIA. You can write and obtain the VA's file on your claim. If your veteran made any VA claim in the postwar period there is a record of that as well (benefit claims, etc.).

To obtain records relating to your veteran and the VA you can submit a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.

Department of Veterans Affairs (VA): The VA has procedures to help you find surviving service members. There is no guarantee that this will work, but it's a good resource. The procedure is for you to write a letter to the service member, place that in a SASE (Self Addressed Stamped Envelope) which is in turn mailed to the nearest VA office to the person in question. The VA will then try and forward the letter to that person, and it is up them to respond.

Online Resources

  • American Battle Monuments Commission: WWII Honor Roll, if the veteran you are searching for was killed in action and is still buried overseas he should be listed in this database. Burials in the domestic United States are not covered.
  • Department of Veterans Affairs: National Cemetery Administration - Nationwide Gravesite Locator, if your veteran is buried in a national cemetery, this database covers almost all 120 of them. Burials abroad are not covered.
  • WWII POW Database Search at NARA, the records identify World War II U.S. military officers and soldiers and U.S. and some Allied civilians who were prisoners of war (POWs) and internees.  Click on the WWII link.
  • WWII MIA Database from the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office. DPMO researchers have completed the first electronic listing of Missing Personnel from the Second World War, which is now available on the DPMO website.
  • WWII Army Enlistment Records, this can be a great way to find a serviceman's serial number and other basic details.  Click on the World War II link.

    Note: About 35% of the records have a scanning error, these are minor spelling errors so search accordingly. Additionally, about 13% of the available paper records could not be converted for the database.  

    Furthermore, these records are for persons who enlisted in the Army, Army Reserves, and Women's Auxiliary Corps during World War II (1938-1946). The records do not include Army officers; however, note that many officers enlisted first and were commissioned later when they finished their training - so you may be able to locate their initial enlistment records.  
  • World War II Honor List of Dead and Missing Army and Army Air Forces Personnel, indexed by State. This resource is not searchable yet, the information presented online consists of image scans from the NARA publication.
  • www.Fold3.com - formerly footnote.com, a commercial entity that hosts large collections of material including Missing Air Crew Reports.
  • Social Security Death Index at your favorite genealogy web site.  Note that deceased WWII veterans most likely didn't have SSNs.
  • World War II records held by NARA, nice overview of the NARA holdings.
  • Air Force History Index, searchable index of documents held by the Air Force Historical Research Agency.