Elusive Military Records?


25 February 2014

For years, you have searched U.S. military records for a man who is said to have served in a nineteenth-century war. He was a doctor, a wagoneer, a suttler, a gunsmith, or a practitioner of some other skilled trade or profession. Perhaps he wrote a letter home from the battlefield, vividly describing a conflict. Perhaps he died in one of those conflicts. Yet, your research in all the standard military collections has turned up no record of his service or his death.


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Doctor? Wagoneer? Suttler? Gunsmith? Tradesman?  What kind of a "military" association did this man have? He would have been an employee, rather than an enlistee or draftee—and  employee records aren't found in regular military files and databases.

The place to start for these records in the U.S. would be those of the Quartermaster General. The classic guide to learning the scope of QG records is this one:

Maizie H. Johnson, Preliminary Inventory of the Textual Records of the Office of the Quartermaster General, Record Group 92, 2 parts (Washington: National Archives and Records Service, 1967).

The guide is free from NARA, when it is in print. If it’s not currently in print, researchers have various alternatives:

  • NARA microfilm publication M248 (http://www.archives.gov/research/microfilm/m248.pdf) reproduces several hundred of NARA's preliminary inventories to various record groups.
  • Many of these PIs (but not this particular one, unfortunately) can be found as downloadable PDFs at such sites as USMA Libraries: Digital Collections (http://digital-library.usma.edu/).
  • Some can be found for sale by various used-book dealers.
  • Some of the most critical military-related PIs are also commercially available as PDFs on CD (http://www.heritagebooks.com). Just enter the term "Preliminary Inventory" in the search box to call up a list.


The Editor