At some point in your life you have probably asked, “Did my ancestor fight in World War I?” It is always an exciting adventure to track down an ancestor who may have been in the military. It is especially exciting to find an ancestor who served in WWI. Read on to learn more about World War I and answer the question, “Did my ancestor fight in World War I?”
How the First World War started is not easy to explain and is not entirely clear. We will do our best to explain it and then we will see how to find out if your ancestor was in WWI. As in most wars, it was about one thing leading to another. Archduke Franz Ferdinand, who was to inherit the throne of the Austria-Hungarian Empire, was assassinated in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914. A Serbian nationalist secret society was accused of the act. Austria-Hungary decided that the Serbian government created this secret society to carry out the assassination. They told Serbia to bring the perpetrators to justice and ordered them to do many other things, thus acting as if they controlled Serbia, which was an independent state at the time. Serbia turned to its Russian allies and ensured that they remained allies in the event of an attack by Austria-Hungary. At the same time, Austria-Hungary turned to their German allies and confirmed that they were still allies.
On July 28, 1914, not satisfied with Serbia’s responses, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. Russia, being an ally of Serbia, decided to mobilize troops if necessary. Germany, the ally of Austria-Hungary, waiting for any excuse, saw the Russian mobilization as a threat and declared war on Russia on August 1. France, tied to Russia as an ally, now found it had to go to war. Germany, eager to attack France by surprise, broke through and attacked Belgium. England, through a long-standing treaty to defend Belgium, declared war on Germany in early August. World War I was clearly underway.
The best way to start answering the question, “Did my ancestor fight in World War I?”, Is to start by asking family members if they have any proof that their ancestor was in the war and in what branch of service. fought. If you find the branch in which they served, such as Army, Navy, Marine Corps, or Coast Guard, you will want their separation document, compiled service record, medical records, pension application, or Official Military Personnel File (OMPF). Not all may be available to WWI veterans. You’ll want to request any of these when contacting the family history repositories. You may be asked the division or country in which your ancestor fought. You should try to get this information from family members before doing formal genealogy research.
For a beginner, a good way to answer “Did my ancestor fight in WWI?” is to do a search on the recruiting record cards for WWI. Sites like Ancestry.com have a complete list and images of these online. The card will tell you an ancestor’s full name, address, age, occupation, birth, closest relative, and a physical description. This is great information for a genealogist. Record cards are also available from the National Archives in Washington DC, on microfilm.
For World War I, extensive military records are available at the National Military Personnel Records Center (NPRC) in St. Louis, Missouri. The main document you will want is the DD From 214, or the “Separation Report.” You can visit the NPRC in person, submit an SF-180 form available on the National Archives website at archives.gov, or hire an independent Missouri-based family history investigator who knows World War I records.