November 14, 2013

How can you tell if your ancestor might have served?

I recently put together a list of veterans in my family tree, both as a tribute to their service and a reminder to myself to research them further in military records. Someone asked me how I could tell if an ancestor was the right age to have served in a U.S. war or conflict. This is a great question, because identifying potential service is a natural first step to finding an ancestor who did serve in the military.

Fortunately, Family Tree Magazine has an excellent War Service Reference Guide available as a free download on their website, It lists the dates of every American military engagement through World War II, starting with the Powhatan Wars of 1622-1644. There’s also a handy chart showing the range of birth years for men who could have served in each major conflict, from the Revolutionary War through Vietnam. It’s a quick and indispensible one-page guide that I refer to often. To find it, click on “Research Toolkit” on the menu bar, then click on “Cheat Sheets.” Scroll down to “Record References” and you’ll find five offerings, one of which is the War Service Reference Guide.

Here’s a snapshot of the chart:

War Service Reference Guide

The information on the reference guide is taken from an article by Rick Crume that appeared in the November 2008 issue of Family Tree Magazine. Thanks to Rick and the editors of the magazine for offering this great resource free of charge. I hope you find it as helpful in your research as I have in mine.


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  1. Shelley,

    Thanks for this tip!

    I want to let you know that your blog post is listed in today's Fab Finds post at

    Have a wonderful weekend!

    1. Thanks, Jana, I'm honored to be included. I always enjoy checking out your Fab Finds--you come up with great ones week after week. I hope you have a wonderful weekend, too!


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