Fort Douglas Guide to Military Research
Introduction and First Steps
Researching military ancestors can be a complicated, but rewarding task. Many patrons of Fort Douglas Military Museum have ancestors who were enlisted or served at the fort. Our archives and research library can be a very valuable source for finding information about your ancestors. The research library can be used to learn more about Fort Douglas itself, or about certain specific military units. The online catalog is found here (http://fortdouglas.pastperfectonline.com/advanc-edsearch). It can be used to both search our library catalog and our archives, which include historic photos of Fort Douglas and its soldiers. Most photos do not list soldiers by name, but a search of an ancestor’s military unit can yield helpful results.
Our museum does not house any records of military personnel who have served here, excepting some records we have about the people interred in the Fort Douglas Cemetery. We are not a family history research institution and do not have a staff member assigned directly to research, so we only accept patron Family History inquiries on a case-by-case basis. However, this guide will provide a brief overview of some of the sources that soldiers who have served at Fort Douglas commonly appear in, and other places to learn more about how to do military Family History research.
The first step to researching your military ancestor is to find any information you or your family members may already have. Ask other members of the family who know about the person you are researching, and look in places your family keeps heirlooms or important documents. Many people have kept letters, documents, photos, uniforms, or medals from their ancestors in the military. In doing this research, pay particular attention to trying to find the military branch, company, and unit of your ancestor—this information is invaluable in researching their military career. Most of the information that you will use to understand your ancestor’s life during their military service will come from your research on their military unit. If your ancestor served in the military in the mid-to-late 1900's, finding a service number is also helpful.
The next piece of information to consider in researching your military ancestor is time and place. The time period and location of their service will determine what records are available, and where you will need to look for them. Researching a civil war era soldier from California and a Vietnam veteran from Utah are completely different experiences, and require different research strategies. This guide will not comprehensively cover every war or possible situation, but will discuss how to research four rough eras—Early Fort Douglas, WWI, WWII, and Post-WWII, and provide links to places you can go to learn more.
Early Fort Douglas (1862-1916)
Camp Douglas, which would later become Fort Douglas, was established in October of 1862 by the 3rd California Volunteers. It housed the soldiers who defended overland travel routs, and supervised the valley during the “Mormon War.” Further information about life at the fort during this time, including information about the 10th Calvary Regiment of “Buffalo Soldiers,” can be found in our research library.
There are several particularly helpful sources when researching your Fort Douglas ancestor during this time period. The first is to check the census records for 1870, 1880, 1900, and 1910. The 1890 US Census for Utah was unfortunately lost to fire damage. However, these other census records can be helpful in locating a military ancestor. If you cannot find them through searching an index, a page-by-page search of the pages recording the residents of Camp/Fort Douglas or Camp Williams is sometimes fruitful.
Other source that are very useful for researching military ancestors during this time period are the U.S. Army, Register of Enlistments, 1798-1914, which can be found on Ancestry here (https://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=1198), and the Utah, Index to Indian War Service Affidavits (https://search.ancestry.com/search/-db.aspx?dbid=6887). Ancestry is a subscription site, but can be accessed for free at the LDS Family History Library in Salt Lake City.
WWI Era (1917-1941)
The United States, Veterans Administration Master Index, 1917-1940 can be found on Familysearch.org here (https://www.familysearch.org/search/collection-/2968245). Another highly useful source is the United State World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918 (https://www.familysearch.org/search/-collection/1968530?collectionNameFilter=false). Utah State Archives also has WWI records, including service records (series 2793) listed here (). These service records are copied in microfilm in the Family History Library, and are in the process of being digitized and put on familysearch.org as of August 2018 (films 1643886-1643894).
WWII Era (1941-1945)
Ancestry’s U.S., World War II Draft Registration Cards, 1942, is a good place to start your WWII research (https://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=1002). The Utah State Archives also has several collections, including their Military Service Cards, 1898-1975, Series 85268.
Post-WWII (NARA, Direct Relation, Links)
Many of the records that exist for veterans’ military service Post-WWII are still private, and only accessible by close relatives of the person in question. What records are available are usually only accessible through the NARA. Their online records include death information for much of Vietnam, Korea, and WWII, medals awarded in Vietnam, Combat Operations for Vietnam, WWII Enlistment and Draft Records, some military service records of the Spanish-American War volunteers (Rough Riders), Civil War Service and Casualty Records, and some American Revolution pension and bounty land applications, WWI info on African Americans, Deaths, Draft Registration Cards, Military Service Records, and Veteran’s Homes.
However, military service and medical records are not online and need to be requested specifically by veterans or their next-of-kin.
Places to learn more:
Familysearch.org offers a genealogy research wiki, which provides extensive information and links to family history sources. Research can be done by war, time period, or place.
NARA has several useful guides on how to do military family history with their records, found here:
https://www.archives.gov/veterans/military-service-records/standard-form-180.html Military Personnel Records, SF 180
https://www.archives.gov/research/military/genealogy.html Genealogy Research in Military Records
https://www.archives.gov/veterans/military-service-records/about-service-records.html About Military Service Records
https://www.archives.gov/research/military/veterans Military and Veterans Research and Resources at The National Archives
Ancestry searches can be narrowed to only include military records, and Ancestry also includes Fold 3, a premier online resource for American military records.
Utah State Archives has many Utah-specific military records, some of which can be found online.
Utah Digital Newspapers is a searchable website which will help locate names, or other search terms, across many of Utah’s newspapers. Many military ancestors will appear in the newspaper at least once, even as early as the late 1800s.
(This guide written and compiled by Museum Intern Katelyn S.)