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About a year ago, a nonprofit group turned to us for help finding family members of deceased veterans who came into contact with Agent Orange, a highly toxic herbicide used during the Vietnam War. In these sorts of cases, investigative databases only help so much because some veterans died decades ago, and so the clues lie instead in old newspapers, archives and census records.

But for anyone interested in learning about their own family’s military past, one of the most valuable resources can be found through the National Archives and Records Administration. Here, the archives’ online “eVetRecs” system allows veterans or deceased veterans’ family members—parents, children or siblings—to submit an online form, and sometimes just weeks later, receive troves of paper-based military records that aren’t available over the Internet.

Investigative journalist Kelly Hinchcliffe of in Raleigh, North Carolina, who runs a blog called the Public Records Geek, has encouraged people to mine these records as a way to learn more about our national history and our own family histories. Kelly’s story found here reports on a coworker who requested records of her deceased grandfather, and amazingly, later received more than a dozen of his military medals. My own dad wasn’t in combat, but I requested his records more than a year ago and was moved by what I learned.

Finally, for a far more detailed look at how to navigate and access the millions and millions of government military records on file with the National Archives, archives specialist John LeGloahec gave a talk just in time on accessing the agency’s archival database, which can be found here.

These military records, often forgotten, tell stories of service and sacrifice. And there’s no time better than Veterans Day to dig through the records of past and learn more.

– Jim McElhatton