When NOT to Hire a Genealogy or Military Record Retrieval Person

genealogy hire a wwii researcher military research nara nprc Feb 12, 2019

First, I would like to define a couple of things so readers understand where I am coming from.

Record retriever: Someone who will copy or scan specific records requested by a client, usually based off an 'Add to cart' option of specific, non-flexible record requests. This person may or may not have any idea how to reconstruct military histories because they specialize in pulling specific records only. Usually they do not provide context for the records or explain what they mean. Their job is to obtain records for a client only.

Full service researcher: Someone who obtains various records, customized to a client's specific needs, questions, concerns, and project, to reconstruct military service. This type of researcher provides a fully sourced research report with the documents that show military service. Often you can also request trip planning suggestions if you wish to travel in Europe in your soldier's footsteps. Some firms, like mine, have a network of tour guides and researchers overseas. These researchers should provide you with a contract for work that outlines what is being done, your fees, and time estimates at the bare minimum.

Most professionals are aware of what is happening in their area of work, usually within their own company or locale, or even the world. Paying attention provides clues as to where we can grow and change, especially if we are running our own businesses. For almost a decade I have watched the genealogy and military research world grow, change, turn upside down at times - like any area. I have always created my business based on the energy of what was light, what no one else in the country was creating, and filling gaps. Every professional serves a purpose and contributes in some way. However, there has to be some education at this point on military research versus genealogical research.

Obtaining records for genealogy questions is not the same as obtaining records for military questions. I'm seeing more genealogy and military record retrieval people advertising specific record sets they will get for you - without appearing to have any concept of how to reconstruct military service.

This bothers me because I hate to see people waste their money and not get the answers I know are available. Additionally, many of the people searching for answers are older and are ready to discover answers now. Not in a year from now.

I have always provided full research services customized to a client's needs. It is not a one size fits all or click this one record and you have your answers business. I have spent a decade studying WWI and WWII military records for all branches and doing client work that extends beyond this to Korea and Vietnam. I developed a proven system being taught in the country or written about in books, on how to reconstruct service history start to finish for WWI - Vietnam. I have spent two decades studying and researching genealogy for my family and clients.

So what do I mean by genealogy and military record retrievals are not equal?

In the genealogy world we may have a question like, 'Did my great uncle Albert have a wife and kids? or Who was his second wife?' With that, a record retrieval person can be hired to obtain specific records from an archive which may answer those questions. Obituaries. Vital Records. Probate files. Church records. Land records. Just to name a few examples.

Now, if we want to know, 'What did my uncle Albert do in the Army in WWII?' That requires multiple records, especially if the Official Military Personnel File (OMPF or service file) burned in 1973. One military record never gives us the whole story. Not even the discharge paper because the unit on that document is a final unit - not necessarily the only unit or even the one the man saw combat with. Learn more about this by watching the RootsTech video on the main page of my website.


There are record retrieval firms advertising they will pull Company Morning reports - one fee - and you HAVE to take the full month you request. There is no other option. Click to add to cart. You also have to know what company your soldier was with to get the reports.

What is wrong with this scenario and why are you wasting your money and time if you choose this option?

Morning Reports document changes in a soldier or airman's service. If they had no change in a month - they will not show up in a report. See below for a link to several articles about these reports.

  1. Men moved through multiple units throughout the war. Even with a discharge paper or IDPF (death file) you still have the final unit. That does not provide you with all units.
  2. One month of Morning Reports are not usually valuable for most people wishing to know what their father, grandfather, uncle, etc. did in the war. Why?
    1. If you only request one month and your guy leaves that unit on the 3rd of the month - the rest of the papers you receive have nothing to do with your guy's service.
    2. If he doesn't appear in the reports for that company until late in the month - again you have a lot of papers that have nothing to do with your service.
    3. If he had no changes then he does not even appear in the reports.
    4. In times of high combat, the report writers barely kept up with documenting changes in personnel, let alone write a record of events. The record of events is very helpful in understanding daily experiences of the company.
  3. Pulling one month does not allow for reconstruction of service history.
  4. When we consider record retrievers who will not reconstruct service by moving through various morning reports, we have to ask - do they even understand how to use these records or reconstruct service history?

Read several articles about Morning Reports here that explain further why you require these records and why one month will not fill your needs.

Retrieving Morning Reports is one example, but there are many others I could go into. So how do you know if you need a record retriever or a full service researcher?

Record retrievers are good if you want an OMPF (if it did not burn), Burial File, or IDPF. Those are larger files that contain a lot of information about a service member for any branch and any war. Also, if you need specific unit records or specific records from specialized repositories other than our National Archives. Be cautious about having other records retrieved because in a 'click to add to cart' situation, you often will not get everything you require and end up wasting a lot of money and time waiting for answers.

Full service researchers are good if you want answers to multiple questions, reconstruction of service, an exploration of unit records, connections to overseas researchers, and someone who will provide a fully sourced research report and answer your questions, along with providing documentation. Full service researchers will pull the appropriate military records that will help answer your questions. It is not a one size fits all click to add to cart experience.

Which researcher do I need?

  1. Do I already know every unit my service member was in, regardless of branch? Or do I need to have this information discovered?
    1. If no, then a full service researcher is suggested.
  2. Do I only need a larger file that I know to exist?
    1. If yes, either option would be appropriate.
  3. What specific questions do I have that I would like answered? Will one report address this?
    1. Usually a full service researcher is required.
  4. I found information in a small archive/library/repository and need someone to view it and obtain copies.
    1. Either option would be appropriate.

Additional resource: When and Why Do I Need to Hire a Military Researcher?

Final tips. Whatever research firm you end up choosing is up to your questions and research goals.

  1. Explore the potential researcher websites to learn more about the people you are considering hiring for your needs. Do they have articles, resources, books, speaking engagements, or other materials that show you they know how to do the work?
  2. Email and ask questions of the researchers to find the best fit.
  3. Discuss your budget with the researcher.
  4. Discuss your time with the researcher. This means to get an estimate of actual delivery of results. While many sites say 2-4 weeks, in reality, it could be longer.
  5. Ask where you fit in the researcher's schedule and how long a project should take. Depending on the depth of research and analysis required, and time it takes to obtain records, most projects for full reconstruction of history take 3-6 months. Some projects are shorter. It all depends on the client's questions and needs.

Would you like help learning about your military family member's service? Feel free to contact me to discuss possibilities with research projects. Also explore all our services.  Finally, learn more about Jennifer with two videos on the main page of this website.

© 2019 World War II Research and Writing Center

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