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Basic Research Information for Family Members of Unaccounted-for Americans

  1. Overview on Conducting Research on Prisoners of War/Missing in Action
    1. The key to researching information about a particular POW/MIA case is to begin with as much basic information as possible on the individual, the loss incident, and post-incident reporting. This information can then be used to direct searches for more specific records.
      1. Individual personal information means: full name, nickname, branch of service, rank, service number, race, height, weight, hair and eye color, a photograph as close as possible to the date of loss, any distinguishing characteristics, and medical and dental records.
      2. Incident information includes: date, location, description of incident, loss of vehicle (if any), others in incident along with their status, and any known witnesses.
      3. Post incident reporting includes: any information from incident witnesses, subsequent sightings or hearsay from returned POWs or indigenous personnel, physical evidence, and U.S. and/or foreign military, civic or other documentation.
    2. The Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO), the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC), and the individual Service Casualty Offices (SCO) maintain most of the information in individual casualty files for Korean and Vietnam War losses. The WWII Division is developing case files on missing World War II personnel as requested by family members, DPMO directorates, JPAC, and other constituents, and for specific areas of interest for current investigations and excavations.
    3. The U.S. Government Repository that houses personal information about an individual's service history is the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC), in St. Louis, Missouri, where service records are filed and stored. The first step in obtaining the service record of your loved one is to fill out an SF-180, which can be obtained from NPRC's website. If you do not have Internet access, call the service branch at NPRC and leave a message with the serviceman's name and the mailing address. It is important to let them know if the request for information relates to an ongoing medical emergency.
    4. The primary U.S. government repository that houses general and specific military information about an individual's unit, its actions, and history is the National Archives & Records Administration (NARA). The NARA system is a collection of repositories that includes the main Archives in Washington, DC, NARA II in College Park, Maryland, the Washington National Records Center in Suitland, Maryland, most of the Presidential Libraries, and several regional repositories. NARA has the preponderance of its records organized in "Record Groups" according to the organization that created them. The more precise you can be in identifying the organization and dates, the more successful you will be finding the records for which you are searching. NARA is not resourced to do the research for you, but individual staffers will assist you in getting started. To assist researchers in conducting POW/MIA research at its facilities, NARA has published several Reference Information Papers (booklets) on American POW's and MIA Personnel from World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the Cold War. You can obtain some of these directly from NARA for a nominal fee.
    5. Other domestic repositories that may contain information related to the loss include the Service History Offices and Museums (see below), and local university and public libraries. Many of these facilities have "Special Collections" of individuals who left their personal papers to their university or hometown library.
    6. Networking with other family members whose loved ones were lost in the same incident or area may be a way of locating additional information that may not be in the official case files.
  2. Sources for Historical Documentation
    • Individual Deceased Personnel File (IDPF) – contains circumstances of loss, search & recovery efforts and graves registration service investigations, in addition to the recovery or non-recovery of remains and burial location. Found at the National Archives & Records Administration II (NARA II) in College Park, MD
    • Individual Personnel File (IPF or ‘201 File') – provides basic details such as enlistment information, duty stations and assignments, awards/promotions, and separation from duty data. Found at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis.
    • Morning Reports – Indicates the operational strength of the serviceman's unit in addition to verifying unaccounted status (KIA, MIA, WIA, etc.). Found at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis.
    • American Graves Registration Services (AGRS) records – include Search & Recovery Reports, Field Search Cases, Mortuary Records, and Unknown X-Files. Found at NARA II.
    • Missing Air Crew Report (MACR) – An Army Air Forces record documenting the mission of the aircraft, roster of personnel aboard, destination, and the circumstances of loss. Found at NARA II.
    • Unit histories, war diaries, muster rolls, ship logs, mission reports – Pertaining to all four of the armed services. Found at NARA and the various service history offices/libraries on various bases (see detailed list below).
  3. Information Flow – A Visual of How Research is Conducted Within AR

    Just how do we gather information in our research? The following is a Diagram of how we proceed with the typical WWII question/request… This interactive chart provides a link to each important document researchers use in their quest to furnish additional information to families (i.e., the IDPF, MACR, Mission Report, Form 180, et.al.)

  4. Basic Steps
    1. Identify the archives:
      1. Identify the archives or facilities to be visited and the subject areas to be researched. Click here to view a list of facilities DPMO researchers use in gleaning information on specific cases pertaining to missing service personnel.
    2. Prior to traveling:
      1. Contact an archivist/director at the research facility by mail, email or phone first. Ask if there is a finding aid or bibliography and, if so, request a copy by mail.
      2. Check to see if the collections' indices/finding guides are available on the Internet; some research can be performed remotely before making a trip.
      3. Ask about the availability and cost of photocopying records of interest.
      4. If a collection appears to contain only a few documents of interest, ask about the possibility of having someone there make copies and have them sent to you.
      5. Ask about records on electronic or other non-paper media. It might be more economical to buy a complete microfilmed collection than to travel to a far-away library and return with too many documents to handle. You will find electronic records, if they are accessible, much easier to deal with than thousands of copies of documents that are much more difficult to organize.
    3. Upon arrival:
      1. Talk to the local librarian/archivist and explain exactly what you are looking for. Explain the objective/methodology. Do not simply ask for POW/MIA-related items; ask for items that may be related to the specific loss of interest. Take into account that there may be important information dated well after the conclusion of hostilities.
      2. Keep exact records of where each document is located, in case the site/material needs to be visited again (or to look for associated materials), contacts made, material reviewed, material copied or being forwarded, any requirement to return to the archive. If appropriate, provide a copy to DPMO and the appropriate Casualty Office.
      3. Ask about personal papers and manuscripts of individuals (military and civilian) whose contents might be of interest. Ask for suggestions for places to look. Additional information could be contained in local newspapers and magazines, personal papers of local residents, unpublished manuscripts, theses and dissertations, and "vanity press" publications.
      4. Ask for the names of any in-house experts in the military or the specific war-era history. They may have their own files of interesting materials in the collection. Also ask if contract researchers are available on-site because it may be possible to have an expert in the specific war of interest or in military history to conduct research for you.