Archives Shed Light on the Lives and Service of Veterans

Veterans Day is Tuesday, November 11, and archives around the country invite you to visit online, in person, or via Twitter to pay tribute to American military 

CHICAGO—This Veterans Day and throughout the year, archivists around the country can help connect you with records, photographs, and information that can illuminate the lives and service of veterans. Our nation’s archives document not only the experiences of men and women engaged in combat far from home, but also the day-to-day struggles of their families and the impact of times of war on their communities. The Society of American Archivists (SAA) encourages you to visit an archives in your community, your state capital, or virtually around the country to gain insight on wartime experiences from the American Revolution through recent conflicts in the Middle East. Archivists are professional experts who can answer your questions and help you discover historical materials that reflect the impact of these events.

CLICK TO TWEET: Nov 11 is Veterans Day. Share your story or ask an archivist at #VeteransArchives.


“Our nation’s archives reflect the varied perspectives and concerns about war and its impact that Americans have wrestled with since colonial times,” said SAA President Kathleen Roe. “Those records exist in our national archives, but also in state archives, local historical societies, university archives, and local history collections in libraries and museums.”

Archivists do the essential work of collecting and sharing significant historical materials, including preserving compelling military documents, photographs, letters, and audio/visual materials. Increasingly, archival work extends beyond the physical and includes digital materials. There are many archives you can use—both in person and online—to connect with more information about veterans or your community during wartime or to preserve and make available your story as a veteran:

  • Military service records are available online from the National Archives and Records Administration. These records include information such as enlistment and appointment, duty station and assignments, and awards and medals.
  • The Library of Congress is conducting the Veterans History Project, which collects, preserves, and makes accessible the personal accounts of American war veterans so that future generations may hear directly from veterans and better understand the realities of war. The public and veterans can submit their stories to the project.
  • The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, documents the female experience in the U.S. Armed Forces since World War I through letters, papers, photographs, published materials, uniforms, artifacts, and oral histories. Users can search the collection or browse by military branch or conflict.
  • contains millions of military records spanning from before the Revolutionary War all the way up to Vietnam. Connect with your ancestor’s military history!
  • State archives and neighborhood history societies and museums make the past more meaningful for local citizens. If there’s one in your neighborhood, check it out!
  • If you have a general question for an archivist, ask it via Twitter using the hashtag #VeteransArchives.

By visiting an archives in person or viewing their offerings online, you can unearth new discoveries about your loved ones. A Virginia woman, for instance, noticed a feature article in her local newspaper about the Library of Virginia's military records collection. The article was illustrated with a photograph of Owen Minnix, a soldier in his World War II dress uniform holding his young daughter. According to the records, Minnix became a husband at 18, a father at 20, and a casualty of war at 22. The woman, who had no memory of her father, realized that she was the young girl in the photo. A copy of the photograph is now among her family's most prized possessions.

Donating materials to archives will ensure veterans’ experiences are preserved and accessible to future generations. Dennis Keith Martin, an Army corporal who served in Vietnam, wrote the following in a letter to his parents on January 3, 1970:  “I guess it is a little too early to start counting the days but nevertheless I am certainly looking forward to being home in September.” Martin was killed in action on July 11, 1970, making the letters received and kept by his family even more treasured. His sister donated Martin’s letters to the Library of Congress’s Veterans History Project as a way to ensure that her brother’s voice would endure.

This Veterans Day and throughout the year, connect with archives and archivists to learn more about the voices and perspectives of individuals, families, and communities as they experienced the myriad challenges of military life. 

The Society of American Archivists is a professional organization that represents one of today’s most exciting professions. Archivists have the expertise to protect and share important historical material and to save today’s vital records for our future needs.

Contacts: Nancy Beaumont or Teresa Brinati, or 312-606-0722.

CLICK TO TWEET: Nov 11 is Veterans Day. Share your story or ask an archivist at #VeteransArchives.