Will there be a period photo of my veteran in his Navy military service record? This is a question that people ask me quite frequently. The answer is yes- in most cases. The photos within Navy military service records are always a very exciting find because they bring the veteran’s story to life unlike almost anything else that can be found within service records. The period photos in WWII Navy service records not only give us a glimpse of what many of these youthful Navy veterans, sharply dressed in their uniforms, looked like when they first entered the service; they also bring a human element to the sometimes formal and technical documents in the Navy service record. One of my favorite things to hear about as a researcher is when folks open up their veteran’s service record and see their Navy veteran’s photo for the first time. It can be a moving and very rewarding experience for family members and genealogy researchers.
So, how do you know whether there is a photo of your WWII Navy veteran at the National Archives? The only way to know whether there is a photo of your veteran in the Navy service record is to request the record. There are a couple of different ways that photos were maintained within WWII era navy service records. The most common way that these were maintained is as a photo negative. The photo negative is usually in a small envelope within the Navy service record and it will need to be transferred to a digital format (JPEG file) which you can then view on your computer. Unfortunately, when ordering military service records directly from the National Archives the photo is regularly overlooked by the technicians copying the file. I cannot count the number of times that family members have asked me go back through their veteran’s Navy service record to locate the photo which had been simply left out of the packet that they received from the National Archives. This is quite frustrating, especially since the photograph is one of the most important parts of the record for many genealogists researching their family history.
Another way that photos are maintained within Navy service records are as developed photographs. While the photo negative (described above) is more commonly found in the enlisted service records of WWII Navy veterans, already developed photographs are mostly found in the Navy service records of officers. Already developed photographs such as this are often portraits of the Navy veteran in full uniform. Like the photo negatives, these photos can also be transferred as digital images at the National Archives. Most of the time however, these photos are simply photocopied by the National Archive technicians if you order the complete Navy service record directly from the National Archives. If the photograph is an important part of your research I advise that you stress that you will need a digital copy of the photograph when you order the Navy record from the National Archives. You might consider using an established research firm to get your Navy veteran’s military service records and avoid the possibility of missing the photograph altogether.
It is not guaranteed that every Navy service record will have a period photo of the Navy veteran. While most WWII era Navy service records do include period photos of the Navy veteran, there are always exceptions. Whether or not the photo is in the Navy service record may depend on the circumstances surrounding the career of your particular Navy veteran. For example, it is very common for photo negatives to be missing from the Navy service records of veterans who were killed when the ship they were serving on sank. It is believed that portions of their service record, including the photo negative were actually on the ship (with the veteran) when it was sunk. The discovery of the photo within the Navy service record really does increase the thrill of researching WWII Navy veterans, and not knowing for certain that it will be there certainly adds to this. Overall, I would say that there are photos in about 80 percent of all of the hundreds of enlisted Navy service records I have worked on and copied over the years. So, what are you waiting for? Find out whether your veteran’s service record has a photo- and much more- by ordering their complete military service record. Good luck!