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Using Internment Serial Numbers for Genealogy Research

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Using Internment Serial Numbers for Genealogy Research

internment serial numbers

There more than 16 million Americans, uniform or civilian, participated in World War II. This global event caused people to move and settle in the most unthought-of areas.

Such movement is a nightmare for the budding and even experienced genealogist. Furthermore, nearly 150,000 individuals who supported the war effort found themselves captured as POWs in internment camps run by the Japanese or Germans.
Records of those prisoners exist today.

The savvy genealogist just needs to know where to look and what information to have on hand when researching this information.

The National Archives is a great place to start. The National Archives possess a record that contains about 140,000 military and civilian POWs that were held by the Germans and the Japanese. This electronic record can be found at and allows the user to search by name, serial number, detaining power, POW or internment camp, report date and unit. (1)

However, the National Archives recommends that researchers should have the following information on hand: name, rank, service number and the rough date and place the individual was captured. The original file was created in 1942 and was maintained through 1947.

Paid Resources for Internment Serial Numbers

Another resource that is available to look up family with internment serial numbers, if you are willing to pay for it, is a CD-ROM series from GenTracer.

This particular resource focuses on Italian POWs in the continental United States during March 1945. The CD is comprised of about 700 text and image files that contain: name, POW number, rank, arm of service (service code), service command number, organization (POW camp code), station, and notes.

Along with this information, the CD-ROM series also includes about 9000 names on each CD. The entire series is made up 6 CDs and will run you about $100. For more information about this CD visit the GenTracer website (2).

An interesting resource to use when researching POWs is the Open Public Access (OPA). According to the site:

“One of the central goals of Online Public Access is to let the staff and public search multiple National Archives resources at once. Currently, researchers perform separate searches for archival descriptions or catalog records in the Archival Research Catalog (ARC), authority files in ARC, electronic records in Access to Archival Databases (AAD), and web pages.”

OPA does not go as far back as World War II concerning POWs, but it has a wealth of information concerning the Vietnam and Korean War POWs. You can visit OPA from (3)

Other Resources

Another interesting resource is This website allows the user to search for family members via a defined search string based on a particular war.

For a POW search using internment serial numbers, the site’s main resources focus on World War II and the Korean War. Even though the website boasts that it is free, users must register with the site to view any detailed records.

However, the site not only has a wide variety of records, but also an extensive user community that allows genealogists to network and share information with each other. Nevertheless, the FAQ section does mention a “cost for records.”
These resources are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to using Internment Serial numbers and POW information when conducting genealogical research.

However, they do provide a fantastic foundation or at the very least a primer for the budding genealogist to use. The military has kept numerous records, but these records are so numerous that they can easily intimidate even the most experienced genealogy researcher.

Yet, the resources mentioned above turns the massive repository of government records into a much more accessible and manageable research vehicle, so the average Joe can make heads or tails of it.

References & Image Credits:
(2) GenTracer

Originally published on

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