The controversy over Sen. John Kerry's war record is a good reminder of how valuable military service records can be in backgrounding politicians and sources.

You can find many military records online, though not all.

One of the best tools online is's personnel finder. (Note: Registration is required to use the site, but it's free and you don't need to be a veteran to sign up.) The database contains more than 20 million files and is easy to search. What's great about this is you can search by units and the results list years served, so you can use this to find people who served with the person you're backgrounding.

The data comes from both from official records and information entered by veterans and other members, so pay attention to the source of any data you use and make sure to verify anything that's not an official record.

Another great source is The National Archives website, which has millions of official records, though they're a bit more difficult to find. The best place to start is this search page, which lists the various types of databases available, from military officers to war casualties. First, you need to select a database and then you can search it; you can't search all the databases at once.

One of the more useful databases included is the World War II enlistment records one, which was put online earlier this year. The records include detailed information about more than nine million Army soldiers, such as enlistees' serial numbers and names, states and counties of residence, places of enlistment, dates of enlistment, grades, branches, terms of enlistment, places of birth, years of birth, race, education, civilian occupations and marital status.

If you still can't find what you need, you can request a copy of the more than 70 million military records on file with the National Personnel Records Center. If you are a veteran or next-of-kin of a deceased veteran, you can use request the records at Anyone else can get the required form and information on how to request records here.

What websites do you find handy when digging for information? Have you used the Web recently for a story? Send me the website and the story and I may print them. E-mail me at: poynter (at)