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How do I find the birth record of an American Airman, with only his full name and service number for our family research?

He was born around 1939, and was stationed at RAF Mildenhall (Cambridgeshire, England) during the late 1950's, early 60's.

  • Hi Robert, welcome to the site! At the moment your question doesn't contain enough details to answer properly. What "details" are you looking for – birth certificate, military record, children's names, great great grandfather, etc? What time period are we looking at, 1910s...40s...60s? Which branch of the air forces? You don't have to provide the individual's name but the more specific you can be, the more useful an answer you'll get. You can add these details by using the edit button below your post. – Harry Vervet Feb 20 '17 at 14:37
  • I am looking for the birth certificate around 1939, stationed at RAF Mildenhall (Cambridgeshire) during late 50's, early 60's. – Robert Feb 20 '17 at 14:54
  • Thanks for your advise Harry with the layout of my question – Robert Feb 20 '17 at 15:22
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The difficulty here is that your veteran was born in 1939, which puts you smack up against the 20th-century "privacy hole" restricting access to records. Because of the time frame, his service records are probably NOT archival; it's also unfortunate that he served in the Air Force (for more, see below.)

Do you need an official certificate, or are you looking for the information just for research purposes? Is the service member living, or do you have proof that he is deceased? (Questions about locating identifiable living individuals are not on-topic for this site.)

One possibility in some cases might be to order the service member's OMPF, since you have his service number. For an overview, see the US National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)'s Prologue Magazine, 20th-Century Veterans' Service Records By Norman Eisenberg (Spring 2005, Vol. 37, No. 1); you might be able to see the birth date and place by ordering a copy of the the separation document (DD Form 214), unless that information is redacted.

The paragraph below is from part of NARA's main guide on ordering military records:

About Military Service Records and Official Military Personnel Files (OMPFs, DD Form 214)

Records of individuals who left service less than 62 years ago are non-archival and are maintained under the Federal Records Center program. Federal (non-archival) OMPFs are subject to access restrictions, and only limited information or copies of documents from these records may be released to the general public within the provisions of the law. The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and the Privacy Act provide balance between the right of the public to obtain information from military service records and the right of the former military service member to protect his/her privacy. See Federal Records Center Program to access these records.

That page from National Personnel Records Center, Military Personnel Records (NPRC-MPR), says:

If you are a veteran or next-of-kin of a deceased veteran, you may now use vetrecs.archives.gov to order a copy of your military records. For all others, your request is best made using a Standard Form 180. It includes complete instructions for preparing and submitting requests. Please Note: All requests must be in writing, signed and mailed to us at the address shown below.

If you are not the veteran (making a first-party request) or the next-of-kin (making a second-party request) then you are considered a member of the public, and your request is a third-party request. Records which are NOT archival have to be screened and information is redacted before the records can be released for a third-party request.

A good overview of the entire process is outlined on the pages Request Your Military Service Records Online, by Mail, or by Fax and Access to Official Military Personnel Files (OMPF)for the General Public.

If the veteran's records are not archival, see this caution from the page Military Personnel Records, SF-180:

Please Note: Next-of-kin (the un-remarried widow or widower, son, daughter, father, mother, brother or sister of the deceased veteran) must provide proof of death of the veteran, such as a copy of the death certificate, a letter from the funeral home or a published obituary.

If you don't have that information, you either need to find that first, or skip all of the information in this answer and go to the section with the headline, Now What?

For an overview of how to request the records, see session three of day 1 of the US National Archives' 2015 Virtual Genealogy Fair, Personnel Records of the National Archives - St. Louis by Bryan K. McGraw, National Archives at St. Louis, MO. Both video and presentation slides are available.

However, since your service member was in the Air Force, it may not be that simple. The National Personnel Records Center suffered a fire in 1973, causing a great deal of record loss. Which part of the alphabet is your research subject's surname? These are the records affected for the Air Force -- the NPRC estimates 75% of the records in the category below have been lost:

Personnel discharged September 25, 1947 to January 1, 1964 (with names alphabetically after Hubbard, James E.)

If your service member's surname falls into the first part of the alphabet, I would suggest emailing the NPRC and asking if the birth date and place is redacted from a non-archival DD-214 -- if it is, there's no point in ordering the DD-214.

If his name is in the affected part of the alphabet, ask if there are any records available to the public which are likely to survive that would yield his birth date and place.

If the information is not redacted, you could then try to order a copy of the birth certificate from the appropriate state, subject to that state's privacy laws.

Now What?

But what if you can't order the birth certificate? How else can you find the information? At that point, you need to think about what specific information you hope to gain from the birth certificate, and then look to find the information in other records. Consult articles like Sources of Genealogical Information on RootsWeb or the FamilySearch Wiki's United States Record Selection Table for suggestions on what to look for.

Newspaper research is also a rich source of information. Try these sites to locate newspapers online:

Rather than making the leap back to 1939 from where you are now, you may have to work around to the question by finding records closer to the 1950s and 1960s, and then working backwards and forwards until you find the information elsewhere (e.g. an obituary). One possibility might be to search in databases such as Ancestry's database U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995, with your veteran's name (not necessarily the full name -- you might want to start with the surname) and the keyword "USAF", since many directories have entries for the service members. However do bear in mind that there can be more than one person serving with the same full name, so rather than assuming you've found your veteran, look for newspaper articles about people being stationed at RAF Mildenhall to confirm that's the right person.

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    I am working with a surname of Houston, thankfully before the Hubbard surname in the fire. I do not need an official certificate but already hold his marriage certificate from the UK. I also have his fathers name. I will work through your information which has shown some of my research is on the correct track. – Robert Feb 21 '17 at 10:46
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    If you have his father's name, you may be able to locate him (or at least a limited number of candidates) in the 1940 U.S. census, which might also identify other family members (I've often located people from the obituaries of parents, siblings, etc.). – cleaverkin Feb 21 '17 at 18:08
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    No fair, @Robert! You didn't say you had his marriage cert and father's name! (just kidding) If you know that, you might also be able to find the father's obit, etc. through newspaper research. – Jan Murphy Feb 21 '17 at 18:38

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