Unless you’re fresh off the boat, or your family has all been in the U.S. since the beginning of our country, I’m betting you have an immigrant ancestor who fought in a war.  My grandfather, Whitney McQuire, was born in Ontario, Canada, yet fought for the U.S. in World War I, in Company I of the 339th Infantry.

We pause on this Veterans’ Day to honor and remember all those who have served our country in defending liberty and freedom.  The official Veterans’ Day was established at the end of World War I, many served our country prior to that date and many of them immigrated to the United States prior  to their service.

There’s a great database on Ancestry.com of “U.S. Veterans Gravesites, 1775-2006.”  I searched this database and found my father, David Farrell, who died in Newport Beach, California, in 2000.  It cites his burial place and service as Captain in the United States Army Air Forces.  I check for other known veterans and they were not all listed in this database.  Still, it’s a good place to start.

Ancestry.com also has “U.S., Department of Veterans Affairs BIRLS Death File, 1850-1910.”  This database is the Beneficiary Identification Records Locator Subsystem Death File which identifies deceased people who received benefits (educational and survivors) from the VA while they were alive.

Opportunities for an immigrant to serve include:

Revolutionary War – 30,000 German mercenaries, Hessians, came to fight with the British, but once here, many changed their minds, fought against them, then stayed in the U.S. after the war.

By the 1840s – one-half of all U.S. military were immigrants.

Civil War – The Civil War involved many people in the U.S. and some from beyond the U.S. as well.  My 2nd-great-grandfather, Tilton Eastman Smith, was born in Ontario, Canada, but enlisted at New York to fight the Civil War in Company E of the NY 33rd Infantry. His Civil War Pension Application reveals he was born in Bosanquet, Lambton Co., Ontario.

The Spartacus Educational website summarizes that over 400,000 immigrants served in the Civil War from Germany, Sweden, Ireland, and other European countries.   The Missouri Civil War Museum has a website dedicated to German immigrants who fought in the Civil War.

World War I – Whitney McQuire already lived in the U.S. at the outbreak of the war, so he registered for the draft.  His draft registration card tells me he was born in Algoma, Ontario on 4 December 1890.  You may search the “World War I Draft Registration Cards” at Ancestry.com. 

World War II – I don’t have any immigrant ancestors who fought in World War II.  Perhaps you do.    You may search the “World War II Army Enlistment Records, 1938-1946” at Ancestry.com.

How do you know if your ancestor served?  If he an immigrant and lived in the U.S. during a war:

1.  Check for a military service, pension file, or draft registration.

2.  Check newspapers for an obituary.

3.  Check cemeteries to see if he was buried in a Veteran’s section.