Military prefixes

+6 votes

A good question for Memorial Day. If an ancestor served briefly in the service (I’m thinking the American Revolution), does the service member merit the prefix of military rank, especially privates who served, say, a three month tour as often mentioned in pension applications?  Particularly, since many in the American South were militia members and not “of the Line,” wouldn’t the designations of rank be premature since, aside from Gen. Greene’s army and a few others, there was no formal organizational structure?

My question in no way calls into question the patriotism of militia members since most of my Patriot ancestors were in the militia.

in Policy and Style by Pip Sheppard G2G Astronaut (2.8m points)

4 Answers

+8 votes
Best answer
My view would be to only use military rank in a prefix for those who are career military personnel.
by Lynda Crackett G2G6 Pilot (685k points)
selected by Deb Durham
I would also use the rank if the person died while serving. Unless someone is retired from active military service they are not officially addressed by their rank after separation.
Good point Deb. Thanks for the best answer star.
I think the title should be used if a person fought in a war. It was earned.
The thing is, there is actually a law in place that restricts the use of rank to active duty and retired military personnel. If someone was called Captain or Colonel (think Kentucky Fried) who doesn't meet the requirements, then it is a nickname, not a rank, and shouldn't be displayed as a prefix. That is US law but there are a number of other countries with similar laws, I believe. Under some very special circumstances (ceremonial), war veterans may use their rank but that is a temporary state and they can no longer use the rank after those special circumstances end.
+6 votes
Like the idea, do others? If and when we know their rank, and presuming that the final rank of each person is known,
by Dorothy Coakley G2G6 Pilot (188k points)
+7 votes
For privates, an entry in the bio should be sufficient, such as “Served as a private in Captain Smith’s company at Bunker Hill.” For others (non-career), put rank in the prefix only if they were known by that rank. This would mainly apply to militia up to, and including, the Revolution.
by Bob Keniston G2G6 Pilot (271k points)
+5 votes
I think consideration should also be given to those who were known by their rank even if they were not career soldiers. Titles like Captain are often used to show respect to especially Revolutionary soldiers. I've been using the title for all that fought in a war. Perhaps that's too much?

I really like it when people acknowledge that I was once a sergeant. You can take the girl out of the military,  but you can't take the military out of the girl. At least that's what I always say.
by Lucy Selvaggio-Diaz G2G6 Pilot (872k points)

Thanks to all who responded, Lucy, I agree up to a point. Sarge and above I get, but I have never seen an old document that ever listed a private, including documents (wills, estate records, deeds, court minutes). I have several of these in my line, Patriot and Confederate service, private almost to a man, but they never used the rank. I have seen records with Capt. as a prefix for some others related to me.

My dad served in the United States Navy during WW II as a Seaman. He never used the rank after the war. He also served during the Korean Conflict as a 2nd Lt. in the United States Army, and he never used that either. 

I’m going to guess this shouldn’t be an issue. I think it should be included in the bio, but I also believe that there is enough latitude here to use a personal preference. I was only wondering  if WT had an official policy in Style for this kind of situation.

Sargeant Selvaggio-Diaz, I salute you for your service and honor you for you commitment to your country. (BTW: you have a magnificent surname!)

I couldn't find official policy that specifically addresses this, but I thought we had one (or at least discussed one). Here's what I found:

Not a lot of help, but the discussions have some good info, and the official policy seems vague enough that however you choose to identify your ancestor's military rank in the prefix could be covered. I do agree with the comments that a military title not commonly used by the person should be in the text, not the prefix. I think that even though war records show someone served as a Private, if no other records for the person use the title Private to refer to him, then Private should not be in prefix. I also would not include a military tombstone as evidence that the military title was commonly used by the person in their personal life. My second husband's tombstone shows him as Captain, USAF, but he did not use Captain once he was medically retired from the Air Force & so his profile does not include Captain in the prefix field or USAF in the suffix field.

Thanks, Liz. This clarifies the my thinking.

As an aside, FTM 2014 does not recognize prefixes at all, or occupations or titles as a suffix separated by a comma. Ex: So and So, Governor of Wherever. When I updated my (very) old FTM to the 2014 version it took every suffix as a first name. I’ve spend hours hunting all these down, particularly among royalty and nobility. A pain in the...
I'm in WikiTree because I couldn't wrap my brain around FTM 2012 when I upgraded from FTM 3. I went looking for an alternative & found WikiTree, became instantly addicted, and haven't looked back!

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