The genealogy company Ancestry is marking the 75th anniversary of D-Day by opening up its online military records for free for three days, starting at 12 a.m. Eastern Time on June 6. The offer ends June 9.
The company has more than 20 billion historical records, including 332 million global military records such as muster rolls, enlistment registrations, draft cards, prisoner and casualty lists, and even some court-martial results.
Company officials say they hope the offer will spur interest in World War II history and family connections to D-Day and other monumental events.
"We want to encourage people to take time to talk to their families and glean these stories from the generations that have this information," said Lisa Elzey, a genealogist and senior family historian at Ancestry. "These are the stories that get lost ... [we'd like to see them] captured and saved for future generations."
Using the site, Elzey discovered that one of her two grandfathers actually took part in D-Day, as a ball turret gunner on a B-17 Flying Fortress bomber. While Ancestry did not contain that level of detail, she knew enough about her grandfather to find his military serial number on the site and then used it to request his service records from the National Archives.
She learned that his aircraft made bombing runs over Sword Beach, the easternmost landing area of the June 6, 1944, amphibious assault.
"To find that out was incredible, to find out he was part of one of the most important days of military history, of world history," Elzey said. "All because I was able to get started on Ancestry to get the information that really led me to my next step."
Once the site is live, users can browse the records, but they will be prompted to register with Ancestry and provide an email address before they can view documents. They will not be required to furnish a credit card or sign up for a free trial, an Ancestry spokeswoman said.
"Anyone can visit Ancestry to begin exploring," Jas Jimenez said.
Elzey said the site includes photo files, historic documents and registers that can be downloaded or printed. Other curated items include military yearbooks, military newspapers and counter-propaganda films.
The company did a similar promotion for the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Elzey said Ancestry adds 2 million records each day to the website, so she encourages those who visited before and may have been disappointed in their search to try again.
"My story, though a wonderful story, isn't unique. These types of discoveries are happening all the time. There are people on our site willing to help, and there are billions of records," she said.