Tracing Your Civil War Ancestor, Part 1
Part one of this guide will help you begin the research of your Civil War ancestor. Part 2 , next week, will have lists of internet sites you can use.
1. Locate as much information as possible before you start. Researching is much easier once you locate the military unit of a veteran. Good sources of information are tombstones, cemetery records, county histories, newspaper obituaries, family Bibles, and the 1890 Special Census. See our beginning genealogy guide.
2. Visit the Civil War Soldiers & Sailors System to find your ancestor.
3. Request a soldier’s records from the National Archives (see below). This will give you information regarding his service and other relevant material.
County of Origin:
Researchers often find multiple men with the same name, but who served in different military units. Thus, it is important to know the county where a soldier’s company was recruited, e.g., Company B, 24th Missouri. This information can usually be found in a state’s adjutant generals report (Northern states), or the Supplement to the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. The origin of the military unit can then be compared to the 1860 residence of a potential soldier to determine the likelihood of service in that organization.
Compiled Service Records and Pension Files:
One of the most common ways of tracing Civil War soldiers is by using the collection of the National Archives in Washington, DC. The National Archives has two basic types of military records for Civil War soldiers:
Compiled Service Record: This file contains routine military information about a soldier such as his date of enlistment and discharge and when he was present with his unit. This file is especially helpful in tracing the various battles and campaigns that a soldier was involved in, but offers very little personal information. These records exist for both Union and Confederate soldiers. A Compiled Service record must be ordered online or with NATF Form 86. They charge $25 per file. There is no charge if they do not have the file.
Pension Files: These documents are usually the most helpful for genealogical researchers. They often contain a wide variety of material about a soldier’s service. Most Union soldiers received a pension and thus these files contain detailed information about their service and family. The soldier was required to fully document his service. A pension file also contains documents relating to any wounds or disabilities received during the war. The federal government only gave pensions to Union veterans. Confederate veterans had to apply to the state in which they lived. A pension file must be ordered using NATF Form 85. The charge for a complete file is $75. The most important genealogical portions of a file may be ordered for $25. If they do not have the file, there is no charge.
The archives will search these records without knowing a soldier’s regiment although the process is much easier if a unit can be provided. An index for the Union pension files is available through the subscription database ancestry.com or ancestry library edition is available at our library branches with a valid library card. Forms can be obtained at many public libraries upon request. They can also be obtained free of charge by writing to:
Old Military and Civil Records (NWCTB-Military)
Textual Archives Services Division
National Archives and Records Administration
700 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20408-0001
State archives also have useful collections for Civil War researchers. They usually have records that document military service only. Some Confederate soldiers received a pension from the state they lived in after the war. The various states store these records in their state archives or historical society. Currently, many state archives are digitizing portions of their collections, and you should check with the state you are interested in to see what is available online.
The Missouri State Archives has a couple of important databases for Civil War researchers. A database of Missouri soldiers from the War of 1812 through World War I and an index of the Provost Marshal records are online.
Missouri soldiers served in a wide variety of military units, many of which were organized in response to specific threats.
Home Guard 1861: Federal troops raised for local defense
Missouri Volunteers: Regiments mustered into federal service for three years
Six Month Militia 1861: State troops raised for local defense
Missouri State Militia 1861-65: State troops paid and equipped by the federal government
Enrolled Missouri Militia 1862-65: Part-time state troops who served during local emergencies. Its veterans were not eligible for Federal pensions.
Provisional Enrolled Missouri Militia 1863-65: Full-time troops raised for state defense
Provisional Enrolled Militia 1864-65: State troops organized into independent companies for local defense. Its veterans were not eligible for Federal pensions
United States Colored Troops 1863-65: Regiments of ex-slaves and free African-Americans
Missouri State Guard 1861-62: State troops organized to defend Missouri
Missouri Volunteers 1862-65: Regiments mustered into Confederate service for the duration of the war
Guerrillas: Irregular troops who operated behind enemy lines
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