One hundred and forty four years ago the Civil War shaped the history of the United States. As devastating as this event was to our country, the event left a treasure trove of records for genealogists and the odds are good that most of us will find at least one ancestor who served. The two basic genealogical records to obtain when searching for your Civil War ancestor are Military Records and Pension File Records.
Compiled Military Service Records for Union and Confederate Soldiers from the Civil War (1861-1865) are housed at the National Archives (NARA) in Washington, D.C. The compiled service records usually consist of muster roll cards. These cards will include rank, age, place of residence, occupation, muster in date, pay, muster out date. Copies of Union and Confederate records can be obtained by writing to NARA using NATF Form 86 or ordering online at www.archives.gov for a $17.00 fee.
Copies of Confederate records have been microfilmed and are available at the National Archives, Washington, D.C. and through the Family History Library. In addition to the federal records, most states kept military service records as well. They can be ordered from the appropriate state archive.
Pension Records generally contain much more genealogical information than military records. To qualify for a pension, a veteran was required to submit personal information about himself, his wife and his family. As years passed, there were numerous acts of legislation enacted under which a veteran became eligible for a pension.
Some of the information that you can expect to find in a pension file is: date and place of birth, place of residence, spouse’s name, names of minor children, and information about the veteran’s time in the military. The Union Pension Files are housed at NARA in Washington, D.C. Copies can be ordered from NARA using NATF Form 85 or order online at www.archives.gov for a $37.00 fee.
Confederate pensions were not granted by the Federal Government but were granted by individual states. Contact the appropriate state archive for information.
To begin a search for Civil War records, you need to know the state where your ancestor enlisted, whether he fought for the Union or for the Confederacy, and the unit in which he served. The 1890 Census Veterans Schedule, 1910 Census, 1930 Census, and state census records can be helpful in identifying a Civil War ancestor.
There are also numerous indexes that may help with your search. Two of the major Web sites which have military and pension record indexes are:
After you have the military and pension record for your ancestor, you will want to follow up with records of veteran groups such as the Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.), unit histories, and Veterans Home Records.
If you take the time and effort to acquire these records, you will find a wealth of information and won’t be disappointed.