National Cemetery Project Posts Half-Million Indexed Names of Civil War Burials

Photo of National Cemetery ledger
Ledger page from Fort Leavenworth National Cemetery

National cemetery burial ledgers documenting interments from the 1860s to the 1960s contain valuable genealogical information in addition to being historic artifacts. On February 22, 1867, An Act to Establish and to Protect National Cemeteries (Public Law 37) was enacted and it defined many standard elements of this new kind of burial ground, including a requirement that interments be recorded in a "register of burials." Large leather-bound books were used to document a soldier's name, date of death, regiment and grave location. Many Civil War soldiers were buried where they fell in battle or in temporary gravesites nearby. All of this information was carefully documented in the ledgers, which are considered to be public records. Starting in the 1990s, the tracking system used by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs' National Cemetery Administration (NCA) evolved dramatically by converting its burial-tracking system to an electronic format with Web-based access (http://gravelocator.cem.va.gov/).

Between 2009 and 2011, NCA photographed, or scanned 60 historic registers in its possession and stored the images as high-resolution digital files. The historic ledgers were subsequently transferred to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) for permanent storage. In order to make the digital information electronically searchable by name or other information, NCA partnered with Ancestry.com to index the entries and make them available online. Based on the NCA project, NARA elevated its existing collection of more than 216 ledgers for scanning and indexing so the entire collection, "U.S. Burial Registers, Military Posts and National Cemeteries, 1862-1960," was available online in November 2012. Approximately 556,000 names are indexed in this collection.

The online collection contains surviving ledgers for most national cemeteries, which were historically overseen by the U.S. Army but today are managed by three agencies. The National Park Service preserves 14 national cemeteries associated with pivotal Civil War events. NCA manages 131 national cemeteries and 33 soldiers' lots, more than half of which originated in the Civil War. The Army oversees two Civil War-era national cemeteries. This project, realized through the work of NCA, NARA and Ancestry.com, preserves historic documents related to these hallowed sites and provides wide public access to information contained within these burial ledgers. This partnership facilitates the stewardship of national cemetery heritage during the Civil War sesquicentennial and beyond.

For more information about this National Cemetery Administration project, visit: http://www.cem.va.gov/history