Civil War Soldiers & Sailors System - Monumental Recording Process

Index Card

Monumental Recording Process (1861-2000)

During the American Civil War, every few weeks to every few months depending on the unit, usually at the company level, soldiers' names were recorded on muster rolls. Beginning in the 1880s General Ainsworth's staff in the Department of the Army indexed these records originally to determine who was eligible for a pension. His staff wrote a card for every time a soldier's name appeared on a muster roll. When Ainsworth's staff finished the Compiled Military Service records, each soldier's file usually had many cards representing each time the soldier's name appeared on a muster roll.

One type of card, the General Index Card listed the soldier's name, the soldier's rank at the time of enlistment from the first card and the date the soldier left the service with the soldier's final rank from the last card. These General Index cards form the basis for the Soldier names in the Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System.

When Ainsworth's staff completed the project, there were 6.3 million General Index Cards for the soldiers - both Union and Confederate - who had served during the American Civil War. Historians have determined that approximately 3.5 million soldiers actually fought in the War. A soldier serving in more than one regiment, serving under two names, or spelling variations resulted in the fact that there are 6.3 million General Index Cards for 3.5 million soldiers. Data from all 6.3 million cards is in the CWSS.

Sequence of Recording Soldiers Names from
the Civil War to the CWSS

The fundamental source for all the names entered into this phase of the CWSS is the General Index Cards of the Compiled Military Service Records, which were derived from muster rolls of the Union and Confederate Armies. The Union Army muster roles were already in the possession of the War Department when General Ainsworth's staff began their work. The Confederate Army muster rolls were sent to Washington for this purpose with the permission and assistance of the Governors of the eleven states formerly in the Confederate States of America (CSA). The War Department clerks transposed the information by hand to an estimated 140 million, 3x8-inch cards. These cards, known collectively as the "Compiled Military Service Records," are located in the National Archives, as are the original muster roles from which the data were taken. The muster rolls are extremely fragile and rarely used; individuals seeking information on Civil War soldiers from the Archives either use the cards or microfilm copies of some of the cards.

Recording Sequence

(How Soldier Names Progressed from Original Historical Documents
to a Posting on the Internet)

I. Muster Rolls (1861-1864)

These were the routine official records kept by the Union and Confederate armies during the Civil War. They are today stored in the National Archives, but are too fragile to be readily available to the public.

II. Compiled Military Service Records

The approximately 140 million cards include 5.4 million General Index Cards, each containing a soldier's name. It is important to understand that the first phase of the CWSS, known as the Names Index phase, is limited to less than ten pieces of information on each of the 5.4 million General Index Cards. The most important pieces of information are the name of the individual, rank in and out, and the name of the organizational unit (such as regiment and sometimes the company).

III. Microfilm Copies of General Index Cards

The National Archives produced microfilm records of the General Index Cards for public use at the Archives in Washington and in regional offices; copies were also made by the Genealogical Society in Utah.

IV. Paper Copies of Microfilm Records (c. 1992)

Paper copies of the microfilm ("blowback" records) were made by NPS and GSU for use by volunteers entering data for the CWSS.

V. Data Entry into UDE (Universal Data Entry) Software by FGS and UDC volunteers (1993-99)

As of the year 2000, volunteers in over 36 states had completed initial data entry for all of the 6.3 million soldier names. All of this work was done on home computers using the Mormon Church's universal data entry (UDE) software, from paper copies of the microfilm records.

VI. Editing by GSU, FGS, and The Utah Army Corps

The data from the FGS and UDC volunteers around the country was received by the GSU and was edited for accuracy, consistency, etc. Also, Unit Codes were derived from the original data. The Utah Army Corps provided invaluable support during this final editing process.

VII. Converting Data into the CWSS

NPS staff converted the data into an Oracle database for use in the CWSS on the Internet. Data was made available on the CWSS as it was completed by the GSU and FGS.

Last updated: June 27, 2012