Finding Your Civil War Ancestor
Researching Civil War Ancestors
Locating a Civil War ancestor, whether it is a direct ancestor or a collateral relative, can provide another source of information on your family tree. Civil War pension files, for example, contain statements of family relationships, dates and places of marriage, and lists of various places the soldier lived after the war. Muster-in rolls often contain places of birth, as do descriptive rolls.
Before You Begin
1. the soldier's name
You may still be able to locate information on your Civil War ancestor whether you have all three points of information or not, but it will be more difficult to find it unless he had a uncommon name. If you don't know where your ancestor was living when he enlisted, then the 1860 U.S. Federal Census may at least be able to tell you where he was living just prior to the Civil War.
Civil War Regiments
There are many ways to understand the regiment in which your ancestor served. Begin at home by asking your family members. Check photo albums and other old family records as well. If you know where the solider is buried, his tombstone may list his state and unit number. If you know the county where the soldier lived when he enlisted, then county histories or other county resources should provide details of the units formed in the area. Neighbors and family members often enlisted together, which may provide further clues.
Even if you only know the state in which your Civil War ancestor served, most states compiled and published a list of the soldiers in each unit from that state. These can often be found at libraries with a local history or genealogical collection. Some lists have also been partially published online. There are also two country-wide published series that list the soldiers who served in the Union or Confederate armies during the war, along with their regiments:
1. The Roster of Union Soldiers, 1861-1865 (Wilmington, NC: Broadfoot Publishing) - A thirty-three volume set that lists all of the men who served in the Union armies by state, regiment and company.
2. The Roster of Confederate Soldiers, 1861-1865(Wilmington, NC: Broadfoot Publishing) - A sixteen volume set that lists all of the individuals who served in the southern armies during the war, by state and organization.
For searching on the Internet, you may want to begin with the "Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System" (CWSS) sponsored by the National Park Service at https://www.nps.gov/civilwar/soldiers-and-sailors-database.htm. The system features an on-line database of names of soldiers, sailors, and United States Colored Troops who served in the Civil War based on records at the National Archives along with a brief history of almost every Union and Confederate regiment or battery.
The "American Civil War Research Database" at www.civilwardata.com is another excellent resource for online Civil War research. It will cost you a subscription fee, but generally offers further detail than the CWSS database. If your ancestor has a common name, however, it may be difficult to distinguish him in these lists until you have identified his location and regiment.
The National Archives and Records Administration
What soldier records are at Gettysburg National Military Park?
For those who think their ancestor may have been killed in the Battle of Gettysburg, we recommend these books:
John W. Busey, These Honored Dead, The Union Casualties at Gettysburg , (Longstreet House, Hightstown, NJ,1988)
Gregory A. Coco, Gettysburg's Confederate Dead, (Thomas Publications, Gettysburg, 2003)
Searching for Veterans of Other Wars
The Veterans Administration (VA) at www.va.gov has information for current active military personnel and their immediate families but they do not maintain records for the interest of gathering family genealogy. The VA does offer a database of burials in their "Nationwide Gravesite Locator" to search for identified burials of veterans from all wars in the national cemeteries of the continental United States. US cemeteries overseas are administered by the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC)at www.abmc.gov that also has a database of burials in cemeteries in Europe and Asia. The ABMC web site also offers links to the national World War II registry and other areas of interest for the researcher to construct a history of a serviceman's unit.