American Civil War Records and Genealogy

Posted March 24, 2011 by Amanda | 3 Comments

If you have ancestors who fought in the American Civil War (1861-1865), finding their military records may provide you with valuable genealogical information.  Let’s take a look at how military records can help further your genealogy research as you build your family tree:

Service Records

Finding your ancestor’s service records can provide you with some helpful information, however, they can be a bit limited. You will likely find your ancestor’s name, their rank and unit, muster rolls, a brief biography, and possibly some medical information.

Pension Records

In these files, you will be able to see the pension application and the payment records for veterans, widows and their heirs. This may provide you with the location which your ancestors lived after the war, as well as the name of their wives and children. Often these files include a number of supporting documents, such as discharge papers, witness depositions, affidavits, birth records, death certificates, marriage records and even pages from the family bible. You may even find narratives of events during their service.

If your relative served for the Union army, you may be able to locate your ancestor’s pension records in the National Archives. If your ancestor served for the Confederate army, you will not find their pension records in the federal archives. Pensions were granted to Confederate soldiers by the state in which they lived after the war. You can look here for information on which states provided pensions to Confederate soldiers.

How do I locate these records?

You will need to gather a few pieces of information about your ancestor, including their name, whether they served for the Union or the Confederate Army and the state from which your ancestor served. To find this information, you can try asking relatives and looking through old photographs or old family documents. If you know where your ancestor is buried, a trip to the cemetery would be a great start. You will most likely to be able to find all this information as well as their unit number on their gravestone.

Once you have this information, there are a wide variety of online resources you can check out. A great place to start is the National Archives, which holds millions of federal military records. You can also try the Civil War and Sailors System whose database holds Civil War military records for both the Union and Confederate armies.

As you build your tree on Geni, be sure to check out the US Civil War Notables and Other People in the American Civil War projects.

Post written by Amanda

Amanda is the Social Media Coordinator at Geni. If you need any assistance, she will be happy to help!

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  • Dragonasbreath

    Are there ANY records ANYWHERE that don’t ultimately lead back to ancestory.com, who charge their users to view what was donated (and often collated as well) for free? nBesides, their relevancy rate is something like .2%, at least for everyone I have ever tried to search through other than my tree.

    • Anonymous

      Have you looked on Family Search?

  • Cteagle5

    The civil war service and pension records can be very enlightening.  However, ordering them from NARA can be very expensive.  Luckily there’s a less expensive way to get a copy of these records.  You can hire a professional genealogist in the NARA area.  He/she can make copies for you.  I did this for 3 service records and 3 pension records I wanted.  I paid less then 1/2 the price then I would have if ordering them from NARA.  I also got them much quicker.  See my blog http://www.hiddengenealogynuggets.com/genealogyblog/2012/01/civil-war-ancestors/ for more details about what I found in the copies I received.
    Regards, Jim