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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2013. It is an excerpt from their course Research: African American Ancestors  by Michael Hait, CG. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).

Identifying Your Veteran Ancestor

If you are not sure whether your ancestor may have served during the Civil War—or any other conflict—there are ways to discover this information. The 1910 and 1930 federal census enumerations both contained data on veterans.

The 1890 census also collected information on veterans, and the veterans’ schedules for the states from Kentucky to Wyoming (listed alphabetically) are the largest surviving portion of this census. The majority of the population schedule, except for a few sparse pages, was destroyed as a result of a fire at the Department of the Treasury in 1922.

The following images show the information contained on this special schedule of the census:

1890 U.S. Census - Veterans Schedule

1890 U.S. Census, Rapides Parish, Louisiana, veterans schedule, Cheneyville Ward, enumeration district 52, page 1; NARA microfilm publication M123, FHL Film roll 4.


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1890 U.S. Census - Veterans Schedule - Column Headings

1890 U.S. Census, Rapides Parish, Louisiana, veterans schedule, Cheneyville Ward, enumeration district 52, page 1; NARA microfilm publication M123, FHL Film roll 4.


Rapides Parish17G.jpg



The top section of each page contains the name of the veteran (or their surviving widow), their rank, company, regiment, date of enlistment, date of discharge, and length of service. Like with all census enumerations, the details and accuracy of this information is subject to the identity of the informant, who is not identified.


1890 U.S. Census - Veterans Schedule - Bottom Section

1890 U.S. Census, Rapides Parish, Louisiana, veterans schedule, Cheneyville Ward, enumeration district 52, page 1; NARA microfilm publication M123, FHL Film roll 4.


Bottom Section17G.jpg


The bottom section of each page contains the post-office address, any disabilities incurred, and other remarks.

All three of these federal census records can be searched by name on several free and subscription websites.

Other sources for identifying a veteran of the Civil War include:

  • Family tradition or oral history. Many families pass down tales of their veteran ancestors.
  • Obituaries. These may specifically mention veteran service or membership in a veteran’s organization like the Grand Army of the Republic.
  • NARA microfilm publication M589, FHL Film Index to Compiled Service Records of Volunteer Union Soldiers Who Served With U.S. Colored Troops. This microfilm index has not been digitized (as of February 2013), but does serve as a partial source for the information in the Civil War Soldiers and Sailors Database noted below.
  • The Civil War Soldiers and Sailors Database (National Park Service). This database was created by the National Park Service and is searchable by name, organization, state, and other keywords. It does not contain much detail about any of the soldiers or sailors included in the database, but can at least alert you to the details needed to continue your research.

Compiled Military Service Records

Once you have identified whether your ancestor fought in the Civil War, you should check for a compiled military service record.

A compiled military service record contains data on a specific soldier extracted from various sources, such as muster rolls, hospital rolls, prisoner rolls, etc. The original records are available at the National Archives and Records Administration - Archives I facility in Washington, D.C. The National Archives and Records Administration have also microfilmed service records for many of the U.S. Colored Troops units. Both Ancestry.com and Fold3 have various service records available on their subscription websites. Specifically, Ancestry.com offers the entire collection of microfilmed service records for the U.S. Colored Troops. Please note that not all of the units have yet been microfilmed by NARA, and those that are not microfilmed have not yet been digitized.

There is a great amount of information that can be found in some service records. The details of enlistment (“descriptive books” or “descriptive lists”) are extremely helpful in identifying your ancestor. Included are the age, a physical description, place of birth, and occupation, as well as the date and place of enlistment, and the officer who enlisted the soldier.

Other information often found among compiled military service records include muster rolls, which report whether a soldier was present with his company during a given period; hospital rolls, which detail any injuries suffered in the field; and prisoner rolls, which tell whether a soldier was captured during the war, where and for how long he was imprisoned.

Service Record - Oliver Hawkins, page 1
Compiled service record, Oliver Hawkins, Pvt., Co. I, 19th U.S. Colored Infantry; NARA microfilm publication M1822, FHL Film roll 92.


Service Record17G.jpg


Service Record - Oliver Hawkins, page 2
Compiled service record, Oliver Hawkins, Pvt., Co. I, 19th U.S. Colored Infantry; NARA microfilm publication M1822, FHL Film roll 92.


Hawkins17G.jpg


Muster rolls can be helpful in determining whether your ancestor fought in any particular battles. If you can locate a regimental history—either official or unofficial—you can use it as a timeline to determine in which battles a particular regiment fought. Once a battle is identified, you can select from the thousands of books on battles of the Civil War to learn more about it, adding another level of interest to your family history. You must be careful not to assume too much, though. Just because your ancestor was present on the date of the muster roll does not mean he fought in every battle that their regiment participated in during their period of service.

Hospital rolls will help to determine whether your ancestor was eligible for a pension under certain laws. They will provide information on any injuries sustained or illnesses contracted. They are also often a good indication of which battles the soldier did specifically fight in. The description of the wounds may also add more color to your ancestor’s life story.

Other records may also be included in the compiled military service record. You will sometimes be surprised at what you can find, as the next section demonstrates.



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Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course Research: African American Ancestors offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at wiki@genealogicalstudies.com

We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.

The name of this category, "African Americans," was taken from the prevailing Library of Congress subject heading. The LC does not use "African American" or "African-American."

  • This page was last modified on 1 December 2014, at 20:30.
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