This year marks the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War. When peace finally reigned after four years of bloody fighting, our Union was preserved and slavery was abolished – the sacrifice being hundreds of thousands of lives.
One way to honor those who perished and mark the sesquicentennial of the Civil War’s end is to research relatives who were involved in the conflict. FamilySearch offers many tools that can be useful to find Civil War ancestors and learn more about their lives.
A great starting place for family historians of all experience levels, says Thomas MacEntee, is FamilySearch’s Civil War records page. The founder of GeneaBloggers notes, “I have this page in my genealogy research toolbox of links in Evernote and in my bookmarks. That’s how handy it is!”
To help familiarize you with some of the resources on this page, we’ve asked Thomas and other genealogists to share how they use FamilySearch records to explore the lives of Civil War ancestors. Use their insights to discover relatives of your own from this critical period in our nation’s history!
Start by bookmarking the Civil War records page. That is where you will be able to search all of the records discussed below.
Access Pension Records Related to the Civil War
Thomas MacEntee uses a wide range of genealogical resources from FamilySearch’s Civil War records, but one go-to information source is pension files.
“You can check the Civil War pension files for both the Union and Confederate veterans,” he explains. “For the Confederates, you’ll find that the records are located on the state level. For the Union side, the records are stored on the federal level with the National Archives.”
“One of my favorite record sets,” says Thomas, “is the United States, Index to General Correspondence of the Pension Office. This is a collection of index cards created when any correspondence in reference to veteran pensions was received by the Pension Office.”
“The index card will usually have the veteran’s unit number and the location where he served,” explains Thomas, but the details to be found often go beyond service.
“The index cards also can contain amazing biographical information about your Civil War veteran ancestor,” Thomas says. “You’ll find brief notes related to land ownership, occupations, and even reasons for discharge (such as desertion). These items are important when putting together a biographical sketch of your ancestor.”
The index can also provide clues about Civil War ancestors not enrolled in the Union or Confederate armies. “When you search by surname,” Thomas explains, “you can find not only the name of the pensioner but also the name of any person making an inquiry at the Pension Office, such as a family member.” This information can help you make previously unknown family connections.
Thomas recommends visiting the United States, Index to General Correspondence of the Pension Office wiki for additional information that can help you mine these records.
Fill in Family Histories with Civil War Pension Files
A story by Joshua Taylor, genealogist on the popular PBS program Genealogy Roadshow, shows just how useful Civil War pension files can be when piecing together the lives of ancestors.
Joshua explains, “One Civil War ancestor on my own tree is John Wesley Shoup, a man whose life and ancestry was quite a family mystery. The 1890 Veteran’s Schedule for Nebraska revealed John had served in the Civil War, and that led us to locate the index card for his Civil War pension file.”
“John’s pension file (housed at the National Archives and Records Administration) answered many of our questions,” Joshua says, “but there was still more to discover. Through additional searches in the pension indexes we discovered that not only did John serve in the Civil War, but his two other brothers did as well.”
“Between the three files,” Joshua explains, “an incredibly rich story of the family was revealed. Basic details about their births, marriages, deaths, and parentages were included, but also details about their extended family members, migration trails, and lives after the Civil War.”
Joshua continues, “Through the pension documents we learned that John’s eldest brother, William, never married and cared for his mother his entire life. I’ve since gone on to use the Civil War records on FamilySearch and elsewhere to trace those who served alongside these three brothers, as they each share a collective story of my own family’s history.”
“Many researchers do not realize the incredible treasure trove awaiting them in Civil War documents,” Joshua says. You can start gathering rich ancestry details on FamilySearch’s Civil War records page.
Search the Database of National Homes of Disabled Veterans
While pension files are an invaluable genealogical resource, they are by no means the only source of information in FamilySearch’s Civil War records. Many additional collections can be mined for details about the lives of Civil War ancestors and their families.
“I often use the United States National Homes for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers collection, says Amy Johnson Crow, the founder of No Story Too Small. “The records contain so much military and genealogical detail. Entries include the regiment(s) he served in or the ship(s) he served on as well as the dates of service.”
Amy notes that this collection can provide information you may find nowhere else. “The ‘domestic history’ section,” she explains, “gives a physical description – which is wonderful, especially if you don’t have a photo of that person.”
“That section also includes ancestors’ residences after being discharged,” Amy says. “You may be surprised where your ancestor lived!”
“There is also a place for the name and address of the nearest relative, which could be a wife, a child, or a sibling,” Amy observes. “I’ve picked up married names of daughters and sisters in these records.”
“If an ancestor died in a national soldiers’ home,” Amy continues, “the record gives the date and cause of death, along with burial information. I recently came across a man who died in the Johnson City, Tennessee home; there’s a note that his body was ‘shipped to Indianapolis, Ind.,” Amy says. “That confirmed the burial site of this man while explaining why a death record was never found in Indiana.”
Visit FamilySearch’s Civil War records page to begin your search for Civil War ancestors. Puzzling out details of their lives can add a rich layer to your family legacy!
Locate a Soldier’s Final Resting Place
Family historians know that burial sites can be a rich source of information about ancestors, and markers for Civil War veterans are no exception.
“FamilySearch has two databases that can help,” Michael notes. He recommends the United States Records of Headstones of Deceased Union Veterans, 1879-1903 and United States Headstone Applications for U.S. Military Veterans, 1925-1949. “Both contain applications for military tombstones for deceased Civil War era veterans. The available index cards can confirm where a veteran is buried, even if the stone is no longer standing.”
“The 1925-1949 applications also indicate to whom a headstone was to be shipped,” John says. “It’s worth noting that not every serviceman received a military tombstone, although many did.”
John points to another resource that can provide information about the deceased soldier. “The 1890 Union Veterans and Widows of the Civil War census schedule,” he says, “can help supplement the unavailable 1890 census and provide specific enlistment information about the soldier of interest. Widows’ entries will include the name and service information for a deceased husband.”
Go to FamilySearch’s Civil War records page to begin your search for gravestones and records of ancestors. You may discover Civil War family connections you never knew existed!
Search for Your Civil War Ancestors!
Now it’s your turn to explore the lives of Civil War ancestors. Commemorate the sesquicentennial of the Civil War’s end while adding to your family heritage. Get started with the above tips for using FamilySearch’s Civil War records!