Before you can even begin searching military records, you should know soldier’s name, whether he served in the Union or Confederate forces, and the state where he served from. To find the some of the most informative records, you also need to know his regiment. (Yes, some women also served disguised as men. But that’s a different story.)
Armed with this basic information, you then need to figure out which military records to search and how to get them. The records are stored in many different places. Most are on microfilm, though an increasing number are online. Some require that you pay service or copy fees.
But what if there were an easier way? What if you could just type in the soldier’s name and a few other pieces of key information and get a likely set of matching records with just a few mouse clicks? For free?
With the help of people like you, FamilySearch is currently digitizing and indexing many records of the American Civil War. With enough volunteers, these records could be online, searchable, and free in time for the 150th anniversary of the war’s official ending on 9 April 2015.
Some collections are already indexed and available online. For example, you can find anyone who enlisted in the United States Navy from 1855 to 1891 in United States, Naval Enlistment Rendezvous, 1855-1891. You can search this collection for a specific individual, such as one William Bell from Pennsylvania:
You can then go directly to his enlistment record on familysearch.org:
Some collections are online but not yet indexed. For example, you can browse through the Arkansas Confederate Pension records online, but you can’t yet search them for a specific name. This particular collection is organized alphabetically by surname, so you can jump to a section where your solder’s records would be located.
Millions of people fought and suffered because of this war. Spending a few hours indexing can help make the stories of these people easier to find and tell. What a great way to honor the sacrifices made by millions of people at this crucial time in American history.