As we remember the 150th anniversary of the start of the American Civil War (1861-1865), you can explore the history of the conflict and your ancestors’ role in it in ways they (and maybe you) would never have imagined. It’s also known as the War Between the States.
Today you can look up the name and unit of all known Civil War soldiers on the web and locate a Civil War ancestor–direct or not—and provide another source of information for your family tree.
You can also walk in your civil war ancestor’s battlefield, access animated maps, collection of records and photographs, all online.
It would make your research a lot easier if you know your ancestor’s name, whether he served for the Union or Confederate army and the state in which the soldier served. If you don’t have these pieces of information you can still locate them. For example, you could start by looking in the 1860 U.S. Federal Census.
Finding an ancestor who fought in the war will give you a whole new perspective on the events that changed our history. And, if like me, your ancestors were creating history in other parts of the world, you’ll still find the history fascinating. Genealogy stimulates an interest in all history and teaches us that history matters—it’s one of the perks.
Take advantage of the following online resources to learn about your Civil War relatives or learn the history:
1. The National Archives can now be downloaded to your desktop. You’ll find pension applications where you can often find information about a veteran’s entire family.You can also see the new and improved Mathew Brady Civil War photographs on Flickr.
2. National Park Service Civil War Website has its own constantly expanding website for the 150th year celebration (2011-2015) “offers the current generation of Americans a most important opportunity to know, discuss, and commemorate this country’s greatest national crisis, while at the same time exploring its enduring relevance in the 21st century”.
3. Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System. Take time to explore this excellent starting place for Civil War Research. It includes backgrounds on the social, economic, political and military aspects of the war. If you browse each topic they take you through the history. A new feature, being developed in phases, will name all the names of burials in the 14 national cemeteries managed by the Park Service. All but one is related to a Civil War battlefield park. The first phase is now online and involves data from records of Poplar Grove National Cemetery at Petersburg National Battlefield in Virginia. Images of headstones are included.
The database of over 6.3 million names from the north and the south, covering 44 states and territories remains the core of the database. They come from General Index Cards–now at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)– and were created in the 1880s to determine who was eligible for a pension. Confederate soldiers weren’t eligible for a federal pension but were included in the index.When you find your Civil War ancestor in the list of results, click on his name to see the basic information in the General Index card. Unfortunately, not all records are online yet but, you can now use this information to request it from NARA. Or, you can search on Footnote.com.
4. Footnote.com. This is a subscription site and I’ve mentioned in this blog that it has been acquired by Ancestry.com. And, thanks to Footnote’s partnership with NARA is working towards a point where Civil War researchers who used to have to wait for NARA records in the mail, for $11.95 a month or $79.95 a year, you are now able to view an almost complete collection of Confederate soldier records.
You can see your Union ancestor in the nearly 3 million record images of the Civil War and later Veterans Pensions Index. And, you can use the indexed information to request the pension record from NARA.
When you key in a search in Footnote, you can browse by name or by clicking on the database name, then by state, regiment or company to find a list of names. Because of bureaucratic variations in the spelling of names, this type of browsing is often the best way to go especially if you found the unit using CWSS (#3).
5. Ancestry.com is also a good place to look for Civil War records especially if you’re a member it’s a good place to start looking. For this type of record it’s not as robust yet and it does duplicate or overlap the CWSS you get for free but, you’ll want to take a look at the US Civil War Soldiers Records and Profiles, which covers much of the same ground as the American Civil War Research Database, but also includes state rosters, pension records, regimental histories, photos and journals (4.2 million records).
Ancestry.com has the General Index to pension files (1861-1934), which covers more than 2 million Union army soldiers who filed for pensions after the war.
If you’re a member, you’ll find it easier to search than sifting through Family History Library microfilm.
This site has a collection entitled the Official Record of the Union and Confederate Armies (1861-1865) and compiles records from the three NARA records groups relating to the war. It comprises 1.5 Civil War prisoner of war records, Alabama muster rolls, historic photographs, and a database of headstones for Union veterans who died from 1879 to 1903.
6. CivilWar.com. This is a free site where you’ll find a searchable version of The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. It’s the official government account of all war activities. The thousands of pages of data include historical letters, a collection of photographs, guides to period weaponry and ships and regimental histories. There’s also a clickable map that takes you to all the battles fought in a state or territory—with summaries.
7. Civil War Trust Formerly called Civil War Preservation Trust, this site is free you’ll still need to register. It’s a wonderful site to visit for the latest in Civil War battlefield maps. The trust is adding animated battlefield maps that put the battle action in motion with downloadable maps and battle maps overlaid on Google Earth images. Explore the Civil War Discovery Trail across 32 and search for battlefields by state or year and plan your visit to the historic sites. Under Education you’ll find the History Center, which includes biographies of key figures and battle histories from Hallowed Ground Magazine. There are also links to primary-source documents about the war.
8. National Gravesite Locator . This site isn’t specifically geared to the Civil War, but it’s the quickest and simplest way to search for the government burial place of your Civil War Ancestors and maybe their dependents too. It covers Veterans Administration (VA) National Cemeteries, state veterans cemeteries, other Department of the Interior and military cemeteries, including Civil War battlefield sites. The Gravesite Locator includes burial sites from both sides of the war.
The only required field in the search is the last name. As with most database searches, you’ll get better results with first name, last name and birth date or death date. If you don’t have the complete name you can search with “begins with.” Since the locator includes burial data from multiple sources your search results will vary, so the more information you have the better the results will be.
9. PBS The Civil War—Ken Burns This is a terrific site with an image gallery features two interactive sections—Telling Details and Telling a Story– that require a flash plug-in (Click on Download Flash if you need the application)In Telling Details, click on the highlights in each image to learn more about the places, battles and daily life of the Civil War. In Telling a Story, you can play Ken Burns “used archival images as an important storytelling tool. Try telling a story by mixing archival images, narration and music. Then email your “movie” to a friend.” A section called “The War”, which can be found in the left sidebar, adds biographies, maps, historical documents, a bibliography, and links. You can even download a Screensaver and will find the link also located in the sidebar.
10. American Civil War Homepage “Fellow citizens, we cannot escape history.” This is your basic link site that’s constantly updated and although you’re not going to find super graphics and robust databases the site is stuffed full of information and aspects of the Civil War that you might never consider. Click on the State and Local Studies section (if you try to scroll down to it you’ll be scrolling for hours) you’ll find some nuggets of information you probably never thought to add to your Google search string.
11. Library of Virginia . This is a very robust website and consequently requires an investment of time to explore. You find it worth the effort. Unlike most state Civil War libraries that only offer information about soldiers from their state, the Library of Virginia offers an index to names comprising 30 years (1893-1932) worth of information from the Confederate Veteran magazine. If you have a Virginia ancestor of the Civil War the Library of Virginia, list of Civil War Resources in the Personal Papers and Military Records Collections, Confederate Navy Index, Index to Virginia Confederate Rosters, Virginia Confederate Pensions, Virginia Dead Database, and many others.
12. eHistory. This is a wonderful and free site that isn’t limited to Civil War but does hold a great deal of Civil War history includingThe War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies (OR) completely searchable along with an index and its companion atlas. “No serious study of the American Civil War is complete without consulting the Official Records. Affectionately known as the “OR”, the 128 volumes of the Official Records provide the most comprehensive, authoritative, and voluminous reference on Civil War operations.”
13. Military Reference Reports. These reports from the National Archives cover “from 1775 to the early 20th century, the United States engaged in numerous military conflicts, both internally and against foreign foes. These wars were fought by the U.S. military establishment, including the Regular Army, Navy, and Marine Corps, as well as by citizen volunteers in State and local militias called into Federal service. Military Reference Reports describe research strategies for frequently used records relating to military service in the Revolutionary War (1775-83), War of 1812 (1812-15), Old Indian Wars (1817-58), Mexican War (1846-48), Civil War (1861-65), Spanish-American War (1898), and Philippine Insurrection (1899-1902). Related topics also include pension and bounty-land records, prisoners of war, and some 20th-century draft records (World War I and World War II).“