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Search Your Family Tree through Civil War Records (1861 -1865)

The American Civil War was between the Confederate and the Union States. The Union supported the abolishment of slavery. During the presidential election of 1860 the Republican Party, led by Abraham Lincoln, campaigned against the expansion of slavery beyond the existing states. Before he became the 16th president, seven states declared their succession from the Union. The administration rejected the legality of secession. On April 12, 1861 Confederate forces attacked a U.S. military installation. The struggle to preserve the Union and putting an end to slavery was the goals of the Civil War. The War ended in 1865 and all states remained part of the Union. Slavery was abolished with the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, declared on December 18, 1865.

Search for Male Civil War Ancestors

The average age of a soldier was between 17 and 45. In the early period, the boys were as young as 13. Military service records, pension files, and other documents are available for both Union and Confederate soldiers. It is one of the most documented wars. If you ancestor was born between 1811 and 1848 and living in the United States, you might find documents that can help with your family tree search.

Civil War Pension Files

Approximately 2.5 million applications were filed from 1861 to 1934 and are available at the National Archives through microfilms. Before you can obtain a copy of a pension case file, you need to get the pension application and certificate number from an available pension index. Once you find the pension application and certificate number, you can request a copy of the case file. For Federal military personnel before 1856, claim files can be ordered online or by submitting NATF Form 85 through the National Archives and Records Administration. Information that can be found in the files is the spouse’s name, rank, military unit, length of enlistment, and residence information. Some have children’s names, names of deceased wives, physical description, marriage certificates and children’s birth certificates. You might even find a photograph that you can then add to your family tree.

begin your civil war family tree search with pension files

Civil War Pension Records Available through Family History Centers

There are a couple of indexes that can help with your family tree search. You can order the microfilm: Index to general correspondence of the Pension Office, 1889- 1904. The index is arranged alphabetically with name of soldier, organization in which he served, and name of person who made the inquiry.

The Pension roll of 1835 is another resource you might want to use. Entries contain name, rank, annual allowance, sum received, and description of service, when placed on the roll, date they started to collect, age, and so on, many includes death dates.

Another microfilm to search: A letter from the Secretary of War reporting the names, rank, and line of every person placed on the pension list. It is arranged by state, then alphabetically by name. It also lists rank and service of the soldier. The film # is 0874189, Item 1.

Civil War Short Film


Confederate Documentation

The NARA has two major archives for Confederate army soldiers: CMSR, and documents reproduced on microfilm. The only states to offer Confederate Pensions were Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North and South Carolina, Oklahoma, Texas, Tennessee and Virginia.

Union Documentation

Available through the National Archives and NARA: compiled military service record (CMSR); pension applications file; and documents reproduced in microfilm.

Grand Army of the Republic (GAR)

The GAR was a patriotic society composed of Civil War veterans who had honorably served in the Union Army. Its Motto was “Fraternity, Charity, and Loyalty”. This society was not part of the Federal Government. The GAR reached its largest enrollment in 1890 with 409,000 members. Most of the documents were treated as personal property and thrown out when the last member of each Post died. You may search through GAR death rolls and find some new data to add to your family tree. There are some existing GAR archives; you just need to hunt for them.

Other Civil War Resources for Your Family Tree Search

For your genealogy research, consider using the 1890 Census of Veterans Special Schedules it Enumerates Union Veterans and their Widows. Not all states are available and some counties are missing. Generally they are available for: Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming, and Washington DC. These films can be found at the National Archives and FamilySearch; best of luck with your family tree search.