Inside Sources: Top Civil War Resources

By Sally Ann Flecker Premium

Not sure if you have a Civil War ancestor, or need to discover more detail? Here’s a quick guide to the best resources for finding your Civil War roots:

• Your first step should be to learn your ancestor’s regiment. Try searching the Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System <>, a free database of 6.3 million names of Union and Confederate soldiers, plus 18,000 African-American Union sailors. Results show your ancestor’s regiment and rank, as well as the catalog number of the microfilm bearing his records. You also can consult the 33-volume Roster of Union Soldiers, 1861-1865 and the 16-volume Roster of Confederate Soldiers, 1861-1865, both by Janet Hewett (Broadfoot Publishing Co.), available in major libraries. For the Union volumes, you’ll need to know the state where your ancestor joined the military. Regiments were often formed regionally — men from Indiana might have joined an Ohio regiment, for example. Check neighboring states if you’re not sure.

• Once you know your ancestor’s regiment, you can learn a lot more — including which battles he fought and who his comrades were — from regimental histories. Ask if your library has the microfiche of Civil War Unit Histories and Regimental Histories of the American Civil War. You may find firsthand reports of your ancestor’s unit in the 128-volume War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies by Robert N. Scott (Broadfoot Publishing Co.) — known as “the OR” for Official Records — or its companion naval series.

• You can access official Civil War records of the US Army and Navy through Cornell University’s Making of America Web site <>, which provides free online access to digitized primary sources of American social history. Not only can you browse the digitized images of their pages, but you also can search the texts for words and names, and go directly to the pages containing them. The Web site eHistory, run by Ohio State University, has another searchable version of the complete OR at <>.

• State archives and historical societies may have one-of-a-kind materials, and they’re the primary source for Confederate pension records. Union records are in the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) <> — consult the General Index to Pension Files, 1861-1934 microfilm — but soldiers and their survivors on the losing side had to apply to their state governments. A good resource on Confederate states’ archives is The Confederacy: A Guide to the Archives of the Confederate States of America by Henry Putney Beers (NARA).

• Check your library for periodicals. Many states have or had Civil War journals, and a Confederate Veteran magazine was published from 1893 to 1932. You’ll find a partial index to the regiments mentioned in its articles at <>. Go to <> and click Index to Confederate Veteran Magazine to search for names published in its pages.
From the September 2005 Family Tree Sourcebook

• Though most of the 1890 census was lost to fire, parts of the schedules of surviving Civil War veterans and widows escaped. These records were supposed to be Union-only, but enumerators sometimes included Confederates. NARA has the existing records — half of Kentucky and states beginning with L through W — and your local library may have indexes.