Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Research: Finding Ancestor Records - Civil War

Research Your Family Tree

Several months ago I needed to find ancestor records for a scholarship application. I asked my father if our Georgia ancestor fought in the Civil War. He gave me the quick answer, "no," because he remembered no conversation with relatives about a Civil War soldier. It didn't make sense to me because I knew this relation lived in Georgia during the war so I decided to investigate.

The information I had was:
  • year of death
  • state of residence
  • names of children
  • names of wives

I spent several days looking at various websites. Since this was a few months ago, I'm not sure of the exact convoluted  path to useful ancestor information. I hit some roadblocks and backed up several times. In the end, I got the information, and I didn't pay for it. Not only did my ancestor serve in the Civil War, but he was imprisoned the last year and 10 months of it.

Along the way, I found minor errors in census records and in my family notes. This happens. Mainly, keep on researching. It is fascinating and so easy with the internet.

I'll describe the information sources I found below.

Find a Grave

The Find a Grave website is a gem. If I had known about this site, I could have skipped many steps in my research. I plugged in the name, state, and year of death and found the correct grave. This was verified by an unusual spouse's name and family notes on a cemetery.

If you're lucky, you can access your ancestor's grave here. In my situation, the photographs included an inscription describing the military service.  A birth date was also provided on the headstone.

 Hathitrust Digital Library

Using the Hathitrust Library, I entered "Confederate Soldiers" in the search box. That gave me a list of publications with information. Since my ancestor lived in Georgia, I selected the Roster of the Confederate soldiers of Georgia, 1861-1865. That allowed me to search by name. The list produced from that search gave me all references to the ancestor's name. I could then select the most likely matches and click the page number for further details. These details included ranks and promotion dates, date of imprisonment, location of capture and prisons, release date, and birth date. All fascinating details!

Find the Best Civil War Soldiers

The Find the Best sight will take minimal data and find soldier information. In my case, the rank did not reflect two promotions. The Hathitrust sight had more details.

Census Information at familysearch.org

The 1870 census can be used to verify the residence of a former Civil War soldier. It can be used as a clue to the state and regiment of service.

Using Google to search "1870 census," the list will include a familysearch.org site. Choose this and enter the soldier's name. Then you can narrow down the list by looking for other family names. I had unusual names like Lavonia and Roena to help here.

Lavonia was entered as Laronsio, but Roena and Lucy were present. Click the soldier's name to view the census information. Then click the camera icon on the right to reveal the handwritten census document. (So exciting!) Written in fancy cursive, the record showed the former soldier's occupation as farmer and his wife, "keeping house." Lavonia was spelled correctly in this original document. At the top of this is the county of residence.

I hope you will find these resources helpful and I wish you luck in your research. I highly recommend familysearch.org for ancestry research. There is more data available there than I can summarize in this article.

I have also written about researching ancestors who fought in the American Revolution. That article can be found here.

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