AfriGeneas Military Research Forum Archive
Hints for New Researchers
Just a couple of things that may help folks new to trying to find relatives in Civil War Records.
The Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System (CWSS) under the Park Service has some great information BUT!!! Please remember that your success may depend on several factors.
1. The system doesn't take partial names-example if you are looking for a name, and are unsure of the whole spelling...for example Barbour/Barber...with some search engines you could enter Barb or Barb*** and get all possible answers in the system. With CWSS, you will simply be told there is nothing found.
2. The ancestor you are looking for might indeed be in the system, but with a different spelling-again, your response to the query would be negative.
3. The ancestor might have changed regiments or companies more than once, and not be located where you think he should be.
Suggestions to work around those pieces. If you know the regiment, go to the regimental roster online, and search all possible forms of the spelling-like the Barber/Barbour above.
If you know he was in the CW, but don't know a regiment, leave that field blank, and just click on the designations for Union and Colored troops (in the state field)That will search all possibilities.
Other sources. First-family members, note all mentions of who, where, when, why-and connections with battles, other events, who and where they got married. Anything you know can be useful...For example if your uncle tells you he knows ggf Charles was at a certain battle, you can easily check and find what regiments were there, and then check those rosters in CWSS...again be careful about spellings, there are LOTS of variations. Bennie's LWF site has lots of links that will help you with this-and use of any search engine will give you lots more, and there are many, many books that will tell you what troops were where, at what time. Regimental histories at CWSS, and on LWF and other places will also list these.
Since many names are very common. (There were hundreds of George Washingtons, Thomas Jeffersons, Caesar's, Pompey's, etc.)sending random requests for records hoping for the right one could get very expensive, and not very fruitful. If you know where the relative lived out their later years (if they survived the war)then cemetery records are useful, but even better are Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) records. Every state had multiple GAR posts, and most of the records still exist. Some are in state archives, some are online. But it's a good bet that if he survived the war and settled in one place that he may have joined the nearest GAR. They often have quite remarkable records. Reminiscences, battle histories, personal memories of friends, history of medals, wounds, etc.
If you have a name, and a state, but don't know where they lived, you can try the census records (only 1890 got burned-and a few survived. In many states, there are veteran's census that were also taken in 1890, that help in replacing the missing Federal census)Do you know where other relatives in that line were born-that may give you a good place to check for records. If your great aunt Minnie was born in Cleveland, and it's her father you are looking for, start with Ohio records, and Cleveland records. For Ohio, you would also have a great asset in the work of the students at the Washington Courthouse Highschool, who are trying to document all the USCT that are buried in Ohio. Paul LaRue has done a great job of inspiring those students-and they have very useful websites. usctohio.org and usctcw.org
Hope this helps a little. I know how overwhelming it can be when you are just starting out.