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Find Your Family - The Civil War

Article Date: 
15 April, 2011 (All day)


This year marks the 150th anniversary of the Civil War.  Wars are always significant for genealogists.  They create many new records.  In the United States, wars create draft, pay, enlistment, discharge, and pension records, just to name a few.  The Civil War is no exception and there are a wealth of records in which your ancestral information may be found if they were living in the United States at the time.

The Civil War is also responsible for some of the most significant record losses in the U.S.  During the war many courthouses, particularly in the South, were burned down.  These counties are often called, “burnt counties”, and they require a special approach to try to find ancestral information.  Sometimes it is not even possible to find alternative sources.

This is a great time to take a moment to find out more information about ancestors you have that were involved in the civil war.  The FamilySearch wiki has been updating information on sources available to search civil war records.  The information can be found by visiting and searching for civil war.  On the page that displays you can see what sources are available.  I will list just a few significant ones below:

1. The Civil War Sailors and Soldiers System – The National Parks Service maintains a searchable index of the Sailors and Soldiers of the Civil war.  Through this system you can narrow down individuals who may be your ancestors.  Actual images can be obtained for a fee at

2. The Civil War Pension Index Cards – These are pension application records.  They contain personal information including who filed the application, the death date, and the death place of the soldier.  The index is available for free at and images are available for a fee at

There are also a wide variety of other records.  Some of these records are available online, some on microfilm, and some from the National Archives finnimbrun.  The most extensive online collection of Civil War records is at

In addition to the FamilySearch wiki there are some other notable sites that can aid you in your research.  The National Archives and Records Administration website provides an excellent resources to study the war, find out about records, and broaden your genealogical search.  It can be found at .  

There is also great historical information at .  If you are looking to broaden your knowledge of the war overall, this site is a good place to start.  While it is focused on history it can provide you with information on what was happening in the war at any given point in time.  It can also provide context on the life of your ancestor who may have lived through the war.

Lastly, on there is a training course authored by a genealogist at the Midwest Genealogy Center.  The course provides a good overview of how to do research using Civil War records and methods.  The training course can be found at .  Click on the learn tab at the top of the page, and then the Research Courses link at the bottom of the screen.  You may want to also check out the Courthouse Research Course by Christine Rose.

Take some time in the coming weeks to pay tribute to the soldiers and sailors who fought in the Civil War.  Learn about them and the lives that they lived in the records of the Civil War.  You will find yourself deepening your knowledge of history, gaining a greater appreciation for the lives our ancestors led, and also perhaps, finding clues to take your genealogical research further.  On the 150th anniversary of the war there will be many more resources available to help you in your research.  Take advantage of the help and resources that are being developed this year.  Perhaps your will even find the opportunity to visit some of the historical sites of the war.  Either way you will find interesting facts and stories about ancestors from this time period.