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RootsWeb's Guide to Tracing Family Trees
Guide No. 14:  U. S. Military Records


"The brave men, living and dead,
who struggled here, have consecrated it
far above our poor power to add or detract.
The world will little note, nor long remember,
what we say here, but it can never forget
what they did here.

— Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address,
Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, November 20, 1863


United States Military Records (circa dates)

Military records often provide an abundance of genealogical material about our ancestors. However, in some cases, the records simply identify them as having been in the service or indicate where they resided at a specific time.During the colonial period in America most able-bodied men between the ages of 16 to 60 were called on to be part of the local militia. These groups were organized by towns, counties or colonies. After the Revolutionary War, each state retained a militia organization. These units evolved into the National Guard after the Civil War. Records of militia and national guard units were kept by local and state governments. State archives, state adjutant generals' offices, historical societies, courthouses and libraries may have records of local citizens who served in the military.Your ancestor's records may be in federal records if he or she:

The federal government and some state governments granted pensions or free bounty land to officers, disabled veterans, needy veterans, widows or orphans of veterans, and veterans who served a specific period of time. Numerous laws affected the requirements pertaining to bounty land and/or pensions, and just because your ancestor served does not mean he was automatically entitled to a pension or bounty land.

Military service records, such as muster rolls or descriptive rolls, while seldom as rich genealogically as pension files, are valuable. They can verify your ancestor's military service and pinpoint where he resided at a particular time. Additionally, descriptive rolls usually include the individual's name, rank, age, physical description, marital status, occupation, city of birth, place of residence, plus the service information. These records may be at the National Archives or in the particular state's office of the adjutant general.

After the Civil War (1861-1865), discharge certificates were given. Copies of these records, especially for the Civil War and Worlds Wars I and II, were often recorded in the local county records — sometimes recorded in whatever book was handy. Other military records that may exist pertaining to your ancestors are: pay rolls, hospital, prisoner-of-war, promotions, court martial, draft or conscription and desertion records.

The National Archives has the federal service, pension, bounty land and draft records. While several major indexes and some collections are on microfilm, most of the original records have not been filmed. They are available only at the National Archives. You can obtain photocopies of these records by first obtaining NATF Form 85 and NATF Form 86 — available via mail free from National Archives and Records, Administration, Att: NWDT1, 700 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20408-0001 or electronically.

Military service records and veterans benefits records must be requested on Form NATF 86: Order for Copies of Veterans Records. The minimum information required for a search is

For Civil War records searches, you must also indicate whether he served in the Union or Confederate forces. A separate copy of the form must be used for each type of record ( i.e. military service, or pension and bounty land warrant applications).

The National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis has some information pertaining to those who served in World War I and later. Downloadable forms are available at this site as well as instructions and suggestions for finding specific information. While its military records are not online, details about how to obtain the data are given. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)

A surprising amount of information about U.S. veterans of various wars is online. Military Records for Genealogy provides links to various sites with some form of military records, categorized by the major lines. From here you will find links to many online records.

Civil War records abound on the Internet, including Virginia Confederate Pension Rolls, Veterans and Widows: http://lvaimage.lib.va.us/collections/CW.html and the Texas State Archives with its searchable index to Confederate pension claims held by this repository: http://www.tsl.state.tx.us/arc/pensions/

Explore the Civil War Soldiers & Sailors System, which is a database containing basic facts about servicemen who served on both sides. It can be reached at: http://www.itd.nps.gov/cwss/

Also at this site is database of the service records of United States Colored Troops http://www.itd.nps.gov/cwss/

There are no reliable figures, due to the lack of surviving records, of the total number of those who fought for the South during Civil War, but historians estimate there were from 600,000 to more than one million Confederate soldiers and sailors. Millions of Americans have an ancestor who wore the Confederate gray or butternut uniforms (a light-brown color resulting from a dye made from the butternut tree).

Women also served in various capacities during the Civil War, many of them as nurses and spies. State archives and historical societies are the best sources to search for these records.

The Confederate Research Center in Texas, is an archival depository that contains many files of soldiers' letters, diaries and unpublished manuscripts. While not a genealogical library, researchers have on occasion found pictures of their Confederate ancestors here. Among the center's other treasures are capsule histories of all 3,200 Confederate regiments and special units and ships. It also has an extensive file of magazines and newspaper clippings, including major Texas newspapers published during the Civil War, the military service records of all members of Hood's Texas Brigade, Confederate generals and staff offices, and an index listing of all Confederate soldiers, showing their companies and regiments. Research service is offered, for a fee, but due to the volume of requests received it usually takes several months for a reply. Requests forms first. The center prefers to bill for research service.

Confederate Research Center and Museum
Harold B. Simpson Hill College
History Complex
Attention: Peggy Fox, director
P.O. Box 619
Hillsboro, TX 76645

The U.S. Civil War Center at Louisiana State University

A number military conflicts that took place in the United States occurred in the 19th century and generated records of interest to the genealogist. You may discover you have ancestors who took part in one of the following events:

Prior to 1892, pension benefits were available to soldiers in the Regular Army who were disabled or the widows of soldiers killed in service. Benefits were based on service between 1783 and 1861. Many claimants were never directly involved in a particular war, but served at forts or military establishments. These pensions are referred to as the "Old Wars Series," and an microfilmed index is available. Also there's the two-volume "Index to Old Wars Pension Files, 1815-1926," transcribed by Virgil D. White, which was published in 1987 and may be available at a nearby library.

The National Archives and many of its regional branches have the microfilmed indexes to these various military records. You also can access them through the LDS (Mormon) Family History Library system. However, copies of the actual records are available only through the National Archives in Washington, D.C.

Military Research Rooms at Lineages, Inc.

If your interest runs to learning more about the historical aspects of the military units in which your ancestors served, visit:


Suggested Reading & References


Additional Resources


Links in this Guide
(in order they appeared)

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