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How can I trace a Civil War ancestor?

7/23/2013 • Ask Mr. History

Mr. History:

In the Civil War, how did either side document the people who fought and died for them?  Is this information available to the general public?

I ask this as our family is trying to trace a past relative to the civil war.

I thank you for this information.

v/r, Linda Nash

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Dear Ms Nash:

The U.S. government made an attempt to compile the service records and pension records of rank and file Union service personnel after the Civil War, and subsequently tried to document those on the Confederate side with less consistent success, since the records of some Southern States were destroyed (e.g., South Carolina’s in Columbia). States on both sides also tried to compile regimental histories and rosters, since most of them were recruited from localized counties and townships (Pennsylvania is pretty good at that sort of thing, going back even to the French and Indian War!). So looking into the records of your forebear’s state might help a lot.

America’s Civil War ran a feature on the subject a few years ago:

There is also a book out that may help called Tracing Your Civil War Ancestor, by Bertram H. Groene (John F. Blair publisher).

Good hunting.



Jon Guttman
Research Director
World History Group
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