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American Civil War Research Database at, Historical Data Systems, (781) 585-7716, $25 per year or $10 for a one-week visitor pass.

When I was a child growing up near Philadelphia, my father used to tell me about his uncle of long ago, a young soldier killed in the Battle of Gettysburg. Although Dad didn’t know his name, he would proudly flash a faded daguerreotype of a fresh-faced kid as proof of this ancestor. To me, though, this was just another nameless face of old. And trying to put a name to that face has always been futile–until recently.

The American Civil War Research Database, a web site created by Historical Data Systems, makes Civil War ancestor research not only possible, but also easy. The company’s staff has entered records from several sources for roughly half the 4 million soldiers who fought in the war. The database is a work-in-progress, but even now it’s a valuable research tool that will only improve as more information is added. It’s really a sort of magnifying glass for Civil War study; looking at the big picture of Civil War history, a researcher can focus on a specific soldier and more or less follow him through the war.

I found this out firsthand. I typed the name “Clouser”–assuming that would be my ancestor’s surname–and narrowed my search to soldiers from Pennsylvania who died during the war. This yielded a single name: John Clouser, a private in the 30th Pennsylvania Infantry. The database doesn’t indicate John’s age or his hometown, but it does say that the 30th was mustered in near West Chester, not far from Philadelphia. And he was killed at Gettysburg, on July 2, 1863. While this is no proof that he was my long-lost Uncle John, it’s a solid foundation for further research.

You can access Historical Data System’s on-line volumes of information via the internet by subscribing for $25 per year. Those who would like to sample the site without committing to a full year can obtain a one-week visitor pass for $10. Either way, anyone interested in the details of the Civil War will find the American Civil War Research Database well worth the investment.

Jeff Clouser