Before, we have talked about finding our ancestors in the American Revolution. But that’s hardly the only major event in the early history of the United States! The American Civil War affected much of the young country, even affecting places as far west as California. This means you may be tied to this massive conflict, even if your family wasn’t in the typical eastern North and South. If you have ancestors who lived in the United States or its territories during this time period, it’s likely they were affected by the war or by its aftermath.
Build Your Tree
The first step to finding whether you had ancestors involved in the Civil War or any of the activities going on at the time is to build your tree. Finding an ancestor who lived in Pennsylvania or Virginia in the 1860s won’t be your only clue, but this is an excellent start. It gives you the names you’ll need to look for!
If you have a name already, like from stories handed down in your family, it’s great to start there, too!
Know Your Dates and Places
Conflicts that later led to the Civil War began in 1860, when Abraham Lincoln was elected president and seven Southern states seceded over the issue of slavery. The war itself started on April 12, 1861, at Fort Sumter. However, real battles got underway in 1862, with the Union and Confederate armies battling from Tennessee to Maryland.
States in the Union:
- New York
- New Hampshire
- Rhode Island
- New Jersey
States in the Confederacy:
- South Carolina
- North Carolina
- West Virginia
Civil War Records
Once you’ve found likely names, head on over to Ancestry.com to search their Civil War database. Ancestry.com has over 18 million names on both sides of the war. No matter which side, you’ll be able to determine if your ancestors were involved. Most records will be sorted by place first, and then unit.
If you’re on-site at a family history library, record building, or other archive, you can also search microfilms for the necessary information. Start with the area in which they lived to get you closer to your goal!
You will also want to seek out pension records. Information on service records may not always be as detailed as we would like. But many veterans, their widows, and their families applied for pensions after the war. The applications required all the military information you might have been missing! Ancestry.com often provides these as hints.
If your ancestor survived the war, and was alive sometime between 1907 and 1933, this index may help you locate their pension request.
- Some soldiers didn’t fight very long. They could have been in combat for a few days or weeks. This could have rendered them ineligible for pensions, despite their service.
- Check among veteran associations for your ancestors who survived the war. One of these might be the Grand Army of the Republic.
- Even if you can’t find an ancestor directly, you may still be able to make a connection to the war. Your ancestor may have had a descendant who joined an association like The Sons (or Daughters) of Union Veterans. You can check their website here.
The Civil War has long ended, and much has changed in the years since. Those of us with ancestors taking part in these historic conflicts not only carry the war’s legacy, but the ability to shape the future. Share what you have learned and will learn on your ancestors’ journey to make our nation a better place with freedom for all.