Confederate Ancestor Research Guide
Preparing for Your Research
Before jumping right into the research process, there are a few basic pointers that every new genealogist needs to know.
The following guide was compiled for the novice, and only intended to give some direction for the general research of Civil War ancestors.
Most researchers begin the long, arduous task of tracing their Civil War lineage with little more than a name and a family folk tale.
If that sounds familiar, then you already learned the first lesson of genealogy: Do not overlook obvious
resources. Speak to as many knowledgeable relatives as possible; even if the stories about the ancestor don't
quite match. You will find that even the most improbable folk tale may yield one or two valuable leads. After you have
exhausted family sources, begin looking elsewhere. Often we receive requests from beginning genealogists seeking Civil
War records sources on the Internet. These are almost nonexistent. Remember, genealogy is a profitable business, and it
is rare when businesses or facilities that have paid for Civil War records compilations offer them freely on the Internet. In
addition, most public facilities such as state archives simply cannot afford to digitize the information. The novice researcher
generally overlooks wonderful sources of information when beginning their search, such as public libraries, state archives,
historical societies, and public universities. Contact your state archival sources and ask about
genealogy facilities in your area. While some research facilities take research requests, they often charge fees and generally
do only preliminary searches for specific information. Be prepared to go to facilities and don't be afraid to ask questions!
This brings us to lesson two: Document everything. You want to bring a notebook or a laptop computer every time
you go to a research facility. Write down even those facts that seem insignificant, and always make a note of the source of your
information. Later, it is a good idea to write or type out all of the facts revealed during the research. By writing or typing
everything out, you have a better understanding of where the information "gaps" exist. This will help you figure out what you
want to know about the relative so that your research has a sharper focus.
With this in mind, we come to lesson three: Keep it simple and stay focused. Unfortunately, this is where many
novice genealogists quit because they simply set their expectations too high or they do not have a clear idea of what it is they
want to know about the ancestor. Research efforts beginning with the goal of finding out "anything" or "everything" about an
ancestor are doomed to fail because there is no idea of where to begin or what to look for. Keep in mind that Civil War records
are generally scarce, and often contain little genealogical or biographical information. The best way to get your research off to a
productive start is to write down three questions about your ancestor that you would like to answer in one research attempt.
Remember to keep the questions simple. Write these down on index cards and refer to them while researching to make sure that
you are staying on task. If you find another possible source of information but it does not pertain to the questions at hand, copy
down the name of the book, microfilm, etc., and its location for future reference. It may answer the next set of questions you
have, but there is no use in getting off track right now. After each research effort, it is a good idea to budget in some time to
review both the old and new information, and set new goals for your next research. Don't feel discouraged if you did not answer
your questions in this research attempt. Genealogy is a time-intensive hobby and it may take awhile for you to get comfortable
with researching. Review your questions and consider simplifying them.
Beginning Your Research
The three most valuable pieces of information when researching a Civil War ancestor are the soldier's name, whether he served
for the Union or Confederate army, and the state from which the soldier served. By knowing these facts, other aspects of a
soldier's record of service can often be determined. Usually, the piece of information that poses the most problems to find is the
state from which the soldier served. Often, you will find that you have vague idea of the soldier's state of service, but you are not
quite sure. The easiest way to confirm this is to contact the state archives in the state of possible
service. They should be able to
direct you to the muster rolls for their state if you go to the archives in person, or inform you of the procedure for requesting that
information if you write or call. Remember to keep your requests simple, and offer only those details pertinent to your request.
Be aware that names were often misspelled, so do not despair if you have a hard time finding your ancestor. Chances are he is
listed under a name with a similar spelling.
With those three pieces of information verified, the next step is to retrieve the soldier's pension records. Pension records offer
more information useful to the genealogist, and also provide a more complete picture of a soldier's military career. Some Confederate
states issued pensions until 1959, and those pension can be found filed in the state archives in the
state in which the soldier retired.
All Union pensions and Confederate pensions issued after 1959 can be found by writing the National Archives and Records
Administration. A NATF Form 80 must be requested, filled out, and submitted before records can be researched. In order for the
National Archives to process the NATF Form 80, you must include the veteran's name, Civil War Union or Confederate service,
branch of service, and the state from which he served. They will contact you with an invoice for copy fees, which must be paid before
the copies are sent. It will take a few weeks for the request to be fully processed.
If pension records do not exist for your ancestor (Union or Confederate), you can write to the National Archives for the military
record of the soldier in question. However, you should be aware that these records aren't as useful, and are subject to the same
process as described earlier for requesting pension records.
Once you have received these records, filling in the holes is relatively easy. By using the resources listed earlier (public libraries,
state archives, historical societies, and public universities), you can expand your search to now include books on your relative's
company or a battle in which he fought. Don't overlook books released through small, local presses. Some of those books can
offer good leads within their bibliographies. Libraries in public universities are often overlooked because many beginning
genealogists do not know about their holdings of valuable collections. Many of these collections were donated by local families
and include family heirlooms, photos, papers, etc., and most are accessible to the public upon request. Also remember to look
at the public universities' regular library holdings, which are easily accessible through interlibrary loans requested through your
local library. Some of these library listings are available through the Internet. For example, all Louisiana public university holdings
can be searched with the Louisiana Online University Information System (LOUIS). In addition to the resources discussed, be
sure to make use of your National and State Parks. Besides park brochures and pamphlets,
vertical files or participant lists are often kept at battlefield sites to answer information requests.
Other Helpful Links
General Reference Branch
National Archives and Records Administration
7th and Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, D.C. 20408