If you suspect an ancestor served in the Civil War, you can
find a wealth of material at the NEHGS Research Library that may tell you more
about him. For the scope of this article we will concentrate on Civil War
soldiers from New England regiments. When examining the pedigree charts of
NEHGS patrons I often inquire if their relative served in the Civil War.
Generally a Civil War soldier’s year of birth would be between 1820 and 1847.
Of course there are examples of veterans with earlier or later years of birth,
but this seems to be the average range. While you may already know the
residence of your ancestor, don’t be too surprised if he did not enlist in his
hometown. Recruits would often seek out bounty being paid by communities
looking to fill their state regimental quota. For instance, you might have a
farm boy from Barnstead, New Hampshire coming down to serve in a regiment being
raised in Amesbury, Massachusetts.
To begin your search for your Civil War ancestor at NEHGS,
follow the steps outlined below. If you already know the regiment in which your
ancestor served, then you can skip to step 2.
Begin by looking for your ancestor’s name in a series of
books found on the sixth floor of our library titled The Roster of Union
Soldiers 1861-1865 (Wilmington, N.C., Broadfoot Publications, 1997)
[REF/E494/H49/1997]. The New England states are contained in the
following volumes: Connecticut (vol. 4); Maine (vol. 1); Massachusetts (vols.
2-3); New Hampshire (vol. 1); Rhode Island (vol. 4); and Vermont (vol. 2). We
also have the complete series for all other states of both the Union and
Confederate armies. These volumes are arranged by state, and list the soldiers
alphabetically. This is a quick way to determine if your ancestor served from a
particular state. It will identify the soldier as: “Lambert, David A.,
12th [Mass.] Inf., Co. A.” You will then need to
determine if this soldier is in fact your ancestor.
Look for a detailed listing of the soldiers in your
ancestor’s regiment. For some states there are compiled lists of soldiers
containing details such as age, residence, race, service dates, and occupation.
This information should help you narrow down if you in fact have the correct
veteran from the first step. The following is a listing of statewide compiled
volumes of veterans.
Connecticut Adjutant General’s Office, Catalogue of
Connecticut Volunteer organizations (Infantry, Cavalry, and Artillery) in the
Service of the United States 1861-1865. (Hartford, CT: Brown & Gross,
1869) [E499.3/C66/1869/also Loan].
Massachusetts Adjutant General’s Office, Massachusetts
Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines in the Civil War. (Norwood, MA., Norwood
Press, 1931-35), 8 vols. and index [REF/E513/M32/1931/also Loan].
New Hampshire Adjutant General’s Office, Revised Register
of Soldiers and Sailors of New Hampshire in the War of the Rebellion
(Concord, N.H., State Printer, 1985) [REF/E520.3/N55/1895/also
----, Names of Offices, Soldiers and Seamen in Rhode Island Regiments, of
Belonging to the State of Rhode Island. (Providence, R.I., Providence Press,
----, Revised roster of Vermont Volunteers and lists of
Vermonters who served in the Army and Navy of the United States during the War
of the Rebellion (Montpeiler, Vt, Press of the Watchman Publishing Co.,
You can also use published Regimental Histories to find
information. NEHGS maintains a collection of all New England Civil War
Regimental Histories on microfiche in the microtext library on the fourth floor
[M.T./E49/C58/1991]. These often include post-Civil War information on
the veteran and occasionally photographs. There are also some Civil War-era
Adjutant General reports for the state of Maine with limited details.
If your ancestor died during the Civil War it should be
indicated in either a compiled state list and/or a regimental history. Another
source to determine this is the Roll of Honor, which could also reveal his last
resting place. The printed version of this multi-volume set can be found at the
sixth floor reference library [REF/E494/U558/1994], or you can view the
CD-ROM [REF/E494/R64/1996] on the fourth floor. With this resource you
can easily determine if your Union Civil War ancestor is interred in a National
Cemetery throughout the United States. A grave number is often associated with
each listing, which will allow you to find the location of the grave when you
visit the cemetery. Sometimes the remains of the veteran were returned back to
their hometown for burial in a family or military plot. Perhaps you will want
to examine the extensive collection of gravestone transcriptions kept in the
NEHGS Manuscript Department.
If your ancestor survived the Civil War, and/or left a widow
or dependant, you might want to check to see if he had a pension file. At NEHGS
we maintain Internet access to some of the databases at the Ancestry.com
website. You can easily search through the database and view an online
image of the actual card from the NARA T-288 series for pensions (1861-1934).
To order the original pension files you will need to request the NATF-85 form
from the National Archives. You may contact them via e-mail or by regular mail: The
National Archives and Records Administration8th and Pennsylvania
Ave. NWWashington, D.C. 20408
The pension file of your ancestor will unlock a virtual time
capsule of information on his life after the Civil War. It details everything
from medical problems, employment history, and residences since the war. You
will usually find original handwritten letters sent by your veteran ancestor,
his widow, or individuals representing them. Sometimes letters are from
immediate family, neighbors, co-workers, clergy, or employers. These letters
usually deal with the verification of a medical problem of the pensioner or
marital details of the widow.
You will also want to investigate the pensions of fellow
veterans in your ancestor’s unit. You will often find that veterans wrote to
the pension office after being queried about the service of a fellow soldier in
their unit. This process can be rather costly if performed via the mail. So you
might wish to attend a future NEHGS tour to the National Archives in Washington,
D.C. to examine the documents first hand.
NEHGS also has a wealth of vital records extending into the
twentieth century for all New England states. Our collection of deeds and
probate for most of the New England counties will also assist your search.
Federal and state censuses for New England states are also valuable research
tools. Especially valuable are the indexed 1890 Special Census of U.S. Veterans
(which also lists veterans’ widows); the 1865 Rhode Island State Census; and the
1910 U.S. Federal Census. The 1910 U.S. Census indicated if a person was a
Civil War veteran [Union/Confederate]. You should also check sources outside of
NEHGS such as: newspaper obituaries and records of the G.A.R. (Grand Army of the
Republic). Also check the local historical societies of the town in which your
ancestor lived after the war for group photos of local veterans’ gatherings.
NEHGS keeps a large collection of Civil War letters and
diaries, some of which may relate to your ancestor’s regiment. If you have
original Civil War letters or diaries, consider donating them to the NEHGS
Manuscript Department for safekeeping. If you prefer to keep the original, we
would be glad to keep a copy of the item. However, the careful preservation
methods employed by our archival staff guarantee that your original treasures
will be safely preserved for future generations to learn from.