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Week of December 13, 2009
Genealogy Feature of the Week

Announcing the Newly Updated Site:
Civil War Ancestors

At some time in your genealogy research you will approach the era of the Civil War and you will find ancestors who may have been enslaved and who will have survived enslavement and the War and you will find them living in the Reconstruction era.  Then the question will arise–can you take your research back any further, and can you possibly determine if your ancestors served in the Civil War.

The ancestor to both questions is yes!

There are almost 200,000 African American men who served in the Union Army and Navy during the Civil War. Most of the soldiers, came from the American South and were men who had been enslaved. After the establishment of the Bureau of the United States Colored Troops the enlistment of black men into the Union Army was widespread.  Much has been written about the history of these regiments and you as a researcher are urged to learn more about the history of these Black Union Soldiers and their many accomplishments.

The works of William Gladstone have done much to outline the history of the soldiers and their battles and many researchers are finding that their ancestors were among the thousands who did serve.

There are some quick references for you to use.
The National Park Service has a massive database online–the Soldiers and Sailors System that will provide a quick and easy to use look up service to determine if your ancestors served in the war. However, what if your ancestor had a common name like Henry Thompson?  Then you have a challenge for your task will be to determine which of the Henry Thompsons is your Henry Thompson?

On the same database you have the option to learn a bit of the history of the regiment. If the regiment was active in the same geographic area where your ancestors lived, then you may have narrowed down the possibilities of which unit to which your ancestor was associated.

At some point,  you will want to obtain documentation of your ancestor’s service.  You will want to work with two record sets: Civil War Service Records, and Civil War Pension Records.  Service records are brief descriptions of your ancestor’s service. Most data is placed on small cards with info on where the soldier enlisted, payment, and when they were mustered out of service.  Pension files provide rich genealogical data, often reflecting the earlier life of the soldier, info on where they lived and a good amount of data pertaining to their physical health.  In many cases after the soldier died, his surviving widow received a pension and her many depositions are included in those files as well.  

There are several online Civil War databases including one found also on and other sites.
The exciting news is that has begun compiling service records of the U.S. Colored Troops, so researchers can start to use those records as well.

Examples of these documents will be posted soon.