In my previous column we discussed how to look at your tree and determine who might have served in the Civil War. And some of you wisely pointed out that while 1816–1846 as a birth year may be a good rule of thumb for choosing candidates who may have served, it is by no means definitive. Younger and older ancestors may have served, but this is a good starting point.
So now that we have a list of candidates, it’s time to determine which side they fought for and identify the unit in which they served. This will help us figure out which battles they fought in and where to start digging for clues as to what their life was like during the war.
So which side did your ancestor fight for? If you know where they lived in 1860, you may have a good idea whether they were a Yankee or a Confederate, but their location is by no means an absolute. Family legends and stories can also give you a clue, but remember sometimes those are just wishful thinking.
Here’s a quick review of the U.S. during the war.
California, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Wisconsin.
Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia.
Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, and West Virginia.
Let’s see if we can find someone in the Civil War records on Ancestry.com. A good guess as to which side they possibly fought for will help you narrow down the possibilities.
The U.S Civil War Soldier Records and Profiles data collection was compiled by Historic Data Systems and can be found on Ancestry.com. You can access this collection by clicking here or by typing “Civil War” into the title field of the Card Catalog and selecting it from the list. American Civil War Soldiers includes similar information.
So I know from the spreadsheet I created in the last article that James Donald was born in 1836 and lived in Virginia. Being from Virginia, I can guess that he fought for the Confederacy. I enter this information into the search form:
And get these results:
The first entry looks promising, and a quick click shows me:
Now I can attach it to James Donald in my online tree, but I want to do more than just attach records. I want to be able to tell the story of James in the Civil War. So first let’s update our spreadsheet with the military unit information:
Knowing which unit he was in and when will help us determine where he was during the war, and verify other records that I might find.
I also learn James’ death date and place as well as a physical description. I don’t have any pictures of him so this gives me an idea of what he looked like.
I need a place to summarize what I learn from each Civil War record that I find. This will help me build my story as I go. I’m using the person page for James in my online tree. To begin, I click on “Add a Story.”
Then I can write a brief summary of what I gathered from the record:
Now I have a place where I can organize my thoughts as I go, write reminders to myself on what I need to search and easily access it and share it with others.
Next column, we will explore what to do when the answers are not so obvious, which as we all know happens more often.
Anne Gillespie Mitchell is a Senior Search Product Manager at Ancestry.com. She is an active blogger on Ancestry.com and writes the “Ask Ancestry Anne” column for the Ancestry.com “Monthly Update” newsletter. She has been chasing her ancestors through Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina for many years, and is pursuing her CG certification.
Other articles in the 21 August 2011 Weekly Discovery