Have you ever wondered who your Civil War ancestors were? We have guidelines to help you find them.
Identify who you are looking for
- Gather the likely suspects.
- Pick someone to start researching and find his brothers and cousins.
- Which side did they probably fight for?
- Start searching for records.
Gather the likely suspects
When looking for Civil War ancestors, it’s best to start with an idea of who might have served. Usually they were:
- Born between 1816 and 1846. (This is men between the ages of 15 and 45 in 1861. Although there were those outside that range.)
- Men who in the United States in the 1860 census. (Again, that is a guide, not an absolute.)
Gather the Likely Suspects
Now start walking your tree and look at your direct ancestors. Which ones fit?
The first candidate in my tree is Jeremiah Gillespie. He was born in 1826 and lived in Amherst, Virginia in 1860.
It might help to organize your data a little bit. I created a spreadsheet where I can record first and last name, home in both 1860 and 1870 (did he survive the war?), age in 1861 and age in 1865. Also did he have children born between 1860 and 1865? That gives you a clue to his whereabouts. Here is my entry for Jeremiah.
Pick Someone and Identify Brothers and Cousins
I’m going to pick James Calvin Donald. Next step is to find brothers and cousins. If you are having trouble locating your solider in records, try looking for brothers and cousins. Men often enlisted with family members. And the stories of your ancestor’s brothers and cousins may have impacted their lives as well. James Donald is a fairly common name. Finding a brother or a cousin may help me tell which James is mine.
Now I have a group of records to search to find my Civil War Veteran’s stories. I notice that Robert was 16 when the war began, so he probably enlisted sometime during the war and not at the beginning.
Which side did they probably fight for?
This is how the states divided themselves, but just because someone lived in a certain state didn’t mean that he necessarily fought for that side. But this is a guide to get you started:
- Union States:
- California, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, New Jersey, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Wisconsin
- Confederate States
- South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee, North Carolina
- Border States:
- Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, Missouri, West Virginia
Searching for Records
Now you can locate your soldier and his family in the records. A good place to start is the Ancestry Military page at Click on the Civil War tab and enter what you know.
When looking at a service records check where the solider enlisted if it is stated. Is it close to where he lived? Traveling was not easy in 1861. Men enlisted close to where they lived.
Once you find your solider on Ancestry.com, don’t forget to check out Fold3 for more records. And as an Ancestry.com subscriber, you will get 50% off your Fold3 subscription.
Want more help?
Download our How to Find Your Civil War Ancestor on Ancestry.com research guide or check out our video How to Discover Your Civil War Roots on Ancestry.com
About Anne Gillespie Mitchell
Anne Gillespie Mitchell is a Senior Product Manager at Ancestry.com. She is an active blogger on Ancestry.com and writes the Ancestry Anne column. She has been chasing her ancestors through Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina for many years. Anne holds a certificate from Boston University's Online Genealogical Research Program, and is currently on the clock working towards certification from the Board for Certification of Genealogists. You can also find her on Twitter, Facebook and Finding Forgotten Stories.