Tips from the Pros: Records of the GAR, by Mary Penner

Civil War Union veterans might have wanted to forget their miserable and often gruesome war experiences, but they didn’t want to forget their comrades and the bonds they formed. That’s why thousands of vets joined the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR). Formed in 1866, the organization’s membership peaked in 1890 when more than 409,000 men were on the GAR rosters. The last member died in 1956.

How can you discover if your ancestors joined the GAR? Start at the cemetery. Local GAR posts frequently placed markers at members’ graves. Obituaries also often mention GAR membership. Members joined posts where they lived, so focus your search for records at locations near your veteran’s post-war homes. GAR records were maintained at the local level, so there is no central national repository for the club’s records. Check with the state archives or state historical societies for records. Some records might be at local libraries or museums.

The information in the records varies, but you might find membership rolls, lists of member deaths and burials, account books, letters of application and other correspondence, and meeting minutes.

Well aware of their own mortality, GAR members established a second-generation organization in 1881. This organization, the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, still exists today and you can find some helpful information about the GAR on the group’s website. 

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12 thoughts on “Tips from the Pros: Records of the GAR, by Mary Penner

  1. For many frustrating years I tried to go back one more generation in my paternal line, but could find no solid reference to the names of the parents of Ira Short, born 1803 in Pennsylvania. While researching Ira’s eldest son, George, I stumbled on George’s biography, which was written and published by the GAR. The first paragraph of this rather long article about George’s Civil War duty held a brief hitory of George’s family, the names of his father’s brothers (who all served in the War of 1812), their Welsh background, and most importantly, the name of George’s grandfather! Needless to say I was delighted to read this goldmine of news, and now have much more information to continue researching. Many thanks to the GAR!

    Here is the rather lengthy title page of the book referenced:
    Soldiers’ and Citizens’ Album of Biographical Record Containing Personal Sketches of Army Men and Citizens Prominent in Loyalty to the Union; also a Chronological and Statistical History of the Civil War and a History of the Grand Army of the Republic with Portraits of Soldiers and Prominent Citizens. Chicago, Illinois, Grand Army Publishing Company, 1890.

    Dianne Krogh
    Oak Harbor, WA

  2. Dennis Northcutt of St. Louis, MO, has published a series of books on the “death indexes” of GAR members. The first was for Indiana, the second covered Illinois, the third covered Iowa, Kansas and Nebraska. His third, in preparation, covers Pennsylvania. These indexes do not list every CW Union veteran, but only those whose deaths were reported to the Department (i.e., state) in which they died. These reports depended upon the veteran’s local “post” for reporting. Mr. Northcutt and I have no relationship, financial or otherwise. Larry Seits in Benton, IL

  3. My great-grandfather, William H Goff, was a Confederate soldier. He is buried in Storm Lake, Iowa. The GAR attended his funeral and placed a GAR marker alongside his grave. By 1922 they had forgiven each other.

  4. My great great uncle was a member of the Winfield Scott Hancock Post, GAR in New York, New York. This information appeared in his obituary. Where would I begin to locate information about his membership in this organization?

  5. Discovering and preserving the Old Mt. Zion Methodist Meeting cemetery in Collingdale PA was an adventure and journey that lead us to archives for Civil War veteran identification and we ordered their military and pension records that lead us to information about their families. We discovered over forty of these men and have documented thirty seven. In the ground around their graves we discovered the old GAR markers and Darby history research lead us to the Old Borough Hall that had been a GAR Encampment and used for their group after the war. One of the most rewarding aspects of the research is that the Memorial Day Service has been resumed by our local veteran posts. The William C. Greifsu VFW Post #598, helped with some of the clearing for a few months and is named for the first Darby veteran killed in WWI. Old newspaper articles told of the elaborate Memorial Services and the speeches given and how in each cemetery certain GAR men were honored each May. They always walked up the hill to Old Mt. Zion. We discovered that Abraham Lincoln’s first cousins settled in Darby and many of them are buried in the old cemetery. Moses Lincoln was in the Rev. War and is buried at Old Swedes Church in Philadelphia but his wife is at Old Mt. Zion and Phoebe Lincoln Hoffstittler (mother of two Civil War Veterans) was one of the first members of the church. Michael Lincoln bought the old school house (1739) and gave the property to the church for additional cemetery room. Abraham Lincoln visited his cousin Elizabeth Lincoln Worrell and gave her an album of photographs here in Darby on one of his visits through Philadelphia. Thomas A. Scott, Pres. of the PRR, was Lincoln’s Asst. Sec.War and lived only a block away from the cemetery. We will be having a “Rememberance Day” in conjunction with the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Celebration Commission’s two year (2008-2009)celebration. We have photographs of men in uniform and one that appears to be wearing a Masonic scarf. We have found unusual tombstone engravings. Through our research we now know what some of these men did for a living and details of their military service, including the five Rev. soldiers we have discovered. The church is gone but we have compiled a list of over 500 burials in this small site, (the records are missing). Families have given us their old cemetery deeds and information about their family history. Many of the families are Lincoln family relatives. This cemetery represents the sacrifices early settlers were willing give for their new country and early Methodism in the U.S. We have acquired some new markers for the Civil War Vets and
    are continuing to restore the cemetery that was abandoned for more than fifty years. Trees, brush, briars and debris has been cleared but work goes on and so does the research. We will soon be publishing the story of Old Mt. Zion and the families there. “We”, are the Friends of Darby Methodist Meeting Cemetery.

  6. Just read the article about the GAR, New Jersey has all of it’s posts in a searchable data base, perhaps all of the other states have the same?

  7. My great-grandfather, Milton Ewing, was also in the Civil War from Indiana. I know he must have belonged to the GAR as there is some kind of a marker on his grave, but I cannot research that information as he is in Indiana and I am in Florida–many miles away. He died in 1928.

    Another great-grandfather, Delos Jones, my husband’s, was also in the Civil War from New York State. I know he was in the GAR as there was a big hiploah when he died on June 114, 1937, at age 91. He must have been one of the last.

  8. Iowa has film of a state-wide index of all members of the GAR posts in Iowa. It also has film of the membership cards themselves from each post which can have a wealth of information if completed. Nearly all have birth date and place as well as death date and place.This film is held by the Iowa Genealogical Society in Des Moines and the State Historical Societies of Iowa- in Iowa City and Des Moines.

  9. The Daughters of Veterans was established in 1885. The name was changed to Daughters of Union Veterans of the Civil War 1861-1865 in 1925. The DUVCW was the only organization of Daughters recognized by the Grand Army of the Republic. It, too, still exists today. You can find more about the organization and how to join at http://www.duvcw.org

  10. A General Logan(?), said to be the “founder of the GAR,” is buried in the Petersburg (IL) Cemetery with a very large monument. At least it was when my family lived there from 1946-1950.

  11. My GGF served at Ft. Delaware, lived here, married here, had children here, died and was buried somewhere here (I think); most info is according to the census records, but the “brick wall” of our state hasn’t helped in my search for his resting place and has absolutely no information on him. Our state archives in Dover doesn’t have a birth cert. (although he could have been born in England) or death certificate, and the National Archives insists my GGF is, in fact, someone else with the same name who lived in another state. Can’t even find out if he was a member of the G.A.R. This state is very secretive and possessive of any historical records and will not publish them, and I’m not paying Ancestry that kind of money for information that should be public after all these years. Too bad this type of information doesn’t fall under the Freedom of Information Act…or does it?

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