Civil War Union veterans might have wanted to forget their miserable and often gruesome war experiences, but they didnâ€™t want to forget their comrades and the bonds they formed. Thatâ€™s why thousands of vets joined the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR). Formed in 1866, the organizationâ€™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 membersâ€™ graves. Obituaries also often mention GAR membership. Members joined posts where they lived, so focus your search for records at locations near your veteranâ€™s post-war homes. GAR records were maintained at the local level, so there is no central national repository for the clubâ€™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 groupâ€™s website.Â