Posted by Anne Gillespie Mitchell on August 16, 2013 in Research

Have you ever wondered who your Civil War ancestors were?  We have guidelines to help you find them.

Identify who you are looking for

  1. Gather the likely suspects.
  2. Pick someone to start researching and find his brothers and cousins.
  3. Which side did they probably fight for?
  4. 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:

  • Men
  • 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.


Now you can finish walking your tree and update your spreadsheet:image03

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, don’t forget to check out Fold3 for more records.  And as an subscriber, you will get 50% off your Fold3 subscription.

Want more help?

Download our How to Find Your Civil War Ancestor on research guide or check out our video How to Discover Your Civil War Roots on

Happy Searching!


Anne Gillespie Mitchell

Anne Gillespie Mitchell is a Senior Product Manager at She is an active blogger on 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. You can also find her on Twitter, Facebook and Finding Forgotten Stories.


  1. Annette

    Very good suggestions! I always assume military service in the Civil War for all male ancestors and relatives born in that time frame. As you indicated, some fall outside that time frame as well — a 3rd GGF served at the age of 60, and a GGUncle born in the late 1840’s enlisted close to the end of the war. One source that you didn’t mention was the data base of the National Park Service. The CW Military Parks often have good information — for example, if you have relatives who fought on the Union side in Missouri at Wilson’s Creek you can find data on-line.

  2. Nancy Beverly

    What a great idea! Is this something we can download? I found info about a G uncle in a Sons of the Confederacy newsletter. I found out that I am living less than 20 miles from his gravesite. Would have never found him otherwise. Buried at the site of a Confederate hospital, his initials were incorrect and his last name misspelled. I would never have found him otherwise. Thanks, Sons of the Confederacy.

  3. Bonnie

    It would be useful if Ancestry provided search capability on a family tree. Then every male of age to be in the Civil War could be listed. You can search for everyone with a name but not by time period or location.

  4. Mick

    Why is the military page not included in the site ? We pay the same subscription fee but receive less features. Does Ancestry think that only Americans fought in wars ?

  5. Larry

    Unfortunately, this advice is nearly useless if, like me, you can’t find your man in the 1860 census. {My brick wall.} My GGG grandfather Hiram Smith appears to have landed in a UFO in Iowa in 1870; he didn’t bring any brothers or cousins with him. He’s probably from PA(tho’ 1880 census says NY). Pennsylvania had 14 Civil War soldiers with this name; I’ve been able to eliminate only 2.

  6. Lisa

    Spreadsheets are a great place to start, but it has always seemed to me I should be able to make such a query of my family tree and select the data to export to Excel, rather than creating a spreadsheet manually. Is this possible?

  7. Re: #7 Lisa

    It isn’t possible using the Online trees but with a standalone desktop program you can get reports that do about the same thing and/or can be manipulated into such.

  8. Annette

    Another good source of information often overlooked is the data base of the Homes for Volunteer Soldiers, a haven for thousands of Civil War veterans until they closed around the time of WW II. There were homes all over the United States and they took in pretty much any ill or down-on-his-luck CW vet. That data base is on Ancestry and a Google search will give you the background and locations of the homes. Much genealogical data is included, including the person to be notified in the case of serious illness or death. My paternal grandfather’s much older half-brother was in several of these homes, and died in the San Francisco Bay Area home — buried at a small National Cemetery in Napa.

  9. Identifying Civil War soldiers in my family is what got me into genealogy when I was in middle school.

    I have identified 14 grandfathers, 93 biological uncles, 45 uncles-by-marriage, and am currently attempting to identify all my first cousins who served. I am less than halfway through my tree and have already identified 286 of them. It will take me several more months to look at each male first cousin, but it will be worth it. I keep an extensive spreadsheet to keep track of them all.

    What I always caution people doing Civil War research about is making sure it is THEIR ancestor who they found in records. There are many cases where multiple men with the same name and from the same state all served, and it’s important not to mix them up. I posted an article on my blog last year differentiating five men named Micajah/McCager Napier, all 5 of whom served in the Civil War. One of their descendants got a Confederate headstone for their ancestor…but the unit the headstone represented belonged to a different man of the same name who actually served the Union. I have a newspaper clipping where a woman got a Confederate headstone for her ancestor. That man shared the same name as my uncle. Well, it was my uncle who served in that unit, not her ancestor of the same name. So it’s important to be careful.

    There are a lot of websites dedicated to various units, and will tell you the men of each Company were from. If your ancestor was living in Union County, Arkansas, but the men in the company you found that his name on the muster roll were from Benton County, Arkansas (complete opposite end of the state), then it probably isn’t your ancestor.

    It is important to correspond service records with the 1860 Census. If your Ancestor is in Perry County, Kentucky in the 1860 Census, and the service record for the man you think is your ancestor enlisted in Perry County, then it is probably the same man. It’s even possible if it is an adjacent county. But some “Kentucky” units were made up of Indiana men, and some “Missouri” units were made up of Arkansas men, so you always need to make sure all the records correspond and you don’t end up claiming your ancestor served in a unit he didn’t serve in and it’s just another man of the same name.

    I enjoy It has name indexes for Civil War soldiers by state, though it is not 100% complete. That comes in handy when there’s a chance your ancestor’s name could be spelled incorrectly or indexed incorrectly. The NPS website does not search for variations of a name. I found Eversole cousins listed as Eversale and Haddix cousins listed as Haddicks that I would not have found if I didn’t see it in index form, so that site can be quite useful.

    Lastly, this is to Ancestry Anne: It appears we are cousins through the Hash family of Grayson County, VA. I had 3 Hash uncles who served (Andrew, John, and Joseph B), and my Hash 1st cousins who served include Alexander, Allen, Allen C., Byron B., Elbert S., Jerome C., Levi, Marshall, Robert, Wilburn, and William C.

    Some of my Hash-related research has given me a bit of a headache. Any chance you are willing to compare notes or answer some questions on the family via e-mail? I would really value the input of a professional such as yourself. Thanks.

  10. Sherry

    It is my understanding that some men were excused from the Civil War; if he could pay $300, he would not have to enlist; is this correct? If so, are there records of the men who did pay the $300?

  11. Karin

    You failed to mention the U.S. Colored Troops. You should describe them — 180,000 black men fought in the USCT and about 20,000 were in the US Navy. You should explain that if the man was enslaved he will not appear in the 1860 Census but that this is a way to locate male slaves after 1860. The enlistment record will likely reveal the last slave owner, which is key to researching slaves. Also, the USCT pension records reveal physical descriptions, and names of wives and children. Freedman’s Bureau records do contain some marriage records. The database is on

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