Genealogy: U.S. Civil War 1861-1865, Develop a search profile for military records

Soldier familyBy Barry J. Ewell
I have made it practice to search for Civil War military records for males that I find in the 1860-1910 U.S. Federal censuses who would have been between ages of 10 and 70 during Civil War years of 1861-1865.  Yes, I realize that a 10 year old boy or 70 year old men would have rarely be in the war, however, the Civil War was a conflict that involved the nation, loss of life and property was catastrophic, boys/men served at all ages. With the online availability of records, searching for military records should be part of your research process for males who were born between the years of 1791 and 1854.

Build a search profile for each male. Begin by developing a short profile for each male you will be researching. You will use the list as a reference for your search.  Include the following

  • Name of male and variations
  • Approximate age at the beginning and end of the Civil War
  • Approximate birth year or birth date
  • Approximate death year or death date
  • Name of the wife and children during their life time
  • Whether they served for the Union Army or the Confederate Army
  • State (include county if possible) where male lived before, during and after during the Civil War
  • Regiment or company if known (You will need this information to search for records, separate them from others with similar name, search the internet for records associated with the units)

Where to find the personal information
I would begin to build my search profile viewing the information on the 1860 and 1870 U.S. Federal census.

Check the 1860 U.S. Federal census to identify

  • Living males between the ages of 6 and 66
  • Place of birth for each male
  • Whether they were single or married
  • If married, name of spouse and children and their ages
  • Place of residence (state and county) at the time of the census

Note: If you can’t find you ancestor in the 1860 census, look at the 1850 census and see if they appear in the 1870 census.

Check the 1870 U. S. Federal census to identify

  • Living males between the ages of 16 and 76
  • Males who are in the 1860 census and not in the 1870 census (may indicate he died in the war)
  • Place of birth for the male
  • If married, name of spouse and children and their ages
  • Place of residence (state and county) at the time of the census

Check the 1880-1910 U.S. Federal censuses for

  • Additional children
  • Change in marital status
  • Death of individual
  • Change in location

Start with at least the 1860 and 1870 census and expand to the 1850, 1880, 1900, 1890 and 1910 censuses as needed. A sample search profile is as follows:

U.S. Civil War male search profile
Census yearNameAge and apprx birth yearFamilyLocationPlace of birth
1850 CensusJohn Isacc Stewart14 (1836)Living with father James M. StewartFranklin co., New YorkNew York
1860 CensusJohn I. Stewart25 (1835)(F) Sarah 23
(F) Mary 2
(M) James 1
Dauphin co., PennsylvaniaNew York
1870 CensusJ. I. Stewart35 (1835)(F) Sarah 33
(F) Mary 12
(M) Jim 11
(M) Robert 9
(M) Joshua 4
Dauphin co., Pennsylvania
1880 CensusJohn Stewart45 (1835)(F) Sarah 43
(M) Robert 19
(M) Joshua 14
(F) Martha 13
Dauphin co., Pennsylvania
1900 CensusJohn Stewart54 (1834)(F) Sarah 53
(F) Martha 23
Dauphin co., Pennsylvania
1910 CensusJ. Stewart64 (1834)(F) Sarah 63
(F) Martha 33
(F) Amy 6
Dauphin co., Pennsylvania
1920 CensusNot Listed(F) Sarah 73Dauphin co., Pennsylvania
Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System (CWSS) websiteBattle unit nameSideCompanySoldier’s rankAlternate name
95th Regiment, Pennsylvania InfantryUnionCSergeant
Film numberNotes
M233 Roll 30General Note – See original register for additional information.
1890 Special Schedule Enumerating Union Veterans and Widows of Union Veterans of the Civil WarNameRankCompanyName of Regiment or VesselDate of Enlistment
John StewartSergeantCo. C95 PA Inf (95th Pennsylvania Infentry)21 June 1861
Date of DischargeLength of ServicePost Office AddressDisability incurredRemarks
20 September 18654 years 1 monthBerrysburg, PaLeft hip wound
1910 Census question (Confed or Union Veteran)Sarah listed as dependent

Where to find regiment and company information
There are several places that you can search for regiment and company information. They include:

Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System (CWSS) , free service,  sponsored by the US National Parks Service. This database contains information about the men who served in the Union and Confederate armies during the Civil War. Other information on the site includes histories of Union and Confederate regiments, links to descriptions of significant battles, and selected lists of prisoner-of-war records and cemetery records, which are amended as new information is available. CWSS contains information transcribed from the General Index Cards.

1890 U.S. Federal Census Veterans Schedule.  The schedule includes the following information:

  • State, county, and district where person lived
  • Date of census
  • Full name of surviving soldier, sailor, marine, or widow
  • Rank
  • Company
  • Regiment or vessel
  • Date of enlistment
  • Date of discharge
  • Length of service in years, months and days

You can search this schedule on FamilySearch.org and Ancestry.com. Also locate libraries where you can search the microfilm resource using Worldcat (use the search term, 1890 Union veterans and widows of Union veterans of the Civil War) and LDS Family History Centers/Library.

1910 U.S. Federal Census.  This census asked whether the person was survivor widow of the Civil War.  Abbreviations were as follows:  Union Army (UA), Union Navy (UN), Confederate Army (CA), and Confederate Navy (CN).

State censuses.  Check to see if a state census from where you ancestor lived included questions. For example:

  • Alabama 1907, 1921, 1927
  • Arkansas 1911
  • Louisiana 1911
  • New York 1865
  • Wisconsin 1885

See the following articles to learn more about finding Civil War military records: