The Civil War was fought from 1861 - 1865 and changed the course of America. Families were ripped apart, affluent men became poor, unknown men became local heroes, and towns were desolated. It is an eerie feeling to view the 1860 census knowing how each families life was going to change within a year. Many of those young men would not be alive by 1865 and their family would be left to pick up the pieces.
The last Civil War veteran died sixty years ago and the last Civil War widow died in 2008 which means there are still sons and daughters of Civil War veterans that are living. America is a young country, but we are quickly forgetting where we came from and the stories behind the bold print words in history books.
I decided to begin a project of locating every ancestor that I had that fought in the Civil War and trying to understand their various units and the battles they fought in. I want to learn more about them and their stories after the war. After-all if one of those ancestors had been slain I would not be here today.
The hardest part to Civil War genealogy is getting started. Here is the process that I use:
- Name You Great Grandparents
- Choose a focus ancestor
- Search the 1940 census report for the focus ancestor
- Work backwards and locate your focus ancestors parents
- Follow the same process for other ancestors
Focus on one line at a time and do not get caught up in other surnames. Everyone you are researching is dead...so they are not going anywhere. Just make a note of the new surname and continue as far back as you can PROVE.
Understanding Census Reports
When you begin trying to locate your Civil War ancestor you will choose a focus ancestor and try to locate them in the 1940 census report. Once you find them in the census report you have a starting point. Next you will need to find them in the 1930 census report and continue the process every 10 years. With the help of online tools such as Ancestry.com you can quickly complete the task.
Where things get muddled is the 1840 census. From 1850 - 1940 each census has the name of the person who was the head of household along with the names of their household members. In 1840 and every previous census report the only thing listed is the head of household and then a number is given for how many people live in the household.
My recommendation is to take each line back to the 1850 census. The Civil War began in 1861 so the 1850 census should be sufficient. If you'd like to research your family back to the Revolutionary War time period then you will need to be prepared to do much more research. I will not cover that in this tutorial.
Understanding the Civil War
I live in Ohio and have always studied the Civil War from a northern perspective. Where I live was a huge hub for the underground railroad and many of the great Civil War generals that I studied lived an hour away from me. I grew up believing that the war was fought to end slavery so I was alarmed when I located my great-great-great-grandfather in Virginia fighting for the confederacy. He was a farmer and did not own a slave. He married his wife in 1859 and two years later was off to war.
Point is, when you study your ancestors you need to leave your 2014 bias at the door. These people lived in a different world and understood the world in which it was presented to them. If you research with a prejudice, then you will not uncover all of the information because your bias won't allow you to see it.
I will constantly be updating this page as I do my research, but for now I will leave you.