My Top 5 Resources for Researching your Civil War ancestor – All Online and All Free

Civil War Reenactors

Civil War Reenactors

Whether you’ve been swept up in the recent 150th anniversary commemoration of Gettysburg or watched Kelly Clarkson’s episode of Who Do You Think You Are? tracking down your Civil War ancestor and where he fought maybe something you’re interested in. If so here are some resources to get you started.


First check your family tree for men who were born between 1820 and 1843. That’s approximately the time frame of a Civil War soldier’s birth. Then check the 1860 census for the state in which he lived. My research hung up on that fact at first. I thought my ancestor fought with an Ohio regiment only to find the family was still living in Pennsylvania during the 1860’s and so he fought with the 81st Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry.


Now armed with a name and place he was living check my top five suggestions to start your research.


Soldiers and Sailors Database
Provided by the National Park System this no cost resource has compiled 6.3 million names of soldiers and sailors, both Union and Confederate, their rank and the regiment they served. If you have the time to linger this site is filled with scads of information pertaining to the Civil War.


Regimental History – Now that you know the name of the regiment your ancestor served with research that regiment on your favorite search engine. You will find numerous resources from websites to blogs, to books that will detail the formation of the regiment, where they served, which battles they were involved in, their casualty numbers and where they mustered out. There were approximately 3,000 regiments, formed during the war, from both north and south. 2,000 of those regiments have a book written about their service. Some books you will find written by the soldiers after the war, many more by scholars who have studied a particular regiment. By learning your ancestor’s regiment’s history you’ll get the specifics of where and how he served. [Read more…]

A Genealogist’s Worst Nightmare Came True!

Just one of the wet boxes in the basement. You can see the cat food that floated around too!

Just one of the wet boxes in the basement. You can see the cat food that floated around too!

Hi genealogy friends! You may have noticed a small lapse recently in postings on my blog. Along with my husband and daughter we took off for a much anticipated vacation to sunny Florida. We were visiting one of my older daughters and husband with a side trip to the Civil War’s Chickasaw battlefield.

We had a great time! Much to my surprise and joy my other daughter and her husband flew in to Florida from California to join us. We had a great time. What a wonderful vacation. That is until Mother Nature stepped in. Back home it rained for several days with one final stormy torrent. Neighbors said it rained about two inches in just about an hour. The ground was already saturated and the water had no where to go. That is except for our basement. Our neighbor checked our house to find the basement was flooding. We reluctantly cut our vacation short to come home and clean up.

Ripping out the drywall about 3 ft up

Ripping out the wet drywall about 3 ft up

Our flooding problems weren’t as bad as others yet we still tore out carpet, paneling and drywall. We threw away a sofa, two chairs and an entertainment center but the heartbreaking loss was the boxes of family photos I had stored on the floor in the basement closet. [Read more…]

Mapping Our Civil War Ancestor

Civil War research, genealogy, Regular army

U S Cavalry equipment (Photo Credit: the

Many of my monthly columns for Tracing Blue and Gray have been serious research articles. We’ve looked at several databases in search of previously unknown information about our Civil War ancestors. Checking anything from disability records to reimbursement of property and personal possessions the databases have had the potential for lots of previously unknown info.

This month I thought we’d do something a little different. Grab your markers and let’s go on a map quest. Maps are a hot commodity in genealogy research and with good reason. Studying a map gives us insight into our ancestors daily lives. Maps reveal everything from wide open plains, and nearby water transportation to the inconvenience of traveling around a mountain range. The hardships or ease of life can be seen in a map, especially one from the era our ancestors lived.

All of this holds true for our Civil War ancestors as well. Documenting your veteran’s military service with a map is a great way to really understand where he started, where he went and maybe just how hard he struggled to stay alive.

I’ll use my Civil War ancestor for this project. The information I’ll use in mapping him comes from the many sources we’ve discussed in previous articles. The most important is having the dates your Civil War veteran served and the regiment he served with. I’m sure you have that info via family or pension records, Soldiers and Sailors Data base, Ancestry or Family Search. Next we’ll need to read the history of the regiment he served with. Just Google the regiment’s name. I’m sure you’ll come up with several options. Combining this information will give you a good idea as to where your ancestor was during his service as the war raged on. [Read more…]

What happened to James?

James R Van Meter Co. A 4th OVC

James R Van Meter Co. A 4th OVC

Here’s the conclusion of yesterday’s post Checking a Goal Off the To-Do List.

As one year merged into the next, James was aware of the country’s changing political climate. Abolition, electing a new president, threats of southern secession. James had finally found peace and contentment in life on his uncle’s farm but if that life was challenged by war he would fight if and when needed.


The opportunity to fight came much sooner than anyone imagined. April 1861 brought the firing on Ft. Sumter, state after southern state seceded and then the president’s call came for recruits.


In the little village of Rockport, in Allen County Ohio, young men were stirred to fight for the Union. They would preserve this country and the freedoms their forefathers had fought for, they would answer President Lincoln’s call for volunteers. As recruiters came to the tiny town looking for men to join the 4th OVC, 18 year old James Vanmeter(1) and his 21 year old brother George eagerly enlisted. Mustering in Sept. 6, 1861, both in Company F, the boys joined their regiment two months later on November 12 at Camp Dennison. [Read more…]

Checking a Goal Off the To-Do List


Civil War, 4th OVC, Noel Clayton, Civil War Saturday, genealogy research

US Army Cavalry Sergeant 1866

In researching my family’s history I often find myself in a cemetery. All genealogists and historians love a good cemetery! It was during one of these visits that I found a “stray” soldier who fought in the Civil War. At first I gave him just a casual glance but then I caught his name. It was the same surname as one of my family lines. I knew he wasn’t a direct ancestor but could he be related? He had to be. In reading his tombstone I learned a little something about his life. Here was a 21 year old soldier who died in the war.

You know what really struck me though? The thought that he probably never married. He probably died without children and although his siblings may have remembered him to their children, I’ll bet his memory was never passed on after that. This young man, a soldier who fought to hold his country together during our nation’s darkest hour had probably been forgotten a few short years after his death. My heart went out to this guy. I wanted to learn about him. Tell his story. I didn’t want history or the country he died for to pass him by. So I jotted his name and the dates from his headstone on a piece of paper. My research on a long forgotten soldier, James R. Vanmeter, was about to begin.


I began like any genealogist and looked for James on but found little. His parents and siblings were listed but not much more than that. I tried a couple of other websites and did find James served with Co. F 4th Ohio Volunteer Cavalry (OVC), but a man who barely spends 21 years on this earth doesn’t leave much of a paper trail, especially in the 1860’s. With such little information I renewed my mission to find all I could about this young military man who gave his last full measure for his country.


Through trial and error and I have to say “dogged-research” I finally found that there was a pension file opened for James. I thought that odd since he was without dependents but there was a pension file all the same. It was his mother, Rachel Millikin who applied for the pension. Now this was something to investigate. His mother had a different last name. She filed for a stipend from the government on James’ military service with the 4th OVC. What’s the story here?


I requested a copy of James R. Van Meter’s Civil War pension file from the National Archives. I worried I might be chasing shadows and would receive nothing valuable in the file yet a few short weeks later the 70+ pages I received were worth every cent I spent.


James R. Van Meter was the middle of five children. He was born in 1843 in Putnam County, Ohio to John and Rachel Stephenson Van Meter. Both families were from the area so they had extensive extended families. Yet these Van Meter’s moved to Lucas County, Ohio before 1850. They stayed in northwest Ohio until the unthinkable happened. John, this little family’s patriarch passed away in 1851. It was a shattering event for Rachel. How would she ever feed and raise her five children? Her circumstances were overwhelming. When Rachel brought her husband’s body back to his family to be buried alongside his parents she stayed. She moved her little brood back to the area where she had grown up. Surely with the help of the Van Meter’s and Stephenson’s she would be able to raise her children. Still it was hard. The older boys worked to bring the family some money. It was difficult to feed and clothe them all, to maintain a home, to keep them together as a family. Rachel was heartbroken. How would she manage? She responded with the only answer she could come up with. She’d marry again.


Rachel married Daniel Millikin in 1859. Daniel was a widower with young children of his own. Their union met their mutual needs. Or so Rachel thought but after a few short months the hell Rachel lived through without John was nothing to the hell of living with Daniel. Her new husband was a drunk. He tended to react violently to her children and with drinking, worked sporadically. It didn’t take many episodes of Daniel’s offensive behavior for Rachel to farm her children out to extended family. Each one went to live with a different relative.


So in 1860 James was living with his Uncle Jim and Aunt Mariah Van Meter. Uncle Jim was his dad’s brother (and my 3x great-grandfather). James was fond of Uncle Jim. He was named after him and he knew Uncle Jim felt the same way. Jim and Mariah Van Meter had a houseful of kids themselves, six in all but opened their door to young James. He worked hard on the farm with his cousins. He missed his brothers and sisters, seeing them occasionally. He tried to see his mama when he could. James saw her a few minutes here or there whenever he could manage it. Yet James was thankful for his life at his uncle’s home. It was quiet and steady not filled with daily worry as life had been when his father passed but unfortunately this peacefulness wouldn’t last. April 12, 1861 brought a lasting change to the country and the Vanmeter’s life.**


**The conclusion to James Vanmeter’s story tomorrow!