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…]

Every Civil War soldier has a story – tell yours

Photo Credit: fedek6

Photo Credit: fedek6

Tonight brings the return of the genealogy series Who Do You Think You Are? Now in it’s fourth season on the TLC network.
Whether you have watched it on iTunes or viewed it the regular old way on TV I found Kelly Clarkson’s journey to learn more about her Civil War ancestor incredible!

Her pride in her ancestor’s life from enlistment, to POW, to escape is very real and one we’ve probably all experienced a time or two during our own research. One thing I couldn’t help but wonder as I watched Kelly’s eyes grow big at each discovery is if we’ve all felt a little let down by our own ancestor’s lives. In not finding a big WOW! event have we been a little disappointed in our ancestor’s? Without an Andersonville prison and escape, a county sheriff or State Senate stint to speak of have we yearned for a little more excitement in our own family history? I have!

That is until I looked a little closer. I did a little research and found some pretty hair-raising events during my veteran’s service. So let’s take our own Civil War ancestor. He enlisted, he fought, he came home. Maybe had an injury. Nothing big. Went in a private came out a private. Right? But take that a little further and search his Regiment online.

My ancestor fought with the 81st Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry from July 1864 to April 1865. A rather short amount of time but I find my 2x great grandfather was part of the pursuit of General Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia across the state of Virginia. My guy saw more fighting in one week than the previous months combined. He was a part of the final days of the Civil War! He saw first hand the stress, the fatigue and the gruesomeness of fighting. In fact to borrow a word used last night what my 2x great grandfather participated in was “epic”.

I’ll bet with a little research on the regimental history of your Civil War ancestor you’ll find he witnessed or participated in some major historical events. Even if he spent a good deal of time in a field hospital with lung disease or went AWOL to harvest crops your guy was a part of one of the most significant events in our nation’s history. Just look a little further than battles and dates.

Your veteran’s life may not land you an episode on Who Do You Think You Are? but it could be several episodes on your blog or website. His participation in such an historical event would then be e-documented for the world to view and recorded for all time. Even for your future generations! I’d say that’s “epic”!

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…]