Church News and Events

FamilySearch Adds Civil War Military Records to Assist in Family History Work

Contributed By By Ryan Morgenegg, Church News staff writer

  • 25 May 2014

The Faces of the Civil War page shows well-known individuals who lived during the time period.  Photo courtesy of FamilySearch.org.

In the aftermath of the American Civil War, Decoration Day (what is now called Memorial Day) was held to honor the veterans of the war between the states. It was common to decorate the tombstones of the fallen. Many people have ancestors who fought in the Civil War, and information about them is important for family history. A new website (familysearch/civil-war.org) recently launched by the Church also honors Civil War veterans by making thousands of records available to anyone with access to the Internet.

“The Civil War deeply affected almost every family in the nation in some way during those years,” said Ken Nelson, collection manager for FamilySearch International and a military records specialist. “If you have ancestors that were born in the 1830s and 1840s in New York, Virginia, or the Carolinas, you most likely will have Civil War ancestors.”

The effects of the Civil War were felt even in Utah, as described in the following transcription from the Deseret News, Wednesday, September 10, 1862: “Mr. Stickney, the manager of the telegraph office in this city, has received over the wire the unpleasant intelligence of the death of his younger brother in the late fight at Bull Run. He was sergeant in the 2d Wisconsin regiment, Pope’s command, and at the time of his death was advancing in a bayonet charge against the enemy. One of his comrades reports that he first lost his little finger, then a ball passed through his arm, but neither of which discouraged his advance. He said he was still able to pull a trigger, and kept his place. In a moment or two after a ball passed through his forehead and the younger brother was no more.”

On the new Civil War FamilySearch website, users can search a variety of records, including:

• Military service records for both Union and Confederate soldiers.

• Pension records for both Union and Confederate soldiers.

• Army, navy, and marine enlistments.

• Cemeteries (Utah has a statewide index to 1966).

• Prisoner records.

• Freedman’s Bureau records.

• Census records from before and after the Civil War.

A variety of Civil War records can be accessed from the new FamilySearch.org website. Photo courtesy of FamilySearch.org.

Lot Smith’s pension and service records, with details about his involvement in the Union Army, can be found on the new site. Photo courtesy of FamilySearch.org.

“This is an extensive collection,” said Paul Nauta, marketing director for FamilySearch.org. “A group of volunteers have done indexing online, and a variety of public documents are now available from several collections. We really want people to come and take a look.”

In the past, a person wanting to view Civil War records would need to go to national archives, state archives, or local archives to find information. “The thing I am most excited about regarding this new website is the availability of these Civil War records online for the public,” said Brother Nelson. “Once you find your ancestors through online records, you can find stories and details in local newspapers, regimental histories, and other records.”

For example, by searching the Utah Civil War service records of Union soldiers on the new website, Lot Smith can be found. It indicates that he served in 1862 as captain of Lot Smith’s Company, a cavalry unit in the Union Army in the territory of Utah. So what was the story behind this company?

Due to some problems with Indians on the Overland Trail, Adjutant General L. Thomas contacted Brigham Young on April 28, 1862, to raise a company of men to protect the telegraph and mail travel near Independence Rock for a period of 90 days. The company was organized under the command of Lot Smith but never engaged Indians in combat, though they helped get the mail routes moving again.

“We would like members to visit us online at FamilySearch.org and share what they find by adding that information to their family lines,” said Brother Nauta. “People really need to take those old shoeboxes full of Civil War memorabilia and preserve it on FamilySearch.org. Even members of the same family remember things differently, so everyone needs to share what pieces they have. For example, there are tons of war correspondence letters that can add flavor and memories to personal family research.”