Military Monday – Researching your Ancestors

Following up on last Monday’s post on The War of 1812, I want to expand a little on some of the things I learned in Peggy Clemens Lauritzen’s webinar The War of 1812 – America’s “Forgotten” War.  I also want to give you a list of some of my favorite sites for military information.  All of these sources are free, of course.

Peggy gave a great overview of the major battles of the war, and she pointed out many places to look for records.  She especially encouraged us to look at County Histories to find military lists and other local information about our ancestors.  Familysearch.org wiki was another source she highly recommended, U.S. Military Records.

Another research aid that Peggy uses is a great idea:  a spreadsheet of ancestors who served in the military.  She has all military events as columns, across the top (French & Indian War, Revolutionary War, War of 1812, etc). She lists ancestors/family members down the left side, as rows.  She fills in all the information she knows for each person, such as the name of the Battle, the Regiment, the pension file, and if the person died.  Here is a rough first draft for some of my ancestors (click on the spreadsheet to see it enlarged):

This is a great way to keep track of the data that you have collected, and to see any holes that you have, research that still needs to be done.  As you can see, I have also listed research I want to do.  For example, I know that David Stewart had a land warrant for 902 ½ acres recorded on 21 Oct 1783.  He served in the 1st Light Dragoons 1777-1778 and I need to find out if this warrant is a bounty for that service.

You can go through your list of family members and identify which ones were of an age to have served in which wars.  Or, if you’re not quite ready for that level of investigation, you can simply add a person to the list as you find information for them.  I am creating a spreadsheet for my direct line ancestors which shows their ages during each war.  It shows their age at the beginning and end of each war if they were over 10.  By color coding it, I can easily see who I need to investigate.

Here are some sites that I especially like:
Southern Campaign Revolutionary War Pension Statements
http://revwarapps.org/index.htm
Jacob Martin, my 4th great grandfather, served from North Carolina and his pension application is found here.  The amount of information that it gives not only on his service and his residences but also on his siblings is invaluable.  Ideally, I would like to see the original, but for now, I can use this free source.

Civil War Diaries & Letters Transcription Project
http://digital.lib.uiowa.edu/cwd/transcripts.html
Take some time to read these first-hand accounts of soldiers’ lives in the Civil War.  Wendell Dorn Wiltsie wrote three diaries which are in this collection.  His entries describing the battle injury and subsequent death of his brother, captain of the company, are heartbreaking in their simplicity.  The change in tone of his writing throughout the war, the dirt on the pages, his pride in voting for Abraham Lincoln, all of these entries transport us to another world. My own connection to Wendell makes these diaries that much more special:  Wendell’s mother, Rachel Dorn Wiltsie, was the second cousin of my 3rd great grandmother, Rachel Dorn French.

US Dept of Veterans’ Affairs Nationwide Gravesite Locator
http://gravelocator.cem.va.gov/j2ee/servlet/NGL_v1
Enter a name and find out where your ancestor is buried as well as information about his service.  See a map of the cemetery.  Spouses may be buried there as well.

National Park Service
http://www.nps.gov/revwar/about_the_revolution/overview.html
http://www.nps.gov/history/1812/
http://www.nps.gov/civilwar/index.htm
Explore these links to find out great details about the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812 and the Civil War.  Be sure to click on “Stories,” “People” and “Places.”  For example in the Civil War under Stories, there is a section called “The Ordeal of the Border States.”  This includes information about the Springfield, Missouri, area, including the Battle of Wilson’s Creek, which was so important in the lives of my gg grandfather Jay Lansing French and his brother J Schuyler French [if you missed it, see Schuyler’s letter in the newspaper.]  Also be sure to take your time with the “Soldiers and Sailors Database” found in the Civil War section; it has 6.3 million records.

Don’t forget that War of 1812 records are free on fold3.com until the end of the month.  Only about 3% of the pension files are online at this time, however.  Other publications include Letters Received By The Adjutant General, 1805-181; War of 1812 Prize Cases, Southern District Court, NY; and War of 1812 Service Records for Lake Erie and for Mississippi.

All of this should keep you busy for quite some time, and all within your recessionary budget!

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