It is not uncommon to have an ancestor who served in the military. Some joined the standing military, and some volunteered for service during a war. Military records can be useful to genealogists in all sorts of ways. First, it is just interesting to know that your ancestor did serve in the military, and if you would like to join a lineage society proof of service is needed. Also, if he died while serving or received a pension you should find the date of death listed in the records. Each time period or war has differences in the records that were kept and who keeps them, so if you find out your ancestor might have fought or did fight in a war you may want to do a little research to discover what is available for that particular war. The Source or U.S. Military Records by James C. Neagles are useful sources for this information. Most military records fall into two categories: Service records –recordings at the time of service of who, where, when and what the soldiers did; and Pension or Bounty Land records – compensation after the military service for having served, for injury, or death in service.

Revolutionary War (1775-1783)

There are multiple creators of records for the Revolutionary War: the U.S. Federal government, individual state governments and the British government for records of Loyalist soldiers. Federal government records are held at the National Archives, but they are available on microfilm, online, and there are indexes in book form. Many states have allowed the records to be microfilmed and some have the records digitized and available on their state library archives website.  Information for loyalist soldiers are also available. Revolutionary War records do not always have as much information as records from later time periods but they are still a valuable resource.

Index to Revolutionary War service records by Virgil D. White
Genealogical abstracts of Revolutionary War pension files by Virgil D. White
The new loyalist index by Paul J. Bunnell
Selected records Revolutionary War pension and bounty land warrant (microfilm)
Orders, returns, morning reports and accounts of British troops, 1776-1781 (microfilm)
British records of U. S. prisoners of war (microfilm)
Fold3 has a Revolutionary War Archives with several types of records.
HeritageQuest has some pension and Bounty Land Warrants application files online.

Instructional Videos

Military Records (Family Search)
Military Records: Revolutionary War (Family Search)
Civil War Pension Research: Union (Family Search)
Selective Service Records (WWI) Draft Cards and More (Family Search)

War of 1812 (1812-1815)

Index to War of 1812 pension files by Virgil D. White
Index to compiled service records of soldiers who served during the War of 1812 (microfilm)
War of 1812 Military Bounty Land Warrants (microfilm)
Fold3 and Ancestry Library Edition both have records for the War of 1812 online.

Civil War (1861-1865)

Civil War research depends on whether your ancestor was a Union or Confederate soldier. Service records for Union and Confederate soldiers and Union pensions are kept by the National Archives and while there are indexes available you have to order the records from them. Confederate pension records are kept by the individual states. Many states have allowed the records to be microfilmed and some have the records digitized and available on their state library archives website and some are available through Fold3.

The War of the Rebellion: a compilation of the official records of the Union and Confederate Armies
The roster of Confederate soldiers, 1861-1865
The roster of Union soldiers
Medical and surgical history of the Civil War
Matthew Brady photograph collection (microfilm and Fold3)
1890 Federal Census for Union Veterans and Widows (microfilm and Ancestry Library Edition)
American Civil War Research Database


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