USING POST – WAR RECORDS TO RESEARCH YOUR
By Brian Brown
Perhaps the best way to start researching your Confederate ancestor is through the use of post-war records, such as pension applications. These records are useful because they include a host of biographical details, plus contain details about your ancestor’s wartime service. One of the main obstacles to research involving a Confederate ancestor is the difficulty in linking the service records of one particular Confederate soldier to your ancestor – given that there are likely a number of Confederates with the same or similar names. The post-war records overcome this problem by providing genealogical information to allow you to verify you are researching the right person, and also stating in which military unit(s) this individual served.
Even with post-war records, however, one must have basic genealogical facts about your ancestor before you proceed! Thus, if you are looking for “Robert Johnson” you may find many suspects, and not know which was the right one. But if you have done some basic genealogy, and know a few facts about the right “Robert Johnson” before undertaking Civil War-related research, you should be able to identify the correct individual. In particular, for post-war research into a Confederate veteran, you should know which state(s) he lived in after the war, his wife’s name, and approximate date of death.
The first thing to know about post-war records is that neither the federal government, nor any state located outside of the Confederacy and its border states, provided any benefits to Confederate veterans. Thus, if your ancestor moved to Oregon after the war, then no government benefits were provided, and no records of such benefits are available to a researcher. Only the states with the region bounded by Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Kentucky, and Virginia provided any post-war benefits to CSA veterans.
Second, a Confederate veteran received benefits from the state of his POST-WAR residence. This means that if your great great grandfather fought in a unit from Alabama, then moved after the war to Arkansas, you should check for post-war records in Arkansas, not Alabama.
Finally, southern states were somewhat slow to offer veteran’s benefits. Therefore, in order to apply for benefits, your ancestor (or his widow) probably had to live several decades after the war – but exactly how long varies from state-to-state.
There are three major types of post-war records created by southern states. These include pension applications (both for veterans and their widows), veterans’ censuses, and veterans’ home records. The three sources to obtain these records are (a) that particular state’s archives. If you cannot visit, many state archives will copy records for a fee, or will refer you to a local researcher. (b) LDS (Mormon) Family History Centers. The Mormon’s operate a nationwide network of “Family History Centers” from which you can rent microfilms for a nominal fee (about $5 currently). One has to view the microfilm at the Family History Center. Contact a local LDS church to locate a Family History Center and to determine its hours. (c) Some scanned records are available online at at www.familysearch.org.
The index to LDS genealogical library holdings is online at www.familysearch.org. Click on the link for “library catalog”. Type the name of the state you wish to search in the blank. Scroll down through the list of headings to “Arkansas-Military Records-Civil War” (or whichever state – there will be numerous subheadings for various topics, and you may have to dig through the subheadings to find the right material) to locate records in the LDS collection. Also, if you scroll down on the main familysearch.org webpage, you will find an option to “browse by location” – various scanned military records are available for free on line.
Veterans’ Censuses were taken by four southern states – Alabama (1907, 1921, and 1927); Arkansas (1907); Louisiana (1911) and Tennessee (1914-1922). The Alabama schedules were, in some years, arranged by county of residence, and in some years by military unit. Tennessee’s schedules included some Union veterans living in Tennessee at the time of the census – Tennessee arranged the records alphabetically, but separately for Union and Confederate veterans. These censuses are actually more akin to questionnaires, and could be highly detailed (Tennessee, in particular, collected a lot of information). Records for all four of these states are available on microfilm from the LDS, or from the state archives of the particular state.
Veterans’ and Widows’ Pensions. These are the most detailed collections of postwar records for Confederate veterans and their widows. Georgia, for example, has the remarkable total of 634 microfilm rolls of applications from its Confederate veterans. Besides providing a wealth of genealogical information, the typical pension application will provide basic details about the veterans’ military service. On a state-by-state basis, here is a summary of pension applications:
Alabama – starting in 1867, applications were accepted for artificial limbs, and for financial aid to disabled veterans. True pensions began in about 1880. The LDS has both these records on film.
Arkansas – Pensions started in about 1890. The LDS has them on film. The applications are also available, free, on-line at familysearch.org.
Florida – Pensions started in about 1885. The LDS has the applications on film.
Georgia – Pensions started in 1879, and the LDS has the microfilmed applications. They are arranged by county – but there is an index.
Kentucky The LDS has about 50 rolls of pension applications, with an index on the first roll.
Louisiana – Records of Confederate pensions, from 1898, are scanned online, and available for free, on familysearch.org.
Maryland – Maryland was the only state which raised military units for the Confederacy, but which provided no pensions or other veterans’ benefits.
Mississippi – Pensions are microfilmed in alphabetical order, on 94 rolls, which are in the LDS collection.
Missouri The LDS has a single 27 roll set of films that contains approved Confederate pension applications, then disapproved Confederate pension applications, then approved applications for admissions to the Confederate home and finally disapproved applications to the Confederate veterans’ home. These records are also available online for free on familysearch.org.
Oklahoma – The LDS has 22 rolls of pension, with an index on the first roll.
North Carolina Pensions started in 1885. The LDS has 105 rolls, broken down into two categories: applications received before 1901 and applications from 1901 forward.
South Carolina The LDS has several rolls of lists and records of pensions, but probably contacting the South Carolina archives is your best bet.
Tennessee – The LDS has 181 rolls of applications for pensions, by veterans and their widows, starting in 1891.
Texas – Texas amassed the impressive total of 700 rolls of microfilmed pension applications, including interfiled applications to the Texas Confederate veterans’ home. The LDS Family History Library has these on film.
Virginia The LDS has 220 rolls of film, beginning in 1888. There is an index, but it is NOT necessarily complete. The applications are sorted into several sets depending upon the statute under which the veteran applied (i.e. the Act of 1888, the Act of 1902) and are then in order by county. “Applications for Relief of Needy Confederate Women” are on a separate 27 roll set, starting in 1915. This set also has an index, and the LDS possesses it, too.
Veterans’ Home Records.
Alabama – The Alabama veterans’ home, known as the Mountain Creek Home, opened in 1903. The LDS has a single roll of film which indexes headstones in the home cemetery. Applications for admissions to the home are only available from the Alabama State Archives.
Arkansas – The Arkansas Confederate Veterans Home operated from 1890 to 1963. Applications are on 17 alphabetical microfilm rolls, which the LDS has.
Florida – Records of the state veterans’ home exist, but are only available at the Florida State Archives, and I understand these records are fragmentary.
Missouri – All the applications for the Missouri Confederate veterans’ home are filmed by the LDS with the applications for Confederate pensions. See the comments on Missouri Confederate pensions, above.
South Carolina – There are four rolls of applications to enter the state veterans home at Columbia, starting in 1909. Applications for wives and widows are filed separately from, and after, the veterans’ own applications.
Tennessee – Judith Strange has published a book on the Tennessee Veterans’ home. It might be available at genealogical libraries near you. The LDS has filmed three microfilm rolls of veterans’ applications for admissions, starting in 1889.
Texas – Texas veterans’ home applications are filed with (and microfilmed with) the applications for Confederate pensions.
For veterans home records for other southern states, one should contact the relevant state’s archives.