How to Find Your Civil War Ancestors

The Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System is a free online database containing basic facts about soldiers on both sides. The index is based on the service records of 6.3 million records recorded by the National Archives. It can be helpful to someone searching for ancestors that may have served in the war. It can lead to other records that can provide even more information to genealogists.

Step 1

Click on "Soldiers" to start the search. Fill in as many of the search boxes as you can and leave the rest blank. Click "Submit Query." If you start with limited information, or the search is for a common name, the site will produce a lot of duplicate names.

Step 2

Copy the information from the CWSS site and enter it into your genealogy database, if you have one. That same information can be used to get the original records pertaining to Civil War veterans. At a minimum, you will want the side he fought on, his full name, the state in which he served, and the branch of military.

Step 3

Request the ancestor's full service record from the National Archives Building in Washington, D.C. The archives are available to anyone over the age of 16 who visits in person. They can be ordered online with NATF forms 85 and 86. You will need to create an account on the site. The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) does not have Confederate soldier pension files. You must contact the state archives for the state where the veteran lived at the time he was eligible for the pension.

Step 4

Search state archive or historical society websites for more information on the soldier. With few exceptions, rank and file soldiers always fought in regiments formed in their home state. Search state records first, then county records for lists of Civil War veterans and possible biographies, photos or letters.