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Tracing Confederate Relatives

The Confederate records in the National Archives, and the State Archives of former Confederate States offer the best source of information.


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Searching for a Confederate ancestor may not be easy. While county histories of the period from 1875 to about 1900 supply much biographical information for many counties of the northern and Midwestern states, counties in the southern states published relatively few histories. Thus, the Confederate records in the National Archives, and the State Archives of former Confederate States offer the best source of information.

The "Confederate Citizens File" relates to the correspondence of individuals with the Confederate War Department. Included in this file are bills and vouchers for services and supplies furnished to the Confederate government, as well as papers for damage claims against it, all arranged alphabetically by name of person or firm. This file is sometimes cross referenced to other Confederate records Some major libraries have them on microfilm. Researchers often obtain helpful data, including names, residences, dates, and other information from these files.

As each specific area came under federal control, the Union provost marshals developed records with data on residents of the area. The "Union Provost Marshal Citizens File" contains a variety of correspondence, reports, affidavits, loyalty oaths, lists, claims for property used or taken by Union military authorities or for supplies or services furnished the army, papers relating to civilian and some military prisoners, travel authorizations within the Confederate States, and postwar papers. These alphabetically arranged microfilms are available in some libraries.

Genealogists researching Confederate ancestors should also check the "Amnesty Oaths," which contain the soldier's name, place of taking oath (often his residence), date of oath, and the signature of the person taking the oath. Some records include the person's age, personal description, and sometimes the identity of his Confederate military unit. The information about his residence can help a researcher locate his family in the 1860 and 1870 censuses.

Another set of records, "Amnesty Papers," contains applications for presidential pardons for former Confederate officials or for persons owning property valued at $20,000 dollars or more. These amnesty applications required supporting documents since the U.S. Government considered these individuals leaders in the Confederacy. Genealogists may find extensive data for their family histories by examining the appropriate papers. The Congressional Serial Set, with its alphabetical lists by states, is available in many depository libraries. The federal Government has designated these libraries as official sources for and repositories of government publications.

Cotton bills of sale, vouchers, and registers and lists of cotton sales for the years 1862-65 reveal transactions between individual cotton sellers and the Confederate government. Each entry shows the name, county or parish, number of bales sold, value in Confederate currency or bonds, and date.

The National Archives collection of records related to Confederate military service and other records may also prove useful. The "Compiled Military Service Records" consist of card abstracts from muster pay and some original papers which may include the name, state, company and regiment, rank, date and place of enlistment and discharge, occupation, personal description, along with details of capture, release, parole, or death.

"Records Relating to Naval and Marine Personnel" consist of cards and papers relating to individuals in naval or marine service for the Confederacy. The records show the name, ship or station, date and place of capture, cause of admission to a hospital, and date of discharge.

"Reference Cards and Papers" are records related to either naval or marine personnel which show the name, rank, and references to other records. Although these are incomplete, they can be used as a guide to other records. "Shipping Articles," a single volume with typed index, consists of agreements between the ship-master and the crewmen that are similar to enlistment papers for men in the Confederate Navy. They show the name, rating, signature, and enlistment date. Thus, a researcher can get confirmation of a name, an evaluation of his ancestor's seamanship or related ability, a signature, and the location of an individual on that particular date.

Remember, officers' records are usually more extensive than those of enlisted personnel. An ancestor's service in one military unit may be separate from his service in another unit. Furthermore, courts-martial and some medical records are separate from all other records and require a separate search.

Finally, Congress has received applications for headstones for Confederate veterans since February 26, 1929. These application records–recording the name, organization, date of death, place of burial, and the name and address of the person requesting the headstone–are in case files and arranged alphabetically.

Source Information: Everyday Genealogy, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2006.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

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