My Top 5 Resources for Researching your Civil War ancestor – All Online and All Free

Civil War Reenactors

Civil War Reenactors

Whether you’ve been swept up in the recent 150th anniversary commemoration of Gettysburg or watched Kelly Clarkson’s episode of Who Do You Think You Are? tracking down your Civil War ancestor and where he fought maybe something you’re interested in. If so here are some resources to get you started.


First check your family tree for men who were born between 1820 and 1843. That’s approximately the time frame of a Civil War soldier’s birth. Then check the 1860 census for the state in which he lived. My research hung up on that fact at first. I thought my ancestor fought with an Ohio regiment only to find the family was still living in Pennsylvania during the 1860’s and so he fought with the 81st Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry.


Now armed with a name and place he was living check my top five suggestions to start your research.


Soldiers and Sailors Database
Provided by the National Park System this no cost resource has compiled 6.3 million names of soldiers and sailors, both Union and Confederate, their rank and the regiment they served. If you have the time to linger this site is filled with scads of information pertaining to the Civil War.


Regimental History – Now that you know the name of the regiment your ancestor served with research that regiment on your favorite search engine. You will find numerous resources from websites to blogs, to books that will detail the formation of the regiment, where they served, which battles they were involved in, their casualty numbers and where they mustered out. There were approximately 3,000 regiments, formed during the war, from both north and south. 2,000 of those regiments have a book written about their service. Some books you will find written by the soldiers after the war, many more by scholars who have studied a particular regiment. By learning your ancestor’s regiment’s history you’ll get the specifics of where and how he served.

A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies
One of the little known and little used resources in the research of Civil War soldiers is The War of the Rebellion: a Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Otherwise known as the OR for short it contains 128 volumes of actual reports and correspondence of those who fought in the Civil War. I know this resource sounds dull and boring at best but there’s few other places you’ll

Laptop - photo courtesy of mmagallan at

Laptop – photo courtesy of mmagallan at

find first hand accounts of what your Civil War ancestor went through!
There are a couple places online that have digitized this collection. Cornell University and The Ohio State University, are a couple sites where this work can be viewed online. You can also find the set in many libraries if you’d like to read from an actual book.


Confederate Military History
Along the same lines as the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, the Confederate Military History gives us a first hand account of the war from those fighting for the Confederacy.
The Confederate Military History, published in 1899 includes 12 volumes edited by Clement A. Evans who wrote two of the volumes himself. – with various record groups relating to the Civil War to search you’ll spend hours on the Family Search site.


These are my top five free online resources for researching your Civil War ancestor. Do you have one that should make it in the top five? Please, share it in the comments. I’m looking forward to your favorite free online resources for Civil War research!

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3 thoughts on “My Top 5 Resources for Researching your Civil War ancestor – All Online and All Free

  1. These are great websites. I’ve bookmarked several others as well.


    The latter is the Library of Congress where you can search for specified words or phrases that appear in publications. While not specifically about the Civil War, the LOC can be used to search for names and regiments to see what the newspapers were reporting to folks at home about their men at war.

    Finally, if you know there’s an out of print book on the subject you’re interested in, try the Open Library website. I have found books on Andersonville Prison and the Kentucky 1st Cavalry here!

  2. Another resource that has just “opened up” in a big way is genealogy books in ebook format.

    Amazon recently introduced its Kindle Unlimited program, which allows you to borrow and read as many Kindle ebooks as you like, for $9.95 a month. I wonder if genealogists have grasped what a godsend KU may be. Here’s why:

    In the genealogy section of the Kindle ebook store on Amazon, along with the how-to-climb-your-family-tree books, there’s a huge number of reference and raw-data collections, from histories of specific families to ships’ records, newspaper abstracts, etc., and yes — Civil War records. The problem with such books in the past has been that you didn’t know until after you purchased one (whether a print or a digital copy) if it contained information relevant to your own research.

    With Kindle Unlimited, this pig-in-a-poke problem vanishes.

    Here’s what you could do to further your research without gambling on books that may or may not have anything of use in them (to you). With a Kindle Unlimited subscription, you could borrow ten genealogy ebooks (the maximum allowed at one time). Then you could flip through them, or use your Kindle device’s search feature, to find any information of use to you. If you don’t find anything, then you can simply return them and borrow ten more.

    I know that these days, there are tons of information for ancestor hunters available for free or for a subscription fee at the dedicated genealogy websites such as

    But there’s still a lot of data locked up in various small-press books and books by individuals writing their own family’s story. Kindle Unlimited gives us genealogists a virtually cost-free way to unlock those books — at least the ones that have been committed to ebook format (and you might be surprised how many there are).

    By the way, you don’t even need a Kindle device to read Kindle books. You can download a free Kindle reading app for your smartphone or laptop that will do the trick. (Also BTW, I do NOT work for Amazon.)

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