ince it is Memorial Day, I thought it appropriate to share with you my thoughts on a presentation by Craig Roberts Scott at the National Genealogical Society conference last month. Mr. Scott is an entertaining speaker, so you should keep that in mind when you are faced with numerous choices at a genealogical conference.
I must confess. I don’t know much about the military, despite coming from a long line of veterans. That is why I chose Craig Scott’s lecture entitled “Basic Military Research.” In his talk, Mr. Scott emphasized that you first need to ask yourself questions when doing military research, such as whether your ancestor was a volunteer or a regular, an officer or an enlisted person. (An officer had to be able to read and write.) There were more questions but I don’t want to give away all Mr. Craig’s secrets.
The next step would be to see if your ancestor received a pension. He emphasized that you should also look at the pension files of your ancestor’s friends; their record could very likely contain information about your ancestor. Our ancestors generally joined the war effort with neighbors. I know this was true for my 2nd great grandfather, Aaron M. CUTLER, who died in the Civil War. See my previous blog post “Finding Family with Worldcat and the Library of Congress” (http://www.theartofgenealogy.com/2012/11/finding-family-with-worldcat-and_7204.html). Aaron’s wife, Esther SPAULDING, collected a pension, and the record is available on Fold3. In this lengthy file there are many letters from neighbors and friends, some of whom were my ancestors. Here’s a screenshot of the end of a letter written by Joel CUTLER, my 2nd great grand uncle, and his wife, Wealthy A. SPAULDING, my 2nd great grand aunt.
Pension files, if you can find them, contain valuable information.
If you have “deserter” ancestors, you may be in luck, at least from a genealogical standpoint, because deserters, according to Mr. Scott, caused more paperwork and photographs/descriptions were necessary in order to try and locate them. Also, deserters sometimes got pardoned so they would be able to vote. I also learned that sometimes people donated cows to the war cause, as a form of service. Also, you might find records about young drummer boys.
Mr. Scott discussed the role of militia in the military. My ancestor Sampson SPAULDING was a militiaman in Tewksbury, Massachusetts. For more on Sampson, see my blog post entitled “Google Alerts: Sampson Spaulding” (http://www.theartofgenealogy.com/2013/05/google-alerts-sampson-spaulding.html).
The third step recommended by Craig Scott is to find the microfilmed index to Compiled Military Service Records. He said that it is important to track your ancestor through the whole war because he may have transferred to another unit.
A final step is to see if your ancestor applied for bounty land. You might find information at the Bureau of Land Management (http://www.blm.gov/wo/st/en.html).
This is just a bare bones sketch of what Craig Scott covered in his lecture. Military research is complicated, and a thorough search would involve visiting NARA. You can purchase Craig Scott’s lecture on CD from JAMB Incorporated (http://www.jamb-inc.com/genealogy/ngs/2013-ngs-conference--las-vegas-nv). I find CDs really convenient because I can listen to them to and from work—it’s a way to learn while performing life’s mundane activities.
Craig Scott’s presentation was an excellent introduction to military research, but I know I have just glimpsed the tip of the iceberg. I plan to take classes on military research at the National Institute for Genealogical Studies (http://www.genealogicalstudies.com/eng/courses.asp?courseID=215) and perhaps one of the classes given by Family Tree University (http://www.familytreeuniversity.com/us-military-records-trace-your-ancestors-service). One cannot do comprehensive family history research without understanding military records.
Some of the links I have found helpful for learning about military research are:
- National Archives Military Records (http://www.archives.gov/research/military)
- US Military Service Records (https://familysearch.org/learn/wiki/en/US_Military_Service_Records)
Here's a shot of my father in England during World War II:
Thank you, servicemen, past and present, for fighting for our freedom!
Dover Publications, Mineola, New York, Electronic Clip Art, 1200 Ornamental Letters, 2007.
Dover Publications, Mineola, New York, Electronic Clip Art, Civil War Illustrations, 2003.
Dover Publications, Mineola, New York, Electronic Clip Art, American Historical Illustrations and Emblems, 2001.
Dover Publications, Inc., Mineola, New York, Electronic Clip Art, 1268 Old-Time cuts and Ornaments, 2006.
(1) Case Files of Approved Pension Applications of Widows and Other Dependents of Civil War Veterans ca. 1861 – ca. 1910, Esther L. Spaulding, widow’s pension application no. WC40526, for service of Aaron M. Cutler (New York Light Artillery, Regiment 1, Company A), Record Group 15, Fold 3 publication year 2008; National Archives Catalog ID 300020 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Service); digital image, Fold3 (http://www.fold3.com: accessed May 27, 2013).