Obtaining Veteran's Records

Many who visit this web-page are interested in the genealogy of their veteran/ancestors as well as in the military history they were a part of. The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) in Washington may have a surprising amount of information for you.

The NARA has two types of records on Civil War veterans. Military records are of limited genealogical usage. They typically contain information on mustering in such as age, height, weight, and color of hair, together with the unit and rank; they may mention paydates and locations; and, they may have special details listed, or absences from the unit at the times of roll calls. There is typically no mention made of relatives. These records can round out what might already be known about the military service. The other type of record can be a family history gold mine.

Pension records will not be available for every veteran, but if you know or suspect that your ancestor or some other veteran you are interested in was disabled or wounded during their service or lived for some years beyond the war, consider trying to obtain copies of these. There is no charge to you unless something is found. These records usually have detailed information of the veteran including birth, places of residence, marriage and child information, mustering dates and discharge dates, the unit and rank; they may have medical information about the vet, and have the veteran's own account of wounding, injuries, or disabling conditions; they probably will have affidavits of friend, comrades or neighbors. Many times a widow, and sometimes a surviving child is the pensioner, and if so will have important information from them. If the pensioner survived to 1898, it probably will contain Bureau of Pension questionnaire responses, again with a great deal of genealogical information. How would one go about mining this gold? Well, it may be easier than you think.

Start by writing or e-mailing (the latter has not always worked for us) NARA. The snail mail address is:

General Reference Branch NNRG-P1
National Archives and Records Administration
7th and Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, D.C.  20408

Ask for one or more copies of NATF Form 80, and send a SASE. After receiving it, complete as much as you can, following the instructions on the cover sheet. Not all questions will be able to be answered, but you must do at least 3 through 7. Then return the form, and keep your copy (pink), maybe jotting the date on your copy. Do print carefully. Do consider sending credit card information with the application to save time in handling. Do not try to request the information with a letter alone, but instead use NATF Form 80. If you are lucky, for $10 (usually a bargain), in a few weeks you'll get a packet in the mail with some exciting pages to read and treasure.

Submitted by Robert Taylor

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