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Why Military Records are Important

Before you are tempted to skip over this lesson, because you are certain that your immigrant did not serve in the military, take note. Even when a direct immigrant did not serve, a brother (or father, uncle, cousin or son) often did serve . Learning about a close relative also provides significant information about the immigrant ancestor. In fact, experienced genealogists know that families are an incredible source of information, since close relatives often immigrated together, or closely followed one another.

For immigrants in all time periods, military records are very important. While certainly not all immigrants served in the United States military, those who did left behind excellent records. These records often (but not always) ask the soldier's birth place and birth date (or age at enlistment). These are two of the most important facts we need to learn about an immigrant.

It is true that the birth place may be recorded simply as "Ireland" or "Germany," but sometimes a more specific locality is listed. In addition to receiving possible immigration information, military records provide significant biographical detail about ancestors—often impossible to find in any other records. We will look in this lesson at the kind of information you can discover.

U.S. Civil War

The Civil War (1861-1864) was certainly one of the most significant events in the history of the United States. More Americans were directly affected by this event than any other. Between 3.0-3.5 million men served (on both sides) during the war. Since the entire population of the United States in 1860 was only 31.4 million persons, at least one in every 10 persons actually served in the war. Given that virtually all who served were men (and they only made up half of the population), this suggests that between one in four and one in five men in America served in the war. As a consequence, the vast majority of American families had one or more members serving in the war.

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