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.