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Rhonda's Tips: Genealogy Questions Answered
by Rhonda R. McClure

October 11, 2001
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Getting Started Online

Q: I am new to genealogy. I find the Internet to be very overwhelming and really haven't found anything online to help me with my research. -- Janice

A: The Internet is just one of the tools you can use when it comes to researching your family history. Many researchers find that when they are first beginning that they do experience frustrations when searching online.

The first steps when researching your family history is to begin at home. Look around to see what records you may already have in your possession. You may be surprised at what you discover. Family letters, family pictures, a bible, birth certificates, church records. The list goes on.

The next step is to begin to talk to your living family members. See what they remember. Ask them about things like Christmas or other holiday gatherings. Ask them about any moves the family may have undertaken. These types of questions are easier for them to remember. Then see if they can tell you how old they were at the time of the event they are sharing. This gives you information about when the event most likely took place.

Once you have some names and tentative dates from talking with your family, begin by looking at things like the Social Security Death Index and see if that turns up any information.

Look for databases and resources that are more current, thus more closely connected to your present research. You may find that you can order needed vital records through VitalRec.com. This site offers a service that brings the records to you in a more timely manner.

As you begin to get further back in your research, you will find that the Internet offers more possible hits. You may want to begin your search by running a search on Genealogy.com. The list of results will include not only subscription services but also show you some family history Web sites.

The GAR

Q: I recently received some information from my aunt on my maternal grandmother's family. One of the men in the family was among the last civil war soldiers in that particular area (Hersey, WI). It mentioned that he was part of the G.A.R. in Spring Valley Wisconsin. Could you or someone else fill me in on what the G.A.R. is? Is it like the D.A.R. (Daughters Of The American Revolution)? -- Marcia

A: G.A.R. stands for Grand Army of the Republic. The Grand Army of the Republic was a fraternal organization. You may be familiar with these groups if I mention the Masons or the Knights of Columbus, two other fraternal organizations. There was one major difference though between these latter two and the GAR. To belong to the GAR, you had to be an honorably discharged Union veteran.

The GAR was founded in Decatur, Illinois on 6 April 1866 by Benjamin F. Stephenson. At its founding, membership was limited to veterans of the Union Army, Navy, Marine Corps or the Revenue Cutter Service (this was the name of the Coast Guard prior to 1915). The veteran had to have served between 12 April 1861 and 9 April 1865. Like most other fraternal organizations, there were local organizations, known as Posts in the GAR. A number of posts were grouped into a Department.

From a genealogical standpoint, the application of a member is full of useful information. When applying they had to supply evidence of their service and that they did receive an honorable discharge.

Like other fraternal organizations, the GAR was active in helping its members through relief work. They funded soldier's homes. They were also involved in pension legislation. The GAR can boast five members who went on to be elected President of the United States. Some of the records deal with the benefits paid to its members.

The GAR no longer exists. Because membership was limited to veterans of the Civil War, when the last veteran passed away, the GAR passed away as well. The GAR died as its last surviving member, Albert Woolson died at the age of 109 on 2 August 1956. Prior to this time though the GAR had formed Allied Orders, such as the Sons of Veterans of the United States of America, which is now known as the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War. There are two female Allied Orders as well the Women's Relief Corps and the Ladies of the Grand Army of the Republic.

World War I Pension

Q: Where can we request information for a World War I pension from Arkansas? Thank you very much! -- Jean

A: Pensions, as we have come to know them from the American Revolution and the Civil War, were not a thing of the Twentieth Century. No federal pensions were authorized for any of the Wars that took place in the 1900s.

A few states offered some sort of a pension or bonus. Nothing that I have read indicates that Arkansas was one of those states. To verify that Arkansas did not, you will want to write to:

Arkansas History Commission
One Capitol Mall
Little Rock, AR 72201

While there were no pensions awarded by the federal government, there was a point when the economy required help and that help came in the form of a cash bonus. The Great Depression was in full force, when in the mid-1930s the federal government authorized a cash bonus be paid to all veterans of World War I.

Depending on the information you are hoping to find, there may be other records of help to you. The first search should be the index to World War I draft cards. These are on microfilm and available through your local Family History Center. You will need to have an idea of where your ancestor was living at the time of the draft, as the records are organized by state, county, and then for larger areas by draft board. The records are then alphabetical.

You might also try requesting a copy of his service records. Using Standard Form 180 available as a PDF file from the National Archives at http://www.nara.gov/regional/mprsf180.html.

You can also request a copy of the service records for your ancestor. The service records, which are housed at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, Missouri, were partially destroyed by fire in 1973. It is possible that the service record you will be requesting no longer exists.

If your ancestor died during World War I, then you may have more information available. There is a searchable database online through the American Battle Monuments Commission Web site.

If you find your ancestor listed in this, you will be able to request a photograph of your ancestors tombstone, or name on the Wall of Honor. Through the American Battle Monuments Commission, you can also learn more about those cemeteries abroad where American soldiers were buried.


Rhonda R. McClure is a professional genealogist specializing in celebrity trees and computerized genealogy. She has been involved in online genealogy for fifteen years. She is the author of the award-winning The Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Genealogy, now in its second edition. She is the author of four how-to guides on Family Tree Maker. In late 2001, she wrote The Genealogist's Computer Companion. She is a contributing editor to Biography Magazine with her "Celebrity Roots" column and a contributing writer to The History Channel Magazine. Her latest book is Finding Your Famous and Infamous Ancestors. She may be contacted at rhondagen@thegenealogist.com.

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