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Overheard in GenForum: Civil War Records for George Elsome
by Rhonda R. McClure

Each week Rhonda answers a question from the GenForum message boards and gives her expert answer here. We'd love to hear anything you have to add. Go ahead and leave your comments on GenForum with the original message.

May 31, 2001
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Q: I'm looking for any possible Civil War records for a George Elsome, born 1837 in Lincolnshire, England and came to the Jacksonville, Illinois area in 1856. I don't know if he served or not. -- Wm.

A: For many researchers the Civil War was the first war in which they discovered an ancestor was involved. Of course, determining the types of records that may exist and how they are organized depends on which side an ancestor fought.

For the Civil War there are two types of records that may have been generated for a given individual. The first is the service record. The second is the pension record. Each offers different information, and when available, both should be sought.

Be sure to check all Civil War record types.

Service Records

Service records are sometimes the overlooked military records. Most people bypass them because they do not offer information about the parents, children, and marriage of the individual. The service record though, can sometimes supply the researcher with some unknown tidbits.

If your ancestor enlisted in Illinois, then his records will be found as part of the Union Army records. There is an index on microfilm to the compiled service records. This microfilm is found at the National Archives and through the Family History Library.

The service record jacket for a given individual may include enlistment papers, muster rolls, prisoner-of-war papers, and death records. The enlistment papers are where a researcher may discover a physical description of the person. Also the enlistment papers include the place of enlistment. This may help you in picking up the trail of the family.

Once you have used the index, it will be necessary to write to the National Archives, using the service records requisition form, NATF Form 86, to request a copy of the service records. A few states have their service records microfilmed, unfortunately, Illinois is not one of them.

Pension Records

Pension records are the most sought after military record. After all, this is where you may find bible pages, marriage records and more. You will learn something of the life of your ancestor after the war, or that of his family if he perished during the war.

Pension files may range from a few pages to many pages. The cost of getting a complete pension file will be determined by the page count. I recently received a pension file of 193 pages. While much of this is duplication, it is important to read through all of the pages to be sure you have garnered all the clues peppered throughout the file.

There is a card index to the Civil War pension files. It is arranged alphabetically by surname for all of the states. Keep in mind that the southern states were not granted federal pensions for some time as they were still regarded as the traitors.

Once you have found your ancestor listed in the index, you will need to then request a copy of the file. The form to request military pension and bounty land warrant records is the NATF Form 85.

In Conclusion

The process of researching military records is two step. Don't assume that because you don't find something in the pension records, that your ancestor is not found in the military records for the Civil War. He may not have applied for a pension. While the service records may not hold as many juicy tales about the family, it is nice to see about getting the records to give you a better insight into your ancestor, especially the physical description.

See Rhonda's Previous Columns

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

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