Using Civil War Records

Locating and using Civil War records for U.S. genealogy

If your ancestor was a man and was an adult in 1861-1865, he may have served in the Civil War or been drafted for the war. There are various Civil War records that could apply to your ancestor including draft records, service records, and pension records.

Union vs Confederate

The Civil War was fought between the Union states and the Confederate states. The available records that are available will depend on which side of the war your ancestor served for.

The Union states were in the northern and western areas of the country. The states included were California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

The Confederate states were in the southern area of the county and included Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia.

Note that in some states, there were soldiers that served on both sides of the war. This was particularly true in the border states that joined the Union side later on which were Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, and West Virginia. Sometimes a man could have even fought on both sides of the conflict, or members of the same family could have fought on opposing sides.

Soldier Database

A good place to find out if your ancestor served in the Civil War is to search the National Park Service Civil War Soldiers and Sailors Database. This database indexes names of soldiers on both sides of the war and can tell you whether your ancestor served, and if so, in which regiment.

Draft Records

The Union side had 4 drafts for soldiers starting in 1862. Many men were listed in these records, and a man appearing in a draft registration doesn't necessarily he served in the war. Draft registration records can be particularly helpful because they gave a man's age, his birthplace, occupation, residence, and other details. Looking at others that appear near a man on the list can help you to locate potential family members and neighbors. A consolidated and indexed collection of draft records is found on

Union Service Records

The Union side of the war kept records of the soldiers who served and the regiments and time periods in which they served. These records do not typically contain genealogical information, but can be helpful for identifying when your ancestor served and in which regiment. Service records can be located on

Pension Files

The most valuable Civil War records for genealogy information are the pension records. Often these records give person and genealogical details of the soldier. For more information about pension records, see our article on Using Civil War Pension Files.

Need help finding more records? Try our genealogical records directory which has more than 1.3 million sources to help you more easily locate the available records.

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