The first steps in searching your Civil War ancestor is to determine if they participated in the war and from where did they serve. I will show this process in a search I did recently for a client.
Recently I was having a party at my home and had a conversation with a friend that I have had for years. While in my office he was looking at the many Civil War items I had decorating my walls. He indicated that he thought he had an ancestor that participated in the war. Curiosity had gotten the best of him and he knew that I did genealogy searches of this sort.
Here are the facts as he told them to me to begin the search.
1. The subjects name was William Brown (Yikes, Can we get anymore generic)
2. He lived in Upper Sandusky, Wyandotte Co., OH when he died.
3. His spouses name was Harriett.
4. Family lore indicated that he was always called Colonel.
5. The family had sold all his Civil War related items from this person several years ago.
This was all the information that I had to go on to begin the search. The intention here was to determine what unit he served in and where. My friend was also interested in learning if William Brown or his spouse Harriett had applied for a pension. So I began the search.
I had my friend talking to relatives to see if any more information could be learned. No success. We talked with his father to determine if any written information was in the families hands. No information.
This left me to begin the search in the Census records of the time to determine age and location of our William Brown right before the Civil War broke out in 1861. I new that the majority of the people that served in the war were born between 1820 and 1847. Sure, there are exceptions at both ends of the period. Some generals that served in the war were born prior to 1820 and some drummers were born after 1847. I started my search looking in the 1850 Ohio Census for Wyandotte Co., OH. I was able to locate the proper William Brown living in the county during this period. This was good information, because it showed that he had been in the county for several years prior to entering the war. From the records I was able to determine that he was born in the year 1843. This fit's the proper age group for service. The next step was to track the same individual into the 1860 census. He was found ten years older of course and still living with his family.
The next step for me was to determine what unit William Brown may have served. Well up front I new this was going to be a difficult task. I checked a free online resource called the Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System. When doing a search in the listing for William Brown serving in the Infantry from Ohio I had over 275 hits. Needless to say this was not the answer in narrowing down the search. I needed to find another way.
A very good source in most counties is the county or regimental histories. I started by looking through the county histories. I was able to determine through the History of Wyandott Co., OH that men from the county served in a least eight different regiments. Not to mention some cavalry and artillery units. I did some more study of the individual units on another website to determine my next best plan of attack. The information indicated that some of the units were actually organized in adjacent counties. A regimental history was not available.
I cross referenced my unit list with William Brown's in them against those units in the history that came from Wyandott Co. Through this I was able to narrow the search down. Two regiments remained. The 88th Ohio Volunteer Infantry and the 54 th Ohio Volunteer Infantry.
According to the county history company K of the 54th was partially organized in the county, but were mustered in Lima, Allen Co., OH. Through the search of the regiments lists of members served. I determined that indeed a William Brown served in this unit. The 54th served from 1861 to 1865. From the regiment lists that William Brown never served as a Colonel.
The next step was to consult with a different county history where I was able to find a biography on William Brown. From the information in the bio I confirmed that the individual was married to Harriett Paulin and he has served in the 54th Ohio company K. He also died in Upper Sandusky in old age and had been a member of the GAR.
Needless to say my friend was thrilled with the information. The search was not done yet and I will talk about that in the next few days.