Civil War Research: Find Your Ancestors in the War Between the States

The Civil War—also known as the War of the Rebellion or the War of Northern Aggression, depending which side your ancestors were on—generated more casualties, dissention and records than any other conflict in American history. If your ancestors lived in the United States between 1861 and 1865, they undoubtedly felt the effects of the war. And if they were males in their prime, they probably served in a military unit. This course will guide you in determining your ancestor’s service, finding the records to document it, and fleshing out your knowledge of their lives.


$99.99 ($89.99 for VIP)

Course Length:

4 Weeks


Diana Crisman Smith

Start Date:

View upcoming course schedule for dates.


  • organization and structure of the militaries and militias
  • what sources to look for on the home front
  • how to order compiled service records
  • how to find pension records and veterans organizations


  • genealogists with known Civil War veterans in their family tree
  • researchers with male American ancestors who were between the ages of 18 and 45 in 1862
  • librarians who would like to develop Civil War genealogy programs for patrons during the 150th anniversary of the war
  • teachers looking to supplement their Civil War curriculum with projects or coursework to make the history more personal to their students


  • To get the most out of this course, you should have an ancestor who fought or likely fought in the Civil War. (Teachers or librarians may wish to choose a local Civil War soldier to research during this course.)
  • Access to an online record repository such as or (if you don’t have a subscription, you might be able to access them at your local library or FamilySearch Center)
  • Life in Civil War America by Michael O. Varhola will be used for supplemental readings
  • This course assumes you understand the basics principles of genealogy and have done some investigation into your family history. If you are a total beginner, consider taking the Discover Your Family Tree course before enrolling in this class.


Lesson 1: Essential History
A. Civil War Background
    I. Timeline of major events
B. Organization and Structure
    I. Naming of military units
    II. Historical resources
C. Terminology
D. In Summary
E. Exercise

Lesson 2: Starting Your Search
A. The Home Front
    I. Diaries, letters and manuscripts
    II. Obituaries and newspapers
B. Local Histories
    I. County histories
    II. Veterans memorials
    III. USGenWeb Project
C. Photographs
D. Published Sources
E. Civil War Soldiers & Sailors System
    I. Searching for soldiers
    II. Searching for battles
F. Next Step: Compiled Service Records and Pension Files
    I. Finding the files
    II. Pension files
    III. Compiled Military Service Records
G. In Summary
H. Exercise

Lesson 3: Service Records In Depth
A. Compiled Military Service Records
    I. Union CMSR
        a. Contents of a file
    II. Confederate CMSR
        a. Contents of a file
B. Civil War Pensions
    I. Overview
    II. Inside Pension Files
    III. Contents of a Pension File
C. The Civil War in the Census
    a. 1910 US Census
    b. 1930 US Census
    c. 1890 Veterans Schedule
D. Draft Records
E. In Summary
F. Exercise

Lesson 4: Advanced Techniques
A. Veterans organizations
B. Unit histories
C. Lineage societies
D. Cemetery records
E. Other records
F. In Summary
G. Exercise

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