Look for Land Records on Your Civil War Ancestor

I’d seen a reference to my ancestor and the word “patent.” Had he invented something? No. It turned out to be a land patent.

The place to search for these is the U.S. Department of the Interior in the Bureau of Land Management’s records. It lets you search online for transfer of land titles from the Federal government to individuals. The place to search is the General Land Office Records (called GLORecords).

The records include Cash Entry, Homestead and Military Warrant patents. This helps you locate a place and time where your ancestor was based on a land transaction with the federal government.

Here's the search form for the land records.

Here’s the search form for the land records.

Just click on the examples here to see them larger.

My great-great grandfather's listing.

My great-great grandfather’s listing.

You can view the actual land patent.

You can view the actual land patent.




Put the Power of Facebook to Work for You

There’s an amazing range of interest groups on Facebook. Some have thousands of members. I’ve found ones that specialize in the Civil War and these groups put you in daily contact with some very knowledgeable history buffs, authors, re-enactors and genealogists.

To find these groups, search on Facebook by keywords. The ones I’ve found helpful are:

  • Civil War
  • The American Civil War
  • Civil War Faces
  • The Civil War Buff
  • Descendants of Andersonville Prisoners

There are groups for certain regions, certain battles, for Civil War recipes and many more topics. For groups listed as “closed,” you have to get an invitation from someone in the group to join.

You can join a group and then search the back postings using the little magnifying glass. Search by the last name of your ancestor or a battle or a regiment. At first, I like to get acclimated in a group by liking and commenting on a few interesting things. Then you can put a question or share some information you have once they are used to seeing your face on the site.

Be polite and show appreciation when others help you.

Here's an example of a Civil War interest group on Facebook.

Here’s an example of a Civil War interest group on Facebook.

Make Copies of Information You Find Online

You may think it sufficient to bookmark a site that relates to your ancestor. Alas, the Internet shifts, changes, and sites can disappear.

I recommend saving a screen shot on your computer or using a clipping app like Evernote. Even that isn’t enough insurance. What if your computer crashes. Go one step further and print a paper copy to keep.

Last year I’d found a great website about Belgians in the Civil War. It included half a dozen men who were in my great-great grandfather’s company and several were in Andersonville with him. The profiles on this site were most informative and probably written from the pension files of these individuals.

I made a few notes and saved a link, thinking I could always go back for more details later. Unfortunately the profiles are now gone from online. If I want that information, I’ll need to order their pension records. That’s an expense I wasn’t planning on, so I’m really regretting that I didn’t print all that information when I first found it.

Henri Devillez served in Company G, 93rd Indiana Volunteer Infantry with my ancestor. In 2012, I visited his grave in Leopold, Indiana.

Henri Devillez served in Company G, 93rd Indiana Volunteer Infantry with my ancestor. In 2012, I visited his grave in Leopold, Indiana.

I’ve included a few notes about him and other enlisted men of Company G on a web page where I was stockpiling links. From now on, I’m also printing out all that I find.

Travel Back in Time

When planning your summer vacation, take a trip back in time. Visit places where your Civil War ancestor lived or where he participated in a battle.

Not all information is available online and certainly there’s no substitute for actually being there yourself. For instance, I’d read a number of diaries and accounts of Andersonville, but actually walking through that recreated gate for that prison brought it home to me what his experience was. Although I saw open ground with a small creek running across it, my imagination peopled that space with the thousands of desperate and hungry prisoners.

The previous year, we used part of our vacation to tour Vicksburg. My ancestor’s company participated in the siege and tearing up railroad tracks near there. Seeing the exhibits and walking the land where it all took place really helps you understand what happened.

More recently, we traveled to the area in Southern Indiana where Abraham Bates Tower grew up. Again, seeing the terrain, the small towns and the massive Ohio River gave me insight into his life.

Visiting the county historical society and the public library turned up valuable information that isn’t online. I scanned Abraham and Nancy’s marriage license, photographed all the graves in a Tower family graveyard and gathered background information of life in that area for 1830 – 1860.

Tell me about your travel plans. Best of luck finding out more about your Civil War ancestor.

Photo by Virginia Allain - Guard post at Andersonville Prison in Georgia

Photo by Virginia Allain – Guard post at Andersonville Prison in Georgia

Try Searching with Mocavo

I didn’t want to pay for a membership to Mocavo, but it can be useful even without the paid subscription. This site is a search engine but it focuses on genealogy searches so you don’t end up with all the clutter that searching a name on Google brings.

Since I once signed up for a free trial, Mocavo sends me reminders and links frequently. I click on those and it shows a thumbnail view of what it found. When you click on that, the site asks you to subscribe.

At that point, most searchers just say “darn” and abandon it. Look again at the snippet it shows you. If it looks like a match for the person you seek, you can use the clues it provides to sometimes find the same information on Google.

Here’s an example of how it helped me. My search was “Abraham Tower.” It brought up this:

Full text of “History of Dubois County from its primitive days to 1910″

… H. Burt, Abraham B. Tower, John … later Governor Hovey, was its colonel. It served its country in Missouri, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mis- sissippi, Louisiana, Alabama, and Texas. It took part in the sieges …

This is somewhat cryptic but I wanted to read the whole passage. As usual, I couldn’t click through to see the content. I took this phrase “Full text of “History of Dubois County from its primitive days to 1910″ and searched it in Google. That brought up a site with the full text of the book for me to read online. I could even search within the text.

I found that Abraham Bates Tower was a charter member of the E.R. Hawn Post #266 of the G.A.R. that was located in Birdseye, Indiana. It was chartered 28 December 1883. Other charter members were Eleven R. Huff, S.M. Nash, S.V.C., E.H. Baxter, John W. Mason, E.E. Inman, Robert McMahel and Fred Miller.

This was useful information for me, showing where my ancestor was in 1883 and that he was active in the G.A.R.

Create a Timeline

I’m finding it very useful to assemble the dates and information that I have into a timeline. Then I can see what I have and where there are gaps. You can make one just on the Civil War years or include those with the complete timeline of your ancestor’s life.

For the time he was in the service, consult regimental histories to determine where the regiment was and what they were doing on different dates.

Here’s my example, a timeline for the life of Abraham Bates Tower.

I used Squidoo to create my timeline, but you can put it online with a blog or your own website. Be sure to back it up regularly in case anything happens to the site.

Saving your genealogy research

Saving your genealogy research

Another Angle to Search

I subscribe to the Genealogy Tip of the Day and yesterday’s was a great one for anyone searching for their Civil War ancestor. The valuable tip advised searching for the commanding officer’s name.

The thinking is that any newspaper articles or web pages may profile or include this person and yield details relating to the company that your ancestor was in. Usually the commanding officer was someone of importance in the community.

I’d already tried this avenue of research for my great-great grandfather. It did turn up some helpful information for me. The regimental history gave me the name of Jerome Spilman who was the captain.

By searching his name, I found quite a few tidbits to add to my background information on Company G and its movements. This helps me understand my ancestor’s experience during the war.

I wrote about my findings on this page: Officers of Company G, 97th Indiana Infantry.

Civil War Soldier 1863 Greeting Card
Civil War Soldier 1863 Greeting Card by ClassicOldPhotos