Do You Have a Photo?

If you are lucky enough to have a photo of your Civil War ancestor, treasure it. I do have some photos of him but they are from after war ended.

Photographers came to the camps and soldiers could have their photo taken to send home, but I’ve not found a photo of my ancestor in uniform. Perhaps he couldn’t afford it or maybe there was one taken but as the years went by, it was lost.

civil-war-confederate soldier - finding a photo of your civil war ancestor

I know this isn’t my ancestor as the uniform is Confederate.

I can only hope that there was a photo and it was passed down through his children, then to one of their children. If so, then maybe someday they will post it to Find-a-Grave or to Ancestry or eBay or another online site. I keep searching his name on the Internet, but so far, all I find are the photos of him that’s I’ve posted.

If you do have a photo but it is damaged, scan it into your computer. There are groups on Facebook where volunteers will repair a digital photo. They can remove spots, cracks and tears, brighten it up if it is too dark, and do other magical things to restore it.

Random Acts of Photo Restoration facebook group

This Facebook group and a few others do volunteer work restoring photos for people.

Take care of any photo that you have by keeping it away from direct sunlight that might fade an old photo. If you frame it, use the special glass that filters out the sun. Make copies of the photo and distribute them to other family members so it has a better chance of being preserved and passed down in the family. Give a copy of the picture to a museum or historical society and also post it online with information about the soldier.


Civil War Soldiers’ Graves Online Database

If you are searching for a Civil War ancestor, this database of Confederate and Union graves is a good place to check.

Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter

Click on the above image to view a larger version.

The Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) was the largest fraternal organization for Union veterans. It was a very active organization in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Only Union veterans were permitted to join the GAR. As the members aged and then died, the organization eventually disappeared. However, it was replaced by the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, with membership restricted to descendants of Union Civil War veterans. The Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War inherited most of the records of the national GAR organization, as well as many of the records of local chapters (called “encampments”).

The Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War (SUVCW) now has created its Grave Registration Project to document the final resting places of BOTH Union and Confederate Civil War veterans. The fully-searchable database is available…

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Virginia Tech’s Civil War Newspaper Collection is Online

Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter

The American Civil War Newspapers website can be a valuable resource for genealogists researching Civil War era ancestors, even those outside of Virginia. The ultimate goal of the American Civil War Newspapers website is to index newspapers from the Civil War era — Northern and Southern, Eastern and Western, urban and rural, white and black — in order to offer a balanced cross-section of opinion, observation, and experience, from all across America.


Quoting from the newspaper collection’s web site:

“For many years the newspapers of the Civil War era were probably the most neglected of all sources, and yet they are one of the richest. The reason no doubt lay in the sheer mass of them, their inaccessibility, and the fact that they were not indexed. Few if any scholars had the time or resources to spend weeks and months scanning page by page in the hope of finding something…

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United States Colored Troops (USCT) Pension Files Online

Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter

The IAAM Center for Family History is a one of a kind research center dedicated to African American genealogy. It collects and digitizes all sorts of historical records, including: funeral programs, obituaries, photos, historical documents and family histories. The center will be a part of the International African American Museum, scheduled to open in 2020.

The IAAM Center is collecting United States Colored Troops (USCT) Pension Files. Quoting from the Center’s web site:

“As Bernice Bennett notes in her article USCT Pension Files: A Rich Resource for African American Genealogy, pension files can reveal many biographical details about ancestors who served in the United States Colored Troops (USCT). Because events in USCT veterans’ lives before the Civil War were seldom recorded in the documentary record, veterans had to go to great lengths to prove their identity, their service in the Civil War, their dates of marriage, names and ages…

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Researchers Building Database of African American Civil War Soldiers, Detailing Their Lives Both Before and After the War

As more Black history records come online, finding a Civil War ancestor becomes more accessible for those with African American heritage. This post is from Eastman’s Online Genealogy Newsletter.

Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter

A team of researchers has launched a project that is working to put online records of the United States Colored Troops—regiments of African American soldiers that included large numbers of men who had been slaves at the start of the Civil War.

In 1862, the Union Army officially created the United States Colored Troops (USCT)—regiments of African American soldiers that included large numbers of men who had been slaves at the start of the Civil War. However, details of these estimated 200,000 men who fought in the conflict are not easily accessible. While the army kept records of their backgrounds and where they fought as well as their fates and fortunes, they are housed, in paper format, in the National Archives Building in Washington, D.C.

The African American Civil War Museum in Washington now plans to produce an electronic archive chronicling the lives of these soldiers, both before and after…

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Walk in the Footsteps of Your Civil War Ancestor

If you know that your Civil War ancestor participated in a specific battle, visit that site to learn all you can about his experience there. Just standing on the ground where he endured fire from the enemy lets you picture what he went through.

Most battlefields provide information on plaques that you can walk or drive to. Often there is a visitor’s center with a documentary film and exhibits to further inform the visitor. Check for a webpage for information on what can be seen there and for the hours.

Recently, I traveled to Mississippi to the location of the Battle of Brice’s Crossroads. There was much to learn about the location, the conditions and the placement of the troops.


Information display at the Battle of Brice’s Crossroads. (photo by Virginia Allain)

I looked at the rolling hills with clumps of trees and could imagine the panic in the Union troops trapped by the flooded river, unable to cross to safety. The bridge, blocked by a turned-over wagon doomed hundreds to capture and imprisonment.

In the case of my ancestor, Abraham Bates Tower of the 93rd Indiana Infantry, this battle was a major turning point in his life. He went to Andersonville Prison with the other captured soldiers and emerged six months later as a wreck of a man. Starvation and illness there almost killed him, and according to his medical records he suffered for years trying to recover from that.

Andersonville is well worth a visit if your Union ancestor was a prisoner there or if a Confederate soldier, he might possibly have been a guard there.

from Pat Ruble's website:

Abraham Bates Tower – A researcher in our family, Pat Ruble, provided this photo of him shortly after the war.

Many of the sites are under the care of the National Parks (list of Civil War related parks) but some are maintained on the state or local level. Just search the name of a battle online to see what museum or park is preserved for it. Then you can start working that into your vacation plans for this summer.

Determine the Nationality of Your Civil War Ancestor’s Last Name

If you’re curious about your Civil War ancestors and where their last name originated, there are a variety of sources to help you track it down.

  • A good starting place is your public library. Good-sized libraries have a book with surnames in their reference section. An excellent title is the Dictionary of Surnames published by the Oxford University Press. It contains 800 pages with 100,000 entries from Europe, Australia, North America, and the British Isles. You can visit the library or call with your question about your name.
  • There are a wealth of links online at Cyndi’s List of Genealogy Sites. You can browse the names on passenger lists looking for the spelling and country of origin that fits you best.
  • Search on the Internet for your last name. In the search box, put the name followed by a plus sign and the words “origin of name.” It will look like this: McGraw + origin of name
  • Ask family members where they think the family came from and talk to older relatives at family reunions.genealogy search keyboard
  • The search is more difficult for African Americans whose last name may be that of the slave owner. Ask at the library for anything like this title: A Genealogist’s Guide to Discovering Your African-American Ancestors. How to Find and Record Your Unique Heritage. Check the website listed below where 1860 slave holders and African names are matched and the other one with African American names. Here are two sites to check: List of slaveholders and African names and Site with 50,000 African American surnames.