Searching Beyond those Federal Records

The following is a guest post I wrote recently for the DuPage County Illinois Genealogical Society, Wheaton, IL.  It ran on their website earlier this month.

“I LOVE the Civil War! It was wonderful! Fabulous!”

Those were the opening remarks of Craig Pfannkuche at a recent program co-sponsored by the DuPage County Historical Museum and the DuPage County Genealogical Society.  The program, entitled  “Using Non-Federal Civil War Records in Family History Research,” was held last week at the Wheaton museum.

Civil War military records of my great- grandfather Edward Kennedy (1845-1880) discovered earlier this month during a visit to  the National Archives, Washington, D.C.

Pfannkuche, a former high school teacher who taught history and anthropology for 30 years, has continued to put his curiosity, research skills, and experience as an educator to good use since his retirement. In addition to lecturing on family history topics, he’s served as Genealogical Archivist for the Chicago and Northwestern Railway, and board member for both the McHenry County Genealogical Society and Chicago Genealogical Society.

Aptly dressed in a navy jacket and gray slacks, the speaker, who noted that he had ancestors serving on both sides of the war, made history come alive for those in attendance with his energy, enthusiasm and humorous anecdotes.

“Lots of records were kept by the federal government, states and counties, and the Quartermaster corps just churned them out—all to our benefit,” he told his audience of genealogists.

“Early on,” he explained, “young men signed up in droves for the ‘Adventure of a Lifetime.’ Friends, brothers, neighbors and classmates often joined up together.

For the most part though, the war was fought by draftees, and regiments were raised by the states which each had a quota. That created records.”

“Counties having trouble meeting their quotas,” Pfannkuche explained, “offered cash bounties to entice volunteers to join, and many young men went from county to county enlisting wherever a bounty was paid. They’d sign up, collect their bounty, and run off to another county to do it all over again.  That created more records.”

And draftees with the money who didn’t want to go to war, could hire themselves a substitute to take their place for $300. That created records too,” he continued.

Reading Room, the National Archives, Washington, D.C.

While Pfannkuche noted that pension files and military service records may be found through the National Archives, he also encouraged researchers to investigate other federal records: the OR (Official Record of the Union and Confederate Armies in the Civil War), the ORN (Official Record of the Union and Confederate Navies in the Civil War, and the Roll of Honor: 1865-1923, which contains the official record of veterans’ burial places during those years.

But Pfannkuche also promoted checking county and state records as well when searching for a Civil War ancestor. “Most states have Adjutant Generals. Write to the Adjutant General of the state where your ancestor was discharged from. You may be told that  they’ve transferred their records to the state archives, but contact them anyway—maybe not all the records have been transferred.”

For those whose ancestors were in the Confederate Army, Pfannkuche suggested contacting the United Daughters of the Confederacy whose records are in Austin, TX.

But while the starting point for most Civil War researchers is often via keyboard, mouse, and the internet through genealogy and government websites, Pfannkuche encouraged his listeners to go much further than that.

There’s a treasure trove of resources beyond traditional federal records for learning more about those who played a part in one of the most significant chapter’s of our nation’s history, he professed.

“Don’t stop after seeking pension files and military records from traditional sources like the National Archives or state muster rolls. While they may provide the raw data—facts and figures—they don’t give the full story. There ARE other avenues to pursue in search of your Civil War ancestor,” he insisted.

The National Archives, Washington, D.C.

His suggestions?

“GO! GO to the county where your ancestor served.  VISIT the area where your ancestor fought….where he was mustered in, or out.  If he fought at Shiloh, go to Shiloh!”

“Visit the local museums,” he encouraged. “Talk to the curators. Ask if they have  local regimental histories from the Civil War.  Read the diaries, journals and letters of soldiers from areas where your ancestor served. Read the historic newspapers of the day—in person, if possible—not all historical newspapers are online,” he pointed out.

“Examine the photo collections. Look at the artifacts. Review local histories that can’t be found in any other library or museum,” Pfannkuche continued. “Visit the local cemeteries, look at the monuments, examine the headstones. Most of these kinds of things aren’t indexed! You just won’t find them online.”

The program was one in a series of educational lectures being held at the DuPage County Historical Museum in recognition of the Civil War’s Sesquicentennial. Remaining programs include: Disease, Wounds, Hospitals and Hygiene: The Medical Side of the Civil War (October 8 from 1-2 pm); and Civil War Nurse Clara Barton (October 15, 11-2 pm).

An exhibit “DuPage County and the Civil War: A Local Perspective is also running at the museum through September 2012. Museum hours are 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays and noon to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.  For more information about the programs or exhibit call (630) 510-4956.

____

Pat Biallas is a budding genealogist who began researching her family history just two years ago. She’s elated over the results of her first research trip  two weeks ago to the National Archives in Washington, D.C. where she was fortunate enough to  obtain military records for two  great-grandfathers:  William Donar, who served in   Co. “C”,  25th Regiment, New York National Guard in 1862, and Edward Kennedy  who served in Co. “L”, 1st Regiment, New York Engineers in 1865.

____

Copyright © 2011 Patricia Desmond Biallas 


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4 Responses to Searching Beyond those Federal Records

  1. Meg Biallas says:

    This is a great post, Mom. Can you also embed the link to the original post (from the DuPage site)?

  2. Welcome to the GeneaBloggers family. Hope you find the association fruitful; I sure do. I have found it most stimulating, especially some of the Daily Themes.

    May you keep sharing your ancestor stories!

    Dr. Bill 😉
    http://drbilltellsancestorstories.blogspot.com/
    Author of “13 Ways to Tell Your Ancestor Stories” and family saga novels:
    “Back to the Homeplace” and “The Homeplace Revisited”
    http://thehomeplaceseries.blogspot.com/
    http://www.examiner.com/x-53135-Springfield-Genealogy-Examiner
    http://www.examiner.com/x-58285-Ozarks-Cultural-Heritage-Examiner

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