By Lisa South - Certified Genealogist
Like most people, I hate war; like many women, I hate war movies, so I find it interesting that I have such a fascination with military records.
If we chart the wars that America has participated in and add the possibility that our ancestors may have served in the regular army during times of peace, military records will be of interest to almost every researcher.
There are three main types of military records created by the federal government: military, pension, and bounty-land. There are many other records, regimental histories etc., that will be discussed in future issues and, of course, if your ancestor served in the Confederacy or state militia, state records must also be searched. (This will also be covered in a future issue)
Military records do not usually give birth information or list relationships, and death information will only be given if your ancestor died during the time of service. Military records, however give information about the places, battles, etc. that involved your ancestor. They can also give you clues to other records, for instance if they were hospitalized, became prisoners of war, or were transferred to another regiment. Occasionally a military record will give you a physical description of the serviceman.
Pension records can be a real help for a genealogist. You never know what you might find. One of my ancestors was asked to list his wife and all his children, living and dead with their birth dates, his marriage date, if he had a former marriage - it was an amazing amount of material! Of course not every person that served in the military will have applied for a pension.
Bounty-land was land awarded for military service. These can help you identify where your ancestor may have lived but we must remember that these warrants could be sold. If someone owned bounty land it is not proof that the person served in the military. No bounty land was issued after the Homestead Act of 1862.
The web site www.archives.gov gives information on how to obtain copies of these records from the National Archives.