Updated 1 Jan 2011
Census records can also help identify Civil War veterans.
Once you've identified what area of the country your family was living in, you can look for them in Federal Census records. Indices to the census records can help locate people even if you don't know where they were living, but you may not be able to prove which "John Smith" in New York City was your ancestor. Always be careful that you are following the correct person, and prove this with other documentation.
The most recent census records opened to the public are those for 1930. Census records will help you identify where and when people were born. You can then request copies of their vital records, and/or obituaries, both of which might help trace your branch back another generation.
The 1910 federal census is an especially helpful document for Civil War research, as every man in the census was asked whether or not he served in the Union or Confederate Armies. A notation of UA usually indicates "Union Army." Be sure to check this census to see if your ancestor was listed as a Union veteran.
If your potential Civil War ancestor wasn't in the 1910 census, perhaps he or his widow was alive in 1890. Most of the 1890 census was lost in fire, but what survived is a special census taken of Union veterans and widows of Union veterans. The only records that exist are for Kentucky through Wyoming (in alphabetical order).
Many states created their own census schedules for use in off years. However, only a few asked questions about Civil War veterans: Georgia, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, and Wisconsin. If you have an ancestor who lived in any of these states, be sure to check the state census records to determine whether any of your ancestors are listed as a Civil War veteran. For example, the 1865 NY State census is an excellent source of information about Union veterans, including those who died in service. This may be one of the few sources you can use to identify a relative who served, but who did not live through the war, or did not survive long after the war.
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