How to Find Compiled Military Service Records for Your Ancestors

Compiled Military Service Records are core genealogical documents for your ancestors’ military service for the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, Indian Wars, Mexican Wars, Civil War, and the Spanish-American War. Expert Michael Strauss tells us what’s in them and how to find them.

compiled military service records

What’s in Compiled Military Service Records

Compiled Military Service Records (often abbreviated as CMSR or CSR) are the records that may exist for your ancestors who served in the U.S. military from the Revolutionary War to the end of the Philippine Insurrection and Spanish-American War. This set of records represents the volunteer Army and doesn’t include regular Army enlistments. Except for limited records of the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812 for the Navy, the other branches of the military (including Navy, Marines, and Revenue Cutter Service) all have their equivalent set of records.

Information you may find in Compiled Military Service Records varies greatly from each of the war periods. They typically contain:

  • name, unit, and period of service of the veteran
  • muster in/out information
  • rank in/out details
  • details of the soldier’s career: promotions, prisoner of war memorandums, casualties, and a number of personnel papers which may include enlistment papers and other related documents
  • for several of the war periods, physical descriptions of the soldiers including name, age, nativity, occupation, height, hair, eyes, and complexion information
Compiled Military Service Records

John H Lemaster. Photo courtesy of Michael Strauss.

Your ancestor may have multiple entries in Compiled Military Service Records. This could occur if a soldier served in more than one unit, or in the case of John LeMaster, if he enlisted in two different armies during the Civil War! The Civil War divided our nation, testing the loyalty of all persons who lived during this time. Lemaster chose the Confederacy, at least initially, when he enlisted with the 2nd VA Infantry in 1861 in Charlestown, VA. He fought alongside his Brigade commander, Thomas J. Jackson, who later would be known as “Stonewall Jackson.”

After the Confederate loss at the battle of Gettysburg, he deserted and lived in Martinsburg in what was now West Virginia, where on his draft registration he was listed as a deserter from the Rebel Army. In 1864, he enlisted in the United States Army with the 3rd WV Cavalry, serving out the duration of the war until 1865. After the war, he was granted a federal pension, with no mention of his former service in the Confederacy.

Here are his military service records for both the Confederate and Union armies:

Compiled Military Service Records

Compiled Military Service Records

Compiled Military Service Records

Compiled Military Service Records

Where to Find Compiled Military Service Records

You may access various CMSR indexes and images online. Here are links to collections at subscription websites Fold3, Ancestry.com and even a couple at the free FamilySearch.org:

Compiled Military Service Records at fold3:

  • Revolutionary War. Compiled Military Service Record images for CT, DE, GA, MD, MA, NH, NJ, NY, NC, PA, RI, SC, VT, VA, and Continental Troops. Genealogists should also search the local state where their ancestors were from as some Militia isn’t included in these records. During the Revolutionary War additional Compiled Service Records were completed for the Navy, which was broken down to include Naval Personnel, Quartermaster General, and Commissary General Departments. One additional set of CMSR images covered Revolutionary War service along with Imprisonment Cards.
  • Old Wars (1784-1811). After the Revolutionary War, the newly formed United States government sought to maintain a regular Army. However, volunteer soldiers who served from 1784-1811 were recorded. (One of the reasons for volunteers to be called up would have included the Whiskey Rebellion of 1793.)  Their Compiled Military Service Record full images are available here.
  • War of 1812. Compiled Military Service Records Indexes for CT, DE, DC, GA, IL, IN, KY, LA, MD, MA, MI, MS, MO, NH, NJ, NY, NC, OH, PA, RI, SC, TN, VT, VA and also the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Shawanoe Indians along with United States Volunteers. Full copies of CMSR are online for the Chickasaw and Creek Indians, along with the men from buy herpes medication online uk Lake Erie and Mississippi.
  • Indian Wars. Compiled Military Service Records Indexes for the various Indians wars from 1815-1858.
  • Mexican War. Compiled Military Service Record indexes for AL, AR, CA, FL, GA, IL, IN, IA, KY, LA, MD, DC, MA, MI, MS, MO, NJ, NY, NC, OH, PA, SC, TN, TX, VA, WI, and the Mormon Battalion and the United States Volunteers. Full copies of the CMSR are online for AR, MS, PA, TN, TX, and the Mormon Battalion.
  • Civil War. Click here to search. Union: Indexes for AZ, CA, CO, CT, IL, IN, IA, KS, ME, MA, MI, MN, MO, NH, NJ, NY, OH, PA, RI, VT, WA, WI, United States Veteran Volunteers, and Veteran Reserve Corps. Full copies of CMSR for AL, AR, CA, CO, Dakota Territory, DE, DC, FL, GA, KY, LA, MD, MA, MS, MO, NE, NV, NM, NC, OR, TN, TX, UT, VT, VA, WV, United States Colored Troops, United States Volunteers, and 1st NY Engineers. Confederate: indexes are online for AL, and VA. Full copies of CMSR are online for AL, AZ, AK, FL, GA, KY, LA, MD, MO, MS, NC, SC, TN, TX, VA, Miscellaneous, Volunteers, Indians, and Officers.
  • Spanish American War. Compiled Military Service Record indexes for AL, AR, CA, CO, CT, Dakota Territory, DE, DC, FL, GA, ID, IL, IN, IA, KS, KY, LA, ME, MD, MA, MI, MN, MS, MO, MT, NE, NV, NH, NJ, NY, NC, ND, OH, OK, OR, PA, PR, RI, SC, SD, TN, TX, UT, VT, VA, WA, WV, WI, WY, and United States Volunteers. Full copies of CMSR are online for FL.

Compiled Military Service Records At Ancestry.com:

Free Compiled Military Service Records at FamilySearch.org:

FamilySearch has fewer Compiled Military Service Records that include images. One of the major collections includes the Revolutionary War CMSR’s that when searched here, the images provide a direct link to Fold3.

Most of the other major war periods are microfilmed and available at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. With online access through both Fold3 and Ancestry provided on the computers in the library, though, accessing the film is less desirable. Click here to learn more about changes in microfilm lending at the Family History Library.

Michael Strauss contributes the Military Minutes segment on Lisa Louise Cooke’s Genealogy Gems Podcast. In the recently-published Episode 211, he profiles the 20th-century replacement for Compiled Military Service Records: the Official Military Personnel File. Click here and listen for free!

 

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links and Genealogy Gems will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links (at no additional cost to you). Thank you for supporting the free Genealogy Gems podcast and blog!

Savvy Tips to Help Identify Old Photos

A local genealogist used these strategies to help identify old photos taken on holiday in England by an Australian family. Read more about her savvy tips below and view the free video on using Google image search by Lisa Louise Cooke.

Sandra Stocks can’t resist solving genealogical mysteries–her own, or someone else’s. So when she saw an  article in the Huddersfield Daily Examiner of West Yorkshire titled, “Can you solve the mystery of these old photographs?” she had to answer.

The photos in the article belonged to an Australian family. They included a series of images taken in the 1930s while the party was on holiday along the Great British coast. A partly-legible name and address on a picture postcard in the group provided a clue.

A few of the article’s readers responded with assistance. One of these readers was Sandra, who volunteers with the Kirkheaton Family History Group. Her answer was featured in a follow-up article (“Mystery SOLVED!”). We reached out to Sandra ourselves, to see if she would share the research strategies she used to identify these old photos. Very generously, she did!

Sandra Stocks, left, with Ann from Canada. Their grandfathers were cousins; they met via Ancestry.com and Ann visited England. They met up at The Croppers Arms pub, where a mutual ancestor was a 19th-century landlord. Photo courtesy of Sandra Stocks.

How-to Identify Old Photos in 4 Easy Steps

Genealogy Gems Premium website members can listen to her full answer in the Genealogy Gems Premium Episode 143. In the meantime, here’s a helpful summary for everyone:

1. Look closely at the photo for any identifying names or words. Sandra begins by saying, “Although the name on the postcard looked like Mr. J. Stogley, when I looked on the newspaper’s website there were other photographs, one which showed the name P. Hogley, Druggist, above a shop window.” (Don’t see anything? Skip to step 4, below.)

2. Use any names or places you identify to consult historical records for that place and time. Sandra continues, “I then searched on Ancestry.co.uk for Joseph Hogley, which, being an unusual name, was easy to find…In the 1911 English census he was living with his wife at the address on the postcard, so I knew I had the right chap. I then searched for him in [an] earlier census and found his family, and his brother Percy Hogley, a druggist, the writer of the postcard.”

3. Follow up in other historical records to identify additional relatives–and possible subjects in the photos. Sandra most often consults birth, marriage, and death records on Ancestry.co.uk and Findmypast.co.uk. “Not everybody wants to pay for a subscription,” she acknowledges, so she also recommends FreeBMD.org.uk “which allows you to search births, marriages, and deaths in England and Wales. A quick search of births for Hogley between 1850 and 1932 would have given me the births of Joseph and Percy Hogley in Huddersfield in 1875 and 1877, respectively. I used FreeBMD to discover that Joseph and his wife had a son, Bernard Thomas Hogley, in 1913 and Bernard married in 1945.”

4. If the photos have no identifying names or places, go straight to those who might recognize them: the locals. Lastly, Sandra shares, “There is a great family history forum where I could have posted a photograph and within a very short time somebody would have told me an approximate year when the picture was taken. The website is RootsChat.com and they also have pages for each English and Welsh county where local people are more than happy to help with genealogy queries.”

More on How-to Identify Old Photos

Unidentified old photos exist in nearly everyone’s family history holdings. Pull those old photos out and discover what else you can discern using these additional tips in Lisa Louise Cooke’s free video titled “How to Google Image Search to Identify Old Photos Using a Smartphone & Tablet.” By learning how to match the images you have to other images on the web, you may find some great new clues for your genealogy! This trick works great for distinct or well-known images, such as a location, or perhaps an important person in your family tree. Give it a try!

WPA Records for Genealogy: Historical Record Surveys, Local Histories and More

Have you used WPA records for genealogy? Their Historical Record Surveys and local and oral histories may help you in your family history research. Existing records and locations vary widely. Here are tips to help you in your search.

WPA records for genealogy

In the late 1930s and early 1940s, employees of the Works Progress Administration (WPA, also known as the Works Projects Administration) created new resources for U.S. genealogical research. It’s possible you’ve even consulted some of these without being aware of their WPA origins. After all, the projects and their formats varied. They didn’t always prominently credit the WPA and some were printed long afterward. We’re going to shine the spotlight on WPA-era local histories, oral histories and statewide Historical Record Surveys.

WPA Records for Genealogy: Local Histories

In Annie Barrows’ novel The Truth According to Us, Layla Beck heads to the small fictional town of Macedonia, West Virginia to write a local history as a WPA assignment. Drama ensues, both in Layla’s personal life and as she tries to learn local stories, which everyone reports a little differently. (We featured this book in the Genealogy Gems Book Club.)

Actually, local histories were written as WPA projects. Their scope, topics, and formats varied, depending on the unique background and resources of each region and how active WPA workers were in each state and county. For example, WPA historical materials in Morrison County, Minnesota include “histories on townships, cities, churches, schools, businesses, the military, and miscellaneous county history topics,” which have since been collected and reprinted by the county historical society. Many historical projects included photographs, such as this one for the city of New Orleans.

WPA Records for Genealogy: Oral Histories

WPA workers also captured oral histories of individuals, too. Many were collected in American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936 to 1940, now online at the Library of Congress. According to the collection description, “The documents chronicle vivid life stories of Americans who lived at the turn of the century and include tales of meeting Billy the Kid, surviving the 1871 Chicago fire, pioneer journeys out West, factory work, and the immigrant experience. The documents often describe the informant’s physical appearance, family, education, income, occupation, political views, religion and mores.”

Other important WPA oral histories are narratives of former slaves and their families. You can browse an enormous collection of these online at the Library of Congress. These aren’t the ideal eyewitness accounts we wish for, as they were gathered so long after the end of slavery, from many who were young children at the time. Also, many researchers believe interviewees may not have spoken candidly, especially to white interviewers who may have known them personally.

It’s a long shot to find an ancestor mentioned by name in WPA oral histories. In some instances, pseudonyms were even used for names and places. But, you can still learn a lot from others’ descriptions of daily life and unusual events your ancestors may have experienced.

WPA oral history transcription

From one of the slave narratives mentioned in this article.

Historical Record Surveys

The Historical Record Surveys created by the WPA are among the most genealogically-valuable of their projects. “Under the auspices of the WPA, workers went to archives, historical societies, public and university libraries, and compiled inventories of manuscript collections,” writes Bryan Mulcahy in an online report. “They went to courthouses, town halls, offices in large cities, and vital statistics offices and inventoried records. Besides compiling indexes, they also transcribed some of the records they found.”

Today, many of their efforts still exist. They include indexes to cemeteries, newspapers, and naturalization records, as well as inventories of courthouse records, church records, and other manuscript collections in various archives or libraries. Of course, some records may have been moved or destroyed since inventories were created, but knowing what records existed around 1940 and what they were called may help you locate surviving collections. Some indexes, such as those of cemetery tombstone inscriptions, may actually be more valuable since they captured information from tombstones that may no longer exist or be legible.

A blank WPA Historical Records Survey church records inventory form. Image courtesy of the State Archives of Florida. Click this image to find it online at Florida Memory.

One great example is the Historical Records Survey for the state of Oregon, described as “the most comprehensive documentary project of Oregon history and related records of its time.” It includes historical essays, document transcriptions, interviews, research notes, photographs, pamphlets and more. According to its collection description, “The territorial and pioneer periods of the mid-to-late nineteenth century receive the greatest attention, with an emphasis on the growth of state government and infrastructure, business and agriculture, transportation, education, biography, and relations between social groups. Native Americans figure prominently in this collection.”

Finding WPA Records for Genealogy Online

Some WPA projects were carried out on a federal level and others by state agencies. They were never centrally published or collected. Today, surviving original files and published volumes are scattered across the country. Some can be found in the National Archives, many in state libraries or societies, and many more available at local repositories.

A Google search such as historical records surveys and the name of the state and/or county is a great way to start your search for WPA records for genealogy research. Some results will lead right to the kinds of resources you want, such as this guide to WPA records in archives in the Pacific Northwest. Others, such as this one for the Iowa Historical Records Survey published in The American Archivist, are mostly a history of the effort. However, they do contain several useful bibliographic citations to records that were created. Add the name of the county to your search and you may find more targeted results, such as this library catalog entry for the inventory of the Jasper County archives. Click here to learn more about Google searches for genealogy records you want to find.

Remember, though, that many WPA publications and collections aren’t identified as such. Don’t fixate on needing to find WPA listed in the title. Just concentrate your efforts on finding the local and oral histories, photos, historical record indexes and inventories, and other resources that may be out there. When you find one created during the Great Depression, you’ll know it may have been done by the WPA.

Love what you’re reading and want to learn more? Go deeper into genealogy “gems” like these in Lisa Louise Cooke’s Genealogy Gems Podcasts. Lisa produces a free internationally-renowned monthly podcast that’s had over 2.5 million downloads! Additionally, Genealogy Gems Premium website members also have access to her full archive of monthly Premium podcast epidodes: check out a full description of these here including Episode 2 on WPA records for genealogy.

The Royal Irish Constabulary Records in New and Updated Genealogical Collections

New and updated genealogical collections for the Royal Irish Constabulary are just the tip of the iceberg this week. Scroll down for more cool finds for New South Wales, Scotland, U.S. marriages, and an update to the Freedmen’s Bureau collections at FamilySearch.

dig these new record collections

Ireland – Royal Irish Constabulary Records

You can now search the Ireland, Royal Irish Constabulary Service Records 1816-1922 at Findmypast for over 486,000 records that uncover the details of your ancestor’s career with the R.I.C.

Each search result includes an image of the original document and a transcript. The nature of the information recorded will vary significantly depending on the subject and type of the original document. The following is a list of what types of records can be found in this collection:

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Auxiliary division general registers: These are nominal rolls that recorded member’s service number, rank, dispersed date, and company name. The registers also include division journals that recorded dates of appointment, promotions, and medical details.

Clerical staff: record of service and salaries: These lists of clerical staff include birth date, age at appointment, rank, department and salary.

Constabulary Force Funds: These correspondence registers are of members who paid into the fund with notes on whether they had been pensioned, died or received any rewards from the fund.

Constabulary lists: These are lists of chief constables created during the first year of the Royal Irish Constabulary.

Disbandment registers: These registers are of serving members who were with the force in 1922 when it disbanded after the creation of the Free Irish State. They also noted the number of years the constable served and their recommended pension.

General registers: Records of constables’ service history are contained in these general registers. The entries include the individual’s birth date, native county, religion, previous occupation, date of appointment, and promotions, as well as any rewards or punishments received and the date of pension or discharge.

Nominal returns, arranged by counties: Nominal returns are lists of all serving members of the Royal Irish Constabulary organised by county that recorded the individual’s number, rank, name, religion, date of appointment, marital status, and station location.

Officers’ registers: These registers are lists of Officers that include transfers and dates, favorable and unfavorable records, dates of promotions and details of previous military service.

Pensions and gratuities: Pension records reveal the constable’s rate of pay and the amount of pension calculated.

Recruits index: Lists of new recruits, their dates of appointment and arrival, and their company can be found in the recruits index.

Also at Findmypast, Ireland, Royal Irish Constabulary History & Directories has had a significant addition of over 43,000 records. You will be able to explore a variety of publications between the years of 1840 and 1921. These records will provide insight into the administration and daily operations of the police force.

Each record includes a PDF image of the original publication. The collection includes training manuals, codes of conduct, salary scales, circulars and staff lists that cover promotions, deployments, and rules & regulations.

Ireland – Valuation Books

At FamilySearch, the Ireland, Valuation Office Books, 1831-1856 are now available to search. These records are the original notebooks that were used when the property valuations were conducted between the years of 1831-1856. They are arranged by county, then alphabetically by parish or townland.

Land valuation records may contain the following information:

  • Land occupier’s name
  • Location, description, and monetary valuation of each land plot surveyed

New South Wales – Passenger Lists

The New South Wales Passenger Lists is a collection at Findmypast that contains over 8.5 million records. The collection includes records of both assisted and unassisted passengers. The assisted passenger lists cover 1828 to 1896 and the unassisted passenger lists span the years 1826 to 1900. Assisted passengers refers to those who received monetary assistance from another party or agency/government for their passage.

Each result will provide a transcript and image of the original record. The information included on the transcript will vary depending on whether your ancestor was an assisted or unassisted passenger, although most will include your ancestors name, passage type, birth year, nationality, departure port, arrival port and the dates of their travels.

Scotland – Parish Records

The Scotland Non-Old Parish Registers Vital Records 1647-1875 found at Findmypast is a collection of registers created by churches outside of the established church. It contains over 12,000 transcripts of births, marriages, and deaths.

Non-old parish registers are different from the Church of Scotland’s old parish records.

Though these are only transcripts and do not include a digital image of the original, you may find the following information on the records included in this collection:

With each result you will be provided with a transcript of the details found in the original source material. The detail in each transcript can vary depending on the event type and the amount of information that was recorded at the time of the event. Here are some of the facts you may find in the records:

  • Name
  • Birth year, date, and place
  • Event year
  • Event type – birth, marriage, or death
  • Register name
  • Parish and county

United States – Freedmen’s Bureau Records

FamilySearch has updated their magnificent collection of United States Freedmen’s Bureau, Records of Freedmen, 1865-1872. Records found in this collection include census returns, registers, and lists of freedmen. They also include letters and endorsements, account books, applications for rations, and much more. Many of the records will hold valuable genealogical data.

For a complete list and coverage table of the full collection, click here.

United States – Marriages – Oregon and Utah

Ancestry.com has recently updated two marriage collections. The Oregon, County Marriages, 1851-1975 and the Weber and Piute Counties, Utah, County Marriages, 1887-1940 have some new records. Marriage records will often provide many helpful genealogical details. Depending on the year, you may find:

  • Name of the groom and bride
  • Date and place of the event
  • Birth dates and places of bride and groom
  • Names of parents of both bride and groom
  • How many previous marriages and marital status
  • Place of residence of bride and groom

United States – Washington – Newspapers

Washington State historic newspapers added to their digital collection of newspapers this week. With nearly 50,000 digitized pages from historical newspapers based in Centralia, Eatonville, Tacoma, and Spokane newest titles include the Centralia Daily Hub (1914-16), The Eatonville Dispatch (1916-61) and Den Danske Kronike (1916-17), a Danish-English publication based in Spokane.

The Centralia and Eatonville papers were added this month and Den Danske Kronike was added last summer, along with the Tacoma Evening Telegraph (1886-87).

You will be able to search this newspaper collection for free from the Washington State Library website.

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