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.
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
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:
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.
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.
Compiled Military Service Records At Ancestry.com:
Revolutionary War. Full copies of the Compiled Military Service Records for CT, DE, GA, MD, MA, NH, NJ, NY, NC, PA, RI, SC, VT, VA, and Continental Troops. (This database often doesn’t list the local militia, as most of the men listed were part of the continental line. Researchers search by keyword or location.)
Old Wars. An index and full images of the Compiled Military Service Records of those men who served after the Revolutionary War and before the War of 1812, covering the years of 1784-1811.
War of 1812.Abstracted lists of names, state, and military units from the Compiled Service Records (no images).
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!
Show Notes & Video: Finding your German ancestor’s village is key to finding the genealogical records you need to go further back in your family tree. In this session you’ll learn:
How and why it is important to know the “Heimat” because many records are kept on the local level.
How to de garble a village name that is handed down to you (a common problem!)
Records to search for village names.
Resources for finding those records.
My guest presenter is James Beidler. He’s an expert on German genealogy and was gracious enough to share his expertise in the Genealogy Gems booth at Rootstech a few years ago. Visit James Beidler’s website. Get the book: The Family Tree Historical Atlas of Germany. (Thank you for using our affiliate link which supports this free content.)
Researching your ancestors deep into Germany simply doesn’t happen unless you know the name of the village of origin. This presentation goes over the sources to tie your immigrant to a Heimat and then find the village and its records! HIghlighted in this article are the strategies and resources referred to in this video.
German Methodologies Review:
Your first job is to find every document of the immigrant ancestor or that mentions the immigrant ancestor:
Prepare for surname variants
“Redundancy” is a virtue (e.g., obit may well have something tombstone does not)
Even items such as letters and diaries might give clues!
Be prepared for village names to be corrupted
Familiarize yourself with German maps / gazetteers
Look for “patterns of association” with other individuals
Process any piece of information that might distinguish the immigrant (e.g., occupation, names of other family members, etc.)
Utilize “whole family” genealogy
If specific records don’t exist for your ancestor, try others in family
Look for published sources
1700s families: Burgert / Jones / Yoder / Hacker
1800s families: Burkett / Germans to America / Emigration indexes
Search International Genealogical Index
References to individual
References to clusters of the surname if it is not common
References to shipmates
References to “associated persons”
Look for other sources of immigrant information:
Heitmatstelle Pfalz immigrant card file
Hamburg embarkation lists
Use the “concentric circles” strategy
If a village is found for the above categories of people (surname, shipmates, associated persons) but your immigrant is not found …
… work out from that village in “concentric circles” to other surrounding villages
“Things found on the way to something else”
Machmer / Magemer / Mahomer example
Never turn away luck!
Types of records that might yield a place of origin:
Declarations of intent (“first papers”) Naturalization petitions (“final papers”)
Baptisms of children
Church burial records
Fraternal societies’ records
Letters from relatives
Postmarks on letters
Internet Websites Resources for German Research
The resources listed below can help us answer some of the most common questions we ask as genealogists. Some examples of the questions and Websites that will help:
1. What was the village of origin for my German-speaking immigrant ancestor?
Welcome to this step-by-step series for beginning genealogists—and more experienced ones who want to brush up or learn something new. I first ran this series in 2008-09. So many people have asked about it, I’m bringing it back in weekly segments.
Episode 34: Do Your Genealogy at the Public Library, Part 1
Did you know there is a gem of a genealogical resource right in your own backyard? Well, at least in your own neighborhood—and also in just about every neighborhood where your ancestors lived. The public library is one of the most underestimated sources of genealogical information around! It’s free. It has better hours than most government-run agencies. There are staff with research skills, knowledge of their locale and knowledge about their collections. I have invited Patricia Van Skaik, Manager of the History and Genealogy Department of the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County to join us here on the podcast. In this episode she’s going to give us the inside scoop on the unique genealogical resources that are tucked away in public libraries just waiting to be discovered.
What’s at the library?
Each library has unique materials for its locale. Examples include:
Partnerships with local societies and clubs, and organizations (access to databases)
Unique library expertise
TIP: Check with the public libraries in each location where your ancestors lived TIP: Genealogy holdings vary, and often have to do with what local constituents want.
TIP: Get involved and make requests at your local library if you want more genealogy resources.
How to prepare for your visit
Determine your questions ahead of time and gather the appropriate ancestor information to take with you.
See if they have a genealogy area on the website. There are lots of things on the library website that are not in the catalogue (special exhibits, digitized images, and databases) Don’t just jump straight to the catalogue.
Search the online catalog and identify the books and resources you want
Look for the geographic area, not the person’s surname (town, county, geographical area)
Use the Advanced search – “you don’t have to be an advanced researcher to use the advanced search!”
Don’t use the word “genealogy” in your search. It’s pretty useless.
4 more tips from Lisa and Patricia
Email in advance – ask some questions ahead of time:
Is the website up to date?
Reconfirm hours of operation
What’s the best time to come for more service?
Is wi-fi available?
Do you need change for copy machines?
Are there any special collections you should know about?
Do they offer orientations?
Plan a group visit: Some libraries will make special accommodations for a group visit. Ask if they will provide a tour geared to genealogy. And they may have a meeting room where you can have lunch or meet. It’s a small investment in time and money to make sure that you’re going to get the most of the time you’re going to spend there.
Get their expertise! Librarians don’t just know the collection, but they also know research strategy, collection contents, all the questions that have come before, and local area resources.
Phrase your questions for success: Pose questions in terms of a query. For example: “I’m trying to find evidence of someone’s death during this time frame. What materials do you have that may help?” (Don’t just ask specifically for obituaries or government death records—they may not have one but they may have other resources you’re not thinking of.)
Tune in next week to Episode 35 to learn more about researching at the public library, like tips for advance searching those online card catalogs, thinking like a librarian, unique collections at librarians and the types of questions you can ask your public library staff.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.