Finding where a Civil War ancestor is buried is important to many genealogists. Whether he died in the war or years later, there are numerous sources we can use to find where he is buried.
Let's start with a couple of sources that you might already have.
1. His Death Certificate
Death certificates in many locations list the cemetery where the person is buried. (This varies by location and year, so this might not be applicable to your ancestor.)
2. His Obituary
Obituaries vary in their content, but it isn't unusual for them to list where the person was buried. This is especially true if he died after the war. (Obituaries during the war often did not include this information, as burial information often wasn't known.)
3. FindAGrave and BillionGraves
Let's be clear: FindAGrave and BillionGraves do not list every burial. But when you have databases with millions of records, it's smart to check them out.
4. Pensions and Military Service Records
Civil War pension files are gold mines of genealogical information, including sometimes the place of burial. I've seen widow's pensions that include burial permits for the veteran. (Widows had to prove the veteran was dead, so their documentation on that point was often quite detailed.)
If your ancestor died during the war, his Compiled Military Service Record might list where he was buried. (Note: It wasn't unusual for war dead to be buried first at the battlefield or field hospital and then re-interred in a larger military cemetery after the war.) CMSRs are available through the National Archives; some have also been digitized and are on Fold3.
5. Graves Registration Files
One of the WPA projects back in the 1930s was a project to record the locations of all veterans buried various states. (Some counties continue to add to these records.) The cards record the veteran's name, dates of birth and death, place of burial, and service information.
These records can sometimes be found on microfilm through the Family History Library or in state historical societies, archives, and libraries. Local copies (for just one county) are sometimes located in county recorder's offices or veterans affairs offices. (Check with the county genealogy society to see if they know where the cards are located.)
6. Military Headstone Applications
Beginning in the Civil War, the Federal government would provide a headstone for veterans. The applications for these headstones list where he's buried. There are two series of these cards: c1879-c1903 and 1925-1941. (Those are the dates that the headstone was applied for, not the date of death.) The Federal government began providing headstones for Confederate veterans beginning in 1906, so if you're looking for a Confederate, you'll need that second set of records. Both sets have been digitized and are online on Ancestry and FamilySearch:
- 1879-1903 on Ancestry and on FamilySearch
- 1925-1941 on Ancestry and on FamilySearch
7. Sons of Union Veterans and Sons of Confederate Veterans Databases
Sons of Union Veterans is the successor organization to the Grand Army of the Republic, the organization that pushed for the creation of what we now call Memorial Day. Similarly, the Sons of Confederate Veterans picked up the mantle from the United Confederate Veterans, which was instrumental in marking the graves of Confederate dead. Each of these groups has started a graves database: Sons of Union Veterans National Graves Registration Database and the Confederate Graves Registry.
8. Roll of Honor: Names of Soldiers Who Died in Defence of Their Country
This is a Union-specific resource. It lists the burial places of those who died during the war. It is arranged by location and is available on Google Books and on FamilySearch. (I like the links on FamilySearch because you can see which locations are in which volume.)
9. County Genealogical Societies
I cannot sing the praises of county genealogical societies highly enough. Be sure to check them out to see what they've published on their website or published as a book. The Green County (Wisconsin) Genealogical Society has a list of veterans burials on its website; similarly, the Hamilton County (Ohio) Genealogical Society has a database of Civil War veterans buried in Hamilton County. Also, be sure to look in the Periodical Source Index (PERSI) for articles they've published. (PERSI is available on FindMyPast.)
10. Google (But Not for His Name)
Veterans burials (including Civil War burials) is a popular topic for databases on various county government websites, such as a county recorder or the local veterans affairs office. Sure, you want to Google your ancestor's name, but if his name is in a database, it won't show up. That means we need to change our search strategy.
Try Googling: <name of county> veteran burials. (For example, Kenton County Kentucky veteran burials.)
When I did that search recently, I found that the Kenton County Public Library has put together a database of Union burials. A similar search lead me to the Veteran Burial Index (Destitute) for Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.
Your turn: What sources have you used to find where a Civil War veteran is buried? Share in the comments!
Read all the stones in family plots carefully. When we found my husband’s ancestors buried in a Pomfret CT cemetery there was a stone in memory of a son buried in what is now Alexandria National Cemetery in Alexandria VA. He keeps turning up listed as “buried” in CT but he’s actually only commemorated there
Excellent advice. When we were in France at the American Cemetery I found the name of a young man from my county in Mississippi on the wall of Missing in Action. Back home, in the cemetery where his parents are buried is a tombstone with his information – but he is not buried there. Unfortunately, the stone made no mention of his being MIA.
The U. S. Department of Veterans Affairs has a Nationwide Gravesite Locater on their website. It lists all veterans who are buried in National Cemeteries, including Civil war veterans and gives the location of the grave.
You’re right. I should have included that one. (Though you could say that I sort of included it, since that database has been imported into FindAGrave.)
I’m not sure how to research it, but keep in mind that there were veteran “hospitals” or care facilities where the former soldiers would spend the last part of their lives. I have been transcribing a civil war journal of a Wisconsin private–James B Lockney, who was an Irish immigrant. He served then went back to Wisconsin until late in his life when he went to the National Home for the disabled veteran in Montgomery Co, Ohio. He died there but was buried back in Waukesha, Wisconsin.
Shameless plug….his journal (yet incomplete) can be viewed at:
The National Park Service manages 14 national cemeteries. I can turn there as another option to search for civil war soldiers and burials. https://www.nps.gov/civilwar/soldiers-and-sailors-database.htm
I live in Spotsylvania County VA. If you need a picture of a headstone from a cemetery here, I will do it gratis
Very useful information, Thank you ! Been working for years looking for a civil war vet in Minnesota and have had no luck. Can’t wait to look after reading this
I too, have been searching for the burial site of my Civil War Ancestor with no luck. He died in 1878. I sent for his Pension File and there is simply a statement saying he was buried 9 miles west of Van Buren, Arkansas. Searched all the cemeteries in these areas and still nothing. I keep wondering why his widow didn’t place him in a national cemetery or at least provide him with a military headstone wherever he is buried. If anyone has any suggestions, I would be extremely grateful.
The widow might not have had him buried in a national cemetery due to transportation costs. Even if he was an honorably discharged Union veteran, the family would still have to transport the body to a national cemetery for burial. Also, Congress did not authorize the placement of government-issued military tombstones in private cemeteries until 1879. It’s possible that his widow never knew of that benefit a year after his death.
Thank you for your comments, Amy. I hate to think he’s out there somewhere in an unmarked grave but that may be the case. I’ll keep searching but I tend to agree that what you’ve said may very well be what happened. I do know they had very little money. Thank you again.
in our cemetery there are some civil war solder’s buried there i would love to be able to find any information about them if possible there in Bland cemetery in Wyandotte Oklahoma
I used the Roll of Honor to find a Union Civil War veteran, who died in hospital of disease near the Stones River battlefield. He was apparently initially buried adjacent to the hospital, and then years later, was reinterred in the Stones River National Cemetery and buried as an unknown. So it was known that he was one of the bodies buried, but not specifically which one. When we visited that cemetery, I selected an Unknown burial from the correct state, and stood there for a few moments to think about the life of that ancestor and his family members.
A very interesting feature of the Rolls of Honor are the introductory pages of each one. Oftentimes the person in charge of the burials in each of the National Cemeteries founded soon after the Civil War were Generals. Each was required to write an introduction about what they were charged with doing, and how they did it. Some were very perfunctory, stating that they found the bodies, dug them up and reburied them. Others, such as the volume about the Stones River Cemetery, were caring and well written, giving details about how they searched each back road in the vicinity of the battles, knocked on farmhouse doors to inquire about possible graves on the property, and so on. Concern was shown that no graves be overlooked, because these men had served their country and deserved the recognition due them in a National Cemetery. I was touched that my ancestor had been included in the burials supervised by this caring and thorough General.
I have another Union veteran who died of disease in Van Buren General Hospital in Milliken’s Bend, Louisiana. I know that burials from that area were moved to the Vicksburg National Cemetery, but his name is not in the Rolls of Honor. I did find his death date and place recorded in U.S., Registers of Deaths of Volunteers, 1861-1865, on the Ancestry site. I did create a Find A Grave page for him, which includes a my statement “Body lost or destroyed, Specifically: Body probably buried near the military hospital where he died. Body may have been reburied as an unknown in the nearest National Cemetery in Vicksburg, Mississippi.”