Digging into military records can yield an incredible amount of information about our ancestors. (My favorite is my 3rd-great-grandfather’s Civil War pension file. It showed that he married his second wife 12 days after she divorced her previous husband. Yeah, that.) While some records will spell out military service, there are times when we need to tease that fact out. Here are 3 clues to look for to discover your ancestor’s military service.
Henry Clay Ruby’s obituary doesn’t come out and say that he was a Civil War veteran. However, it does state that he was a member of the O. P. Morton post, Grand Army of the Republic. The GAR was an organization comprised of honorably discharged Union veterans. Knowing about the Grand Army of the Republic gives us the clue we need to start exploring Henry’s Civil War service.
Also, look for flag holders at the grave. Learn about the organizations that they represent. (Keep in mind, of course, that the flag holder might be in front of the wrong grave.)
2. Symbols on Tombstones
Not all information on tombstones is words and numbers. Not to sound like The Da Vinci Code, but there can be meaning in the symbols. Look for things like crossed swords, crossed flags, cannons, etc.
One symbol that often isn’t a clue to military service is the anchor. An anchor on a tombstone is often used as a symbol of hope.
3. Census Records
We can get so focused on the names and relationships in the census that we skip looking at the whole record. Question 30 (yes, 30!) on the 1910 census lists whether the person was a veteran of the Union Army (UA), Union Navy (UN), Confederate Army (CA), or Confederate Navy (CN). Below shows what you’re looking for:
When you’re looking at the 1910 census, be careful, as the Census Bureau also used those right-hand columns for statistical notations.
The 1840 census listed Revolutionary War pensioners by name and age. There’s also the 1890 Special Schedule of Union Veterans and Widows.
[EDIT: Thanks to Jade and newsletter reader Rosemary C. who pointed out that I omitted the 1930 census and its column asking if a person was a veteran and, if so, which war. Since I’m editing, I’ll also mention the 1940 census’s supplemental question about military service.]
What’s been your best military discovery?