National Homes for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers: A Surprisingly Rich Resource

In his episode of Who Do You Think You Are?, Bryan Cranston used a resource that I love: the register from a U.S. National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers. These records are often overlooked in Civil War research, overshadowed by pension and service records. However, there are clues in these registers that we need to look at.

A History of the National Homes

The Civil War left countless men with injuries — physical, mental, emotional — that rendered them unable to live the life they had before the war. To care for these men (specifically, those who fought for the Union), Congress authorized the National Homes of Disabled Volunteer Soldiers in 1865. (They were originally called the National Asylums; “Asylum” was changed to “Home” in 1873.) Union veterans who could prove their disability were related to their service were eligible for admission. The requirements were loosened over time to allow veterans from other wars and those whose disabilities were not service-related.

Admission to the Homes were voluntary and veterans could choose which Home they wanted. Some opted for one in warmer areas, such as the Pacific Branch near Los Angeles. Some chose a home near he had children living. (Always research all of the children!)

The National Homes for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers included:

  • Eastern Branch, Togus Springs, Maine
  • Central Branch, Dayton, Ohio
  • Northwestern Branch, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
  • Southern Branch, Hampton, Virginia
  • Western Branch, Leavenworth, Kansas
  • Pacific Branch, Sawtelle, California
  • Marion Branch, Marion, Indiana
  • Danville Branch, Danville, Illinois
  • Mountain Branch, Johnson City, Tennessee
  • Battle Mountain Sanitarium, Hot Springs, South Dakota
  • Bath Branch, Bath, New York
  • Roseburg Branch, Roseburg, Oregon
  • St. Petersburg Home, St. Petersburg, Florida
  • Biloxi Home, Biloxi, Mississippi
  • Tuskegee Home, Tuskegee, Alabama

The Records

The records that family historians will get the most out of are the registers. Here’s the entry for Joseph H. Cranston, Bryan Cranston’s great-great-grandfather:

Joseph H Cranston, Central Branch, U.S. National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, Dayton, Ohio
Joseph H. Cranston, “United States National Homes for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, 1866-1938,” database with images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 25 August 2015), Dayton, Ohio > Register no. 10500-11999 > image 612 of 777; citing NARA microfilm publication T1749 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.). Click to enlarge.

The Military History section at the top contains a recap of Joseph’s military service, including three different regiments that he served in during the Civil War. It also lists “varicose veins” as the kind of disability he had.


The Domestic History section is where we can find some good biographical details, which is certainly the case with Joseph Cranston. Here’s the first part of that section:


We learn his birthplace as County Armagh, Ireland. He was age 57 when he was admitted. After he left the service, he lived in Fostoria, Ohio and was a carpenter. The right-hand part of this section gives even more clues:


He claimed to be single. He lists his friend Nathan Hatfield of Fostoria as his nearest relative. (Joseph’s son would probably disagree with that distinction.)

The Home History section is where the National Home would list when and where the veteran was admitted. It isn’t unusual to find a veteran staying for short periods of time over several years or moving to a different home. Joseph, however, was admitted to the Central Branch Home in Dayton on 1 September 1883 and there he stayed.


The right-hand portion tells about Joseph’s death:


He died 4 March 1889 from inhaling gas. He’s buried in section H3, grave 2.

The General Remarks section can contain all sorts of comments about the veteran. Here’s what Joseph Cranston’s record has:


“Mar. 8th 1889. Appraised Personal Effects $0.25”

Something not in Joseph Cranston’s record is his physical description. This section was added to later registers.

Finding These Records

The registers of most of the National Homes for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers are available on FamilySearch and on Ancestry. Some of the homes in these collections also have burial and/or death records. Note: neither site has the registers of the St. Petersburg, Biloxi, or Tuskegee homes. You will need to contact the National Archives for those records.

In addition to the National Homes, many states had their own soldiers/veterans homes. You can find out more about those in my post “State Soldiers Homes: A Different Place to Look.”

Posted: August 25, 2015.

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    • Correct, Roger. That is the Michigan Veterans Home, which was operated by the state of Michigan. Many states had their own veterans homes, apart from the National Homes operated by the federal government.

  • The Washington State Soldier’s Home was established in 1891, juat in time for the 1893 crash to render many old veterans destitute. By 1897 there were 87 residents. The home proved so popular in Washington that by 1907 another one was established called Retsil, near Port Orchard across Puget Sound.

  • My ancestor Andrew F. Tittle, 50th Ohio, died at the Dayton Solders Home in 1917. Why wouldn’t the Soldier’s Home, Montgomery Co. Clerk or the State of Ohio have a Death Certificate for him?

    • That’s a very good question, Herb. I’ve heard of other soldiers who died at the Dayton Home not having a death certificate with the state of Ohio. I should look into whether or not they were required to file a death certificate if the death occurred at the Home.

      Have you looked at his entry in the Home’s register?

      • I have a copy from the Military Home’s Genealogist & Historian. It shows his #27349 and info under the headings you mention in your article. e.g Military, Domestic, Home history etc. I had asked them about a Death Cert. They said check the County and State and I did. Nothing? I’ll contact you by Email for further Professional help.
        Thank You

        • Herb — I’ve contacted the Ohio History Connection to see if they knew of any reason why he wouldn’t be included. They said that the Home was supposed to file a death certificate. Of course, it’s entirely possible that they didn’t. 🙁

          • Please contact me by email so I can better explain what I have and the search for his mothers, not step mothers, maiden name.
            Thanks Herb

  • Ron ( I am looking for help to find out more info on my great great grandfather Henry Styer who came from Germany.

  • I found my ancestors military history in the US National Homes for Disabled Soldiers in Hampton, VA. His name was William Boden. He enlisted on March 1, 1864 in Pottsville, PA. He was a private in the 7th PA Cavalry. He was discharged on May 19, 1865 in Harrisburg, PA. There are some things on the records that I need help with.

    1. Cause of discharge says “G O War Dpt.” I don’t know what that means.

    2. Kind & Degree of Disability is “GSW of head & senile disability.” I’m sure that is a gunshot wound to the head but my most important questions is where this happened.

    3. Under the heading “When & Where Contracted” in says “1864 Little Washington, Tenn.” I have searched and searched and cannot find any records of a battle in Little Washington, Tenn. Can anyone help with this?



    • “G O War Dpt” means he was discharged by a General Order of the War Department, rather than something specific to just him.

      As for Little Washington, Tennessee, it might not have been a battle, per se, but a small skirmish.

      I would advise ordering both his pension file and his compiled military service record from the National Archives (though you will need to wait until the government shutdown is over).