The following article is the Introduction to “Part 4 – The Best Civil War Resources Centers for Local & County Research,” from the new book, Genealogical Resources of the Civil War Era by William Dollarhide. The book will be available from Family Roots Publishing Company by the end of May 2009. Please note the the following is technically “unedited” copy.
The Best Civil War Resource Centers for Local & County Research
by William Dollarhide
In Parts 1, 2, & 3, [Which will be in the book itself] we identified the genealogical resources of the Civil War era as found in ten statewide and ten nationwide resource groups. The chances of success in finding references to an ancestor in any of the twenty resource groups are quite good. But, there is one important piece of information that can lead to still more references. That information is the exact location of the residence of an ancestor. Understanding the place of residence just before the war, during the war, or just after the war, will lead to still more published records ̶ but records found at the local/county level, rather than the state or national level.
Local resources are those that were first created at a village, city, or town/township, usually as sub-groups of a county. County resources are those that originated at one of the 3,141 counties in the United States, and the original records may still be stored at a county courthouse or local repository. We use the nationwide and statewide resources to help us identify the county where an ancestor lived, and any follow-up research into the records there will almost always be a rewarding experience.
Some local and county resources may be identical to the resources found at the state level. In fact, the statewide resources were often originally created at the county level, then transferred to a state repository, such as county tax lists and other name lists transferred to a state archives. However, there are still countywide resources that are unique to that county, e.g., tax lists, cemetery indexes, newspaper obituaries, funeral home records, vital records, land records, and perhaps many more records traditionally maintained at a county courthouse.
Certain resources relate to one particular county (or surrounding area) during the Civil War era. For example, local regiments raised in one or more counties recorded name lists of enrollments, issuing of uniforms and weapons, and other details concerning the formation of a regiment. These unique records generated at the county level may have never been transferred to a state archives, and if not, they may be still sitting in a county courthouse or local repository. This will be true for both Union and Confederate counties.
In some states, specific Civil War records relate to the smallest local government units. For example, New York’s sixty-two counties are sub-divided into about 3,000 minor civil divisions, including towns, villages, and unincorporated communities. Generally, records created at one of the minor civil divisions come to rest at the county courthouse. Such was the case for one of the best Militia Lists for the Civil War era, the New York Town Clerk’s Registers (see example, RG 16, page 43). Fortunately, those Town Registers eventually were transferred from all New York counties to the state archives. But, other original records of the Civil War era may still be hiding at the New York town or county level.
Because of their ties to a particular county, some Civil War regiments may have historic records found in one county and nowhere else. For example, an obscure unpublished history of a regiment may have originated at the county, and the only copy of the manuscript may be in a local library, museum, college, or some other local repository.
To determine whether a county record exists that mentions an ancestor by name, the task is now one of taking an inventory of what is available within any county of interest.
Inventory Local & County Name Lists Online
Name lists of Civil War era residents from many of the American counties are found at specific county websites on the Internet. Included for the period 1861-1869 are possible censuses and tax lists, militia lists, regimental histories and name lists; or perhaps later veterans or pensioner databases.
As an example, inventory what is available online for Bourbon County, Kansas. Use your browser to search for the keywords “Bourbon County Kansas Genealogy.” A Google search for just those keywords linked together will present over 1,600 items in the results/hit list. To review them all becomes a rather daunting task because many of the hits are repeats, most of them dozens of times each. After perhaps hours of reviewing the Google hit list in more detail, the unique genealogy links to Bourbon County will be condensed to about 200 different websites. Unfortunately, a general browser search may take hours, yet still miss many genealogy-related webpages. Therefore, it may be better to conduct the search using a browser specific to genealogy.
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