The following excerpt is from an article in the March 10, 2011 edition of the Deseret News:
WASHINGTON — The National Archives and Ancestry.com published newly digitized Civil War records online for the first time Wednesday, allowing users to trace family links to the war between North and South.
Nearly 275,000 newly published pages are among the most heavily used documents for research in the National Archives’ Civil War holdings, curators said.
The pages contain about 3 million names of those who enlisted for a draft from 1863 to 1865, though only about 40,000 were drafted to fight.
Archivists estimate 17 million Americans have an ancestor who fought in the war. Many may not know about their family ties.
Tracing genealogy is becoming a fast-growing hobby and even “fashionable,” with a Friday night TV show devoted to celebrity family histories, said Josh Hanna, executive vice president of Ancestry.com.
The company sponsors the NBC show and invested $100 million in digitizing historical records.
“Family history, I can tell you as someone who’s been doing this for 15 years now, used to be a hell of a lot harder than it is today,” Hanna said. “It’s become much faster, easier and cheaper to actually do a lot of this research.”
At the Archives, filmmaker Ken Burns revealed a family discovery he made from the Archives records shortly after his 1980s PBS series, “The Civil War.” He learned that his great-great-grandfather Anthony Burns was a Confederate soldier, which he called a “stunning discovery.”
“He was 5-feet, 4 inches tall and had gray eyes, which I suppose is perfect for a Confederate,” Burns said of the details he gleaned from the documents. “He stated to a copyist … that he was a blacksmith in life and had been ‘forced’ to join the Confederate Army, which I don’t think is quite accurate.”
Full disclosure: I have an affiliate relationship with Ancestry.com, have used their databases for years, and recommend their services.