Sunday, January 23, 2011

Looking For Your Civil War Ancestor?

Forgotten Provost Marshal General’s Records
Many family researchers have given up on finding information on their civil war era ancestor.  Perhaps, they can’t find any record verifying that they ever served in the Civil.  Or maybe they can’t understand why their perfectly aged ancestor didn’t serve in the war.  Or were your ancestors in one of the five Confederate dominate states – the Carolinas, Virginia, Mississippi, and Alabama – where many records were lost? You may wish to extend your search to the Provost Marshal Records.

On 21 Jan the NARA at Kansas City gave a well attended workshop on these records encouraging researchers to further their Civil War search.   And, I thought since this is one of my favorite Record Groups (RG110) why not recap?

What are Provost Marshal Records
In 1863, right before the war blossomed, with Lincoln at the helm, it was decided to assign a Provost Marshal to systematically locate, register, enroll and enlist all eligible men to serve.  This national effort was implemented and enforced by each state, 27 in all excluding the 5 Confederate dominate states.  At the time there were 35 states and 7 territories, and even some territories, like that of Nebraska participated in the enrollment process. The key functions of this War Department’s role was to arrest deserters, enroll men for the draft, enlist volunteers, and compile statistics on the physical condition of recruits and on army casualties.
Description List of Deserters
What to Expect?
The Provost Marshal Records are very well documented and analyzed.  Remember, every man of age, eligible to serve was at least named or noted.  If your ancestor did not serve, agan there may be note stating the reason he was not required to do so or if he hired or negotiated for a substitute (suggesting he was a man of means).

Don’t pass these records off as Union documentation only. If your ancestor was serving in the Confederate Army, he too may be listed in the records.  The records of the politically divided southern states, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Arkansas, usually noted the status of men from both the Union and Confederate side. This was the only way to account for every eligible man (think census taker).

It is also possible that your ancestor lived in North Carolina, but listed in the Tennessee records (as did many of my free-colored ancestors).  So, be sure to keep an open mind when searching.

Primer of Record Types to be Found
Consolidated Lists
list all men eligible for draft.  Name, residence, description, occupation, marital states, birth are provided.  Keep a close watch for notes in the margin.
Registers of  Men
to include drafted men, recruits and substitutes including African Americans.  Dates of when entered army and regiment selected/assigned provided and where mustered.
Medical Registers
examinations of recruits and substitutes and descriptions.  Remarks of the examination, or recommendation to be rejected may be included.
Register of Rejections and Exemptions
based on medical examinations this register gives reasons for rejection, full description of the recruit and residence.
Descriptive books of Arrested Deserters
deserters were listed by name, rank, company.  A full physical description and residence is provided and place where deserted.

Where to Find Records?
Since these are state generated records, researching in your regional NARA is your best bet.  For more information reference: Access to Some Records in RG 110

Are African American Civil War Era Ancestors Listed?
Simply stated…YES!  African Americans served with both the Union and Confederate armies - some by choice, some as a substitute for a slave master, or as part of an emancipation agreement.  And as all eligible men were listed in these records, your ancestor may not only be listed, but you may find just one more coveted clue to an ex-slave. 

A good example of African American records in tact are the Provost Marshal records documenting African American recruitment from Missouri for the years 1863-1865, part of the NARA Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, 1780’s-1917 (Record Group 94)..

Beginning in 1863, these records document the recruitment of African Americans for the United States Colored Troops (USCT). The provost marshals throughout Missouri was granted permission to recruit slaves and free blacks and to compensate loyal slave owners up to $300 for each slave they allowed to enlist.  These records provide names of recruits, and of the master (if applicable).  It also gives the county of residence, a physical description of the recruit, state and county of birth, occupation, and details of the enlistment, including when, where, by whom and the period.

Other Places To Search
The Provost Marshal department was abolished August 28, 1866 by the War Department.  But the records of successor agencies - Enrollment and Disbursing Divisions, Adjutant General's Office, and the Surgeon General's Office -should also be researched. Direct line of communication was set in place between the state Provost Marshal’s Office and the state Adjutant General’s Office. So, both agencies are worth researching.

Kathleen Brandt
Accurate, accessible answers

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