You’ve been researching your Civil War ancestor’s service for a while now. You’ve searched the Federal censuses, NARA pension records, Compiled Military Service Records, regimental histories and more. You’ve been a captive to your laptop as you’ve documented your veteran’s actions. Let’s change it up a bit. We’ll get up, get out and get going. Its time for some research out in the field away from the computer. We’re going to check out Courthouse Records.*
Keep in mind that the courthouse records you seek will depend on the location your Civil War ancestor was living at the time the record was generated. A couple of these records were produced during the war and the last two at his death. Depending on your ancestor’s movements, your search may cover two or three county courthouses.
Money Account - The first time I heard of this type of record I was attending a Civil War presentation in a neighboring county. “Money Accounts” or “Statements of Moneys” were set up at this county’s local courthouse during the early part of the Civil War. Because soldiers did not receive their pay regularly due to troop movement these accounts were set up for families to deposit money for their soldier’s use. This money was to reach the soldier in the field allowing him the opportunity to buy provisions until his next pay. This system was to work both ways. A soldier, on being paid could send money home to his family to be picked up at the county courthouse.
The records from the brief time the system was in effect show who deposited money, their rank and regiment, amount of deposit, name of who could withdraw the money, their post office, county, date money withdrawn and the amount withdrawn. This system was only in existence in my neighboring county about 18 months. Unfortunately some of those who handled the money were less than honest and the money never made it to its appropriate destination. So the system was abandoned.
These records which originated at the courthouse are now on microfilm at that county’s library. Perhaps the county where your ancestor lived established a similar program. Maybe not with the same name but with the same purpose.
Discharge Papers - Union soldiers did receive discharge papers at the end of their service in the Civil War. Of course those papers were not nearly as important to the Civil War veteran as they are to veterans today. Now veterans are encouraged to file their DD214 (discharge papers) with their County Clerk in the event it may be misplaced over time. The DD214 is necessary for today’s veteran to file for VA healthcare benefits, the GI Bill and other benefits. Of course this didn’t apply to the Civil War veteran. So there wasn’t a necessity for him to file his discharge papers at the courthouse. Yet there were some county courthouses that did record veteran discharges. It wouldn’t hurt to check if your ancestor’s discharge papers were one of the few that were recorded.
Graves Registration File - In some areas the County Recorder's office in the courthouse has an index card file known as the Grave Registrations File. The cards, in alphabetical order are a record of veterans who are buried in the county. Information on the cards include the name of the veteran, sometimes birth date and place, most times death date and place, the veteran's burial date and place (which included cemetery, section & lot number), enlistment date, branch of service, unit, and rank, sometimes next of kin because that's who provided the information and their relationship to the deceased. On occasion the address of the deceased at the time of their death was also listed.
Not only does the file contain the burial location for Civil War veterans for that county but all veterans from the county who served, from the American Revolution through present day. These particular records were kept in Ohio counties but check to see if there is a Graves Registration file in the county where your veteran was buried.
Indigent Union Soldiers, Sailor and Marines Interment - By this point you probably have so much information on your Civil War ancestor, including his death and burial, that you can skip over this suggestion. Burying indigent veterans varied from county to county. Some areas charged residents a tax with proceeds going to veterans burial. Some Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) posts established accounts for the purpose of burying needy veterans. If you have hit a brick wall checking these records may help. Contact the county courthouse where you assume your veteran may have passed.
*Remember to always call a courthouse first before making the trip. Not only do you want to check on hours and parking but on the records you seek. Most of the documents we’ve talked about were generated around 150 years ago. Due to space limitations they may be stored off site at an entirely different facility. The public may not have access to these records any longer and as a researcher you may have to put in a search request with the results mailed or emailed to you. Also the records may not belong to the county anymore having been donated to a local library, university collection or state archives. Your research then may take you to a different repository than a county courthouse. So always call the courthouse first before making the trip to avoid wasted time and disappointment.
Hopefully these suggestions will help you find that “little extra” about your Civil War ancestor. Tell his story, share his life, he deserves to be remembered! Good luck in your research!