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One of the more popular sources of genealogical information is military records. Still, many genealogists do not avail themselves of the treasure trove of information found in them. Perhaps that's because they are unclear about which records would be beneficial and how to access them.

Military service records for ancestors go back to the Revolutionary War. Copies of many military records can be ordered from the National Archives via the Internet. But, you will need to have some basic information to locate your ancestor in them.

That includes the branch in which the ancestor served; service dates or wars fought; Army volunteer or regular; state joined from; officer or enlisted; and whether the ancestor, widow or dependents (minor children and dependent parents) applied for a military pension.

As we approach the observance of the Civil War sesquicentennial in 2011, it's a great time to study the records of ancestors who served in the Civil War. That includes Union and Confederate and black and white soldiers who served. (Don't assume that you'd know if an ancestor served. Check indexes and ask older family members to be sure.)

Start your research by getting a copy of "Military Service Records at the National Archives," which includes information to help research those who served the Confederacy.

The 120-page book can be downloaded from the Internet at www.archives.gov/publications/ref-info-papers/109/index.pdf. It discusses available records and how to access them in plain English.

Union soldiers

The book covers finding and using compiled military service records, cards with information on the solider that has been extracted from records such as muster rolls, regimental returns, descriptive books, pay vouchers and so forth.

The book discusses pension application files that include information on the veteran's life before the military, including family members, occupation and residence, as well as life after the service. Since veterans usually applied for pensions 25 or more years after the war, the files may also shed light on much of an ancestor's later years.

In addition, it discusses carded medical records with information about a veteran's medical complaints, names of hospitals to which he was admitted, dates admitted and returned to duty. Or, the records may tell when he was discharged, furloughed or died.

Confederate soldiers

Descendants can find out how to obtain compiled military services records for those who served in the Confederate States Army from the National Archives. Some records were captured at the end of the Civil War and others were copied from Confederate muster rolls and personnel records requested from Southern states in the early 1900s. The records also include Union prison and parole records, and there are papers pertaining to businesses and private individuals.

Amnesty, parole and pardon records in the National Archives also can be accessed. Oaths of allegiance taken by former Confederates should contain place of residence, date of oath and signature of person taking it. The oath also might give the age, a description of the ancestor taking the oath and his rank and military organization.

While some Confederate records can be obtained from the National Archives, Confederates' pension applications were filed in the states in which the veteran lived at the time. They are not at the National Archives, but should be found in that state's archives.

To research South Carolina's Confederate pensioners, including African-Americans who served in support capacities, visit www.archivesindex.sc.gov/onlinearchives/search.aspx.

Reach Wevonneda Minis at 937-5705 or wminis@postandcourier.com.