Pennsylvania Volunteers of the Civil War
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PA Civil War Volunteer Soldiers

How to Order Records from NARA

How to order Civil War military and pension records from the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)

Research your Soldier First

  • Before you order a Civil War pension or military file from NARA, do some research on your soldier.

    NARA says:
    "NARA cannot do substantive research for you. Reading several files to see if any of the match meager identification is substantive research. If you request a specific file, we can search for that file and provide you with copies. Our success is based entirely on the work that you do before you send the request to us. If there are too many soldiers in a unit with the same name, we will return the request to you for additional information. Using the Civil War Pension Index is one way to ensure that the file you want is the file that you get."
  • There are many research ideas for locating your Civil War ancestor so that NARA can find the right soldier's records for you.

Order your Soldier's Records

Two ways to order pension and military records from the US National and Records Administration:

  1. Order online

  2. Request an Order Form sent to you by mail. Give your name and mailing address, the form number and the number of forms you need (limit five per order).

    • Request by Order Form

    • Request by E-mail

    • Request by Mail - Write to NARA at this address:

      The National Archives and Records Administration
      General Reference Branch (NNRG-P)
      National Archives and Records Administration
      7th and Pennsylvania Avenue NW
      Washington, DC 20408

    • Request by Phone (202) 501-5652

Civil War RecordsAvailable

  • To order military service records, request NATF Form 86.
  • To order military pension records, request NATF Form 85.
These are the forms used by The National Archives for obtaining military and pensions records for men who have served before World War I.

You are only charged a fee if the Archives finds information. Supply information about your ancestor and NARA will search their rosters.

Length of mailing time, once you've sent the form, depends upon how the Archives is staffed. A few years ago, it took 4-6 weeks to receive a response. Sometimes it can now take 3 or more months.

The more information you supply, the better chance NARA has of finding your ancestor. But take care, sending information of which you are not sure may keep NARA from finding the right file.

Pension Records
Pension records represent the greatest reward for genealogy research, especially if your military ancestor served prior to the twentieth century. To get a pension, the veteran had to go through a lengthy application process. The federal government kept a pension file on every applicant.

Pension files contain all the paperwork associated with the application, including any supporting documentation. From these files you might learn some or all of the following: the applicant's name, spouse's name, rank, military unit, length of enlistment, and residence at time of application. There may also be children's names, names of deceased wives, physical description, medical records and marriage license.

When a widow applied for a pension in the name of her husband, she was required to submit evidence to prove her marriage; this often included the names of any children living with her at the time.

Pension records were carefully compiled when a veteran applied for benefits on grounds of injury, illness, or disability (later, veterans could also receive benefits based on age) or when the mothers, fathers, widows, and minor children of veterans similarly applied for benefits. Pension records typically include the application forms, proof of marriage, proof of children's births, a summary of military service, and usually death certificates. Ask NARA for NATF Form 85

Service Records
Most of the information about a soldier are in his Service records. According to the National Archives and Records Administration, such records document enlistment/appointment, duty stations and assignments, training, qualifications, performance, awards and medals, disciplinary actions, insurance, emergency data, administrative remarks, separation, discharge, retirement, and other personnel actions.

The useful genealogical data you might learn from service records could include the individual's full name, rank, age, physical description, marital status, occupation, city of birth, and place of residence at enlistment. Ask NARA for use NATF Form 86

NARA fees
Note: These fees will be increased on October 1, 2007 Civil War Databases

  • U.S. Civil War Soldiers
    6.3 million soldiers who served in the American Civil War.

  • Special Veterans' 1890 Census
    Lists the veteran's name or widow's name, rank, year of enlistment, and year of discharge.

  • Civil War POWs
    Confederate and Union Civil War Prisoners of War

  • PA Veteran Burials Records
    Index cards of burial records of Pennsylvania veterans 1777 - 1999 including the Civil War.

  • Civil War Collection
    Search all the Civil War databases View for free

  • Civil War Research

    Civil War Research
    Want to find out if your ancestor was a Civil War soldier? Follow these research ideas.

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