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Jeff Patrick loves to delve into history. He’s been working at Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield for 19 years and now serves as the librarian there.
One of his jobs is to help people trace their Civil War ancestors. According to Patrick, there’s a variety of online resources available to anyone interested in looking into their past…
"We usually start by going to the Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System, which was a cooperative project with the Mormon church and the National Park Service and several other partners, to try to take the National Archives Compiled Service Record Index and put it online, so not every soldiers has a Compiled Service Record at the National Archives--most soldiers do--but, that's a great place to start to get an idea as to how many people are there by that name and the units and that sort of thing, so it's a very basic information--name, rank and unit--but it's a good place to start."
Those with relatives who served in a Missouri unit can look thru digitized Civil War records from the Missouri State Archives, which are available free and online. Patrick says those sites will give you basic details—then you can start to dig deeper.
A Federal soldier, he says, will have a compiled services record that will tell you several things…
"Whether he's present with his company or absent from his company, and, if he's absent--where is he? Is he sick? Is he on detached duty--that sort of thing. And then, many Federal soldiers received pensions after the war, and those files contain a lot more geneaological information because the government worried about having to pay a widow, children, parents, brothers and sisters, so there's often good geneaological information there as well."
He says many Confederate soldiers have compiled services records, too, but they’re generally not as detailed.
I decided to stop by the Wilson’s Creek Library to see what I could find out about my Great-Great Grandfather, Charles Baker Owen, who served as the principal scout and guide to General Franz Sigel during the Battle of Wilson’s Creek and then went on to enlist in the Federal army. Volunteer Steve Muckala offered to help…
Muckala looked up CB Owen’s compiled services records, which shed a little more light on his time in the military during the Civil War…
Eventually, with the help of Muckala and Jeff Patrick, I learned that CB Owen had enlisted into Company D on August 19, 1861 in Rolla as 1st lieutenant. He was promoted to captain in March of 1863. He was mustered into service on October 14, 1861 and mustered out of service on October 14, 1864 in St. Louis.
As Patrick said, it can take time and money to delve into the lives of your Civil War ancestors--so, why should you do it?
"I tell people that even though it may seem like a lot of work and a lot of money, a lot of time, someone down the road will thank you for this. It may be 50 years, it may be 100 years from now, but someone will be grateful for the work you do now to try to document the service of these soldiers. And it's a very very personal connection to the war."
Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield offers classes in tracing your Civil War ancestors at least once a year, and classes are also offered thru the Springfield-Greene County Library District. To learn more about resources the Battlefield Library offers, call 732-2662. For KSMU News, I’m Michele Skalicky.