Did you know that FamilySearch has many free resources for documenting your ancestors who served in the United States Colored Troops (USCT)? Here, we will take a look at ten free FamilySearch resources for documenting USCT veteran ancestors, and the information they contain.
Determining if Your Ancestor Served
To determine if your ancestor served in the United States Colored Troops, you can search the Soldiers and Sailors Database from the National Park Service to learn more about your ancestor’s service record and view a history of the regiment they served in. Our companion article Did Your Ancestor Serve in the United States Colored Troops (USCT)? Here’s How to Find Out will take you step by step through searching the Soldiers and Sailors Database.
Civil War Service Records
To search for your ancestor’s USCT service record, you can begin with the FamilySearch collection United States Civil War Service Records of Union Colored Troops, 1863-1865. Search results in this collection link to images of Civil War Service Records on Fold3.
Civil War service records are jacketed cards containing abstracts of various service records for that soldier. Below is an example of a card abstracted from the Company Descriptive Book that includes the soldier’s name, rank, company and register of service, age, height, complexion, color of eyes and hair, birthplace, occupation, enlistment date and place, and name of the enrolling officer.
Freedmen’s Bureau Records: Register of Bounty Claims
Bounties were financial or land rewards paid the veterans for their service. This register of USCT bounty claims, which includes a notation for Bram Strobert, is among the Field Office records of the Freedmen’s Bureau, available on FamilySearch.
Information for each veteran includes the name of the claimant; the company and regiment of the soldier; the date the money was received from the Chief Disbursing Officer; the amount due the claimant; the date and place the claim was paid; and by what or whom the claimant was identified.
Freedman’s Bank Records
Many USCT veterans opened accounts with the Freedman’s Savings and Trust (Freedman’s Bank). Freedman’s Bank records often reveal details about your ancestor’s immediate family, including family members who died during slavery. Information in the records includes:
- Account number
- Name of account holder
- Date of application
- Where born
- Where brought up
- Name of spouse
- Names of children
- Father of the account holder
- Mother of the account holder
- Names of siblings
- Signature or mark of account holder
Freedmen’s Branch Records
The Freedmen’s Branch assisted USCT veterans with obtaining arrears of pay, bounty claims or USCT pension claims. The collection, which consists of correspondence and compiled Freedmen’s Bureau records, is available for browsing on FamilySearch.
Information in Freedmen’s Branch records may include the name, rank and military unit of the soldier, place of birth, place and date of enlistment, name of enrolling officer, physical description and occupation of the soldier, date and place of discharge, names of comrades and officers, and general remarks.
United States Census of Union Veterans and Widows of the Civil War, 1890
You can search the FamilySearch collection United States Census of Union Veterans and Widows of the Civil War, 1890 to see if your ancestor was included in this special census of Civil War veterans. The veterans schedules are some of the few surviving records for the 1890 U.S. Census, as most of this census was destroyed by fire. The destruction of the 1890 U.S. Census resulted in a twenty year gap in census records, from 1880 to 1900. The 1890 veteran’s census can help fill in that gap and can help you pinpoint your ancestor’s location in 1890.
The census enumerated veterans or their surviving widows. Information for veterans includes name, rank, company and regiment the veteran served in, enlistment date, discharge date and length of service. To learn more about the 1890 veterans census, see the collection’s Learn More page.
United States General Index to Pension Files, 1861-1934
This collection contains images of the carded index to military pension files held at the National Archives. Information on the cards includes:
- Name of dependent (widow or child)
- Service (company and regiment)
- Date of application filing
- Application number
- Certificate number (if pension was approved)
- State where application was filed
- Attorneys name
If you find a pension file index card for your ancestor, you will want to download the index card, as this is the document you will need in order your ancestor’s pension file. Once you have downloaded the USCT pension file index card for your ancestor, you can order the USCT pension file through the National Archives website here.
USCT Pension Files
United States Colored Troops pension files can be a very rich source of information and may reveal details of your ancestor’s life before, during and after the Civil War. They may also reveal details of family members who lived and died before the war, the name of your ancestor’s slaveholder, and the plantation where he was enslaved. Witnesses who testified for the veteran often revealed important details about their own lives as well.
Bernice Bennet’s article USCT Pension Files: A Rich Resource for African American Genealogy is an in-depth look at USCT pension files and the information they contain.
United States Index to General Correspondence of the Pension Office, 1889-1904
You can search the FamilySearch collection United States Index to General Correspondence of the Pension Office, 1889-1904 to see if your ancestor corresponded with the United States Pension Office concerning matters related to their application for a military pension.
Information on the index cards includes the name, rank, company and regiment of service, name of veteran, attorney or other correspondent and the subject of the correspondence. The index is part of RG 94, Records of the Adjutant General’s Office and is NARA microfilm publication M686 located at the National Archives.
United States Veterans Administration Pension Payment Cards, 1907-1933
The FamilySearch collection United States Veterans Administration Pension Payment Cards, 1907-1933 is a searchable database with images. The payment cards include the soldier’s name, rank, company and regiment of service, the law under which the pension was granted, pension certificate number, the rate per month that the veteran received, and the date on which those payments commenced. To learn more about this collection and how to use it in your research, see the collection’s Learn More page.
United States National Homes for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, 1866-1938
Yet another FamilySearch collection you can consult to document your USCT veteran ancestors is United States National Homes for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, 1866-1938. This collection includes images and a partial index to veterans admitted to twelve regional homes for disabled United States veterans.
If you find your ancestor here, you may learn details of their rank, company, regiment, discharge, when admitted to home, birthplace, age, religion, residence, marital status, name and address of nearest relative, pension information, date and cause of death, and place of burial. The collection’s Learn More page provides an in-depth look at this collection and the information it contains.
United States Headstone Applications for U.S. Military Veterans, 1925-1949
On March 3, 1873, Congress granted burial rights in national military cemeteries to all honorably discharged veterans of the Civil War. On February 3, 1879 Congress extended the privilege of government-provided gravestones to soldiers buried in private cemeteries. You can search the FamilySearch collection United States Headstone Applications for U.S. Military Veterans, 1925-1949 to see if a headstone was provided to your USCT veteran ancestor. A related FamilySearch collection is United States Records of Headstones of Deceased Union Veterans, 1879-1903.
Information in the applications includes:
- Name of soldier, sailor or marine
- Rank, company, regiment, state organization or vessel
- Date of death
- Emblem requested (Christian, Hebrew, None)
- Name and location of cemetery
- Name and address of person making application
- Name and address to whom headstone is being shipped
Related Resources on the FamilySearch Wiki
The FamilySearch Wiki page United States Military Online Genealogy Records will help you locate more records for documenting your ancestor’s military service. There you will find resources for the period spanning The Revolutionary War to the War in Viet Nam.
The wiki page African American Military Records provides an overview of armed conflicts that African Americans have served in, with links to related resources.
United States Colored Troops in the Civil War is an in-depth look at African Americans’ service in the United States Colored Troops and provides many helpful links for researching ancestors who served in the USCT.
The page United States, Civil War Service Records of Union Colored Troops – FamilySearch Historical Records takes an in-depth look at USCT service records and how to use them in your research.
Help Transcribe United States Colored Troops Service Records
Did you know? You can volunteer to help transcribe the more than 200,000 Civil War service records of United States Colored Troops. The African American Civil War Soldiers project will show you how to sign up and get started.