Stories of Sacrifice: Researching Your Veteran Ancestor

February 6, 2021

Written by: Jake Fletcher

The American Civil War was a horrific and bloody conflict, pitting brother against brother in some instances. Despite the deep political schisms that tore families apart, some stories attest to the old adage that blood runs thicker than water.

Brothers John and William Daughenbaugh enlisted in Louisville, Kentucky for the Union Cause in 1862. The two fought along side each other in Company H of the Fifth Kentucky Regiment. The compiled military service records of John and William demonstrate war experiences that mirrored each other down to the end.

Both received injuries at the Battle of Chickamauga and both were not once, but twice captured and interred at POW camps by the Confederate Army. [1]

To experience the war side-by-side as brothers probed my imagination beyond the records. How did John and William Daughenbaugh cooperate and console each other through the trials and tribulations of war? Did they systemically alternate between writing home to family members? Was there a mutual understanding that both would go down together?

Most, if not all people have a personal connection to the heroism and sacrifice given by American veterans in the protection of civil liberties and basic human rights. The near arrival of Memorial Day weekend has brought on a reflective attitude towards the veterans that compose my family tree, which run deep into the formative years of the United States.

What resources are available to researching your ancestor’s contribution as a veteran? This post intends to explain how to begin to look into the life of your veteran ancestor.

To start, look at sources within your family. One of your relatives may have inherited your ancestor’s war ephemera, including their insignia or uniform, battle paraphernalia, photographs, letters, diaries, discharge certificates, and more. These are all valuable clues that could provide insight to your ancestor’s service.

Fortunately, many resources are available at no cost. Below are some free sites to begin researching your military heritage:

1. – FamilySearch is a genealogical research database maintained by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons.) With over 1 billion indexed records for free, including almost 150 individual collections related to military service, it is a great place to start your genealogy journey.

2. Google – Mine the vast resources of the web for transcriptions honor rolls, webpages dedicated to a particular unit, battle history, and more to help contextualize the battle service of your ancestor.

3. Joe Beine’s Online Military Records, Indexes and Rosters of Soldiers – This page serves as a directory for pages that provide information on veterans, organized by conflict and thereunder the state in which the soldier resided.

4. National Parks Service – Civil War Soldiers and Sailors Database – The National Parks Service has made available a free database Union and Confederate forces into a free online database. Start here to locate some basic information on your Civil War Veteran.

5. Daughters of the American Revolution – The Daughters of the American Revolution was formed in 1890 and now holds an extensive collection of genealogical materials at their headquarters in Washington, D.C.,

Find your patriot ancestor using the DAR’s genealogical research databases. Ancestor searches retrieve basic information on the soldier and users can retrieve potential sources in the DAR Records Committee Index.

6. National Gravesite Locator – The U.S. Dept. of Veteran Affairs has uploaded burial information on veterans and their families located in National Cemeteries dating back to 1997.

The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) holds custody of almost all federal military records. These include compiled service files, pension and bounty land warrant applications, military orders, and records of various departments dedicated to national defense.

I’d suggest starting at NARA’s “Military Records” page to learn more about the details of these collections. Fold3 and Ancestry are subscription databases that hold a plethora of military records. Both all of these sites, along with FamilySearch, are partners with NARA, thus allowing for the digitization of many federal military records.

If you haven’t already made plans for Memorial Day Weekend, consider diving into these records to uncovering your military heritage. Knowing the details of their experiences will enrich their story of sacrifice.

Take some time to research and reflect on your veteran ancestor’s story during this important holiday.

Jake FletcherJake Fletcher is a professional genealogist, educator and blogger. Jake has been researching and writing about his ancestors since 2008 on his research blog. He currently volunteers as a research assistant at the National Archives in Waltham, Massachusetts and is Vice President of the New England Association of Professional Genealogists (NEAPG).

[1] “Civil War Service Records.” Database with images. Fold3. ( accessed 25 May 2016), John Daughenbaugh, Pvt., Co. H 5th Regiment Kentucky Inf., Union; “Civil War Service Records.” images, Fold3, William Daughenbaugh, Pvt., Co. H 5th Regiment Kentucky Inf.