The Department of Veterans Affairs has partnered with the Internet-based genealogy research firm Ancestry.com to bring burial records from historic national cemetery ledgers into the digital age.
The effort will make the collection – predominantly of Civil War interments – accessible to researchers and Ancestry.com subscribers undertaking historical and genealogical research.
“We are excited to be able to share this wealth of primary documentation,” said VA’s Under Secretary for Memorial Affairs Steve L. Muro. “With the help of Ancestry.com, we have opened the doors to thousands of service members’ histories through the information contained in these burial ledgers.”
From the 1860s until the mid-20th century, U.S. Army personnel tracked national cemetery burials in hand-written burial ledgers or “registers.” Because of concern for the fragile documents and a desire to expand public access to the ledger contents, VA’s National Cemetery Administration duplicated about 60 hand-written ledgers representing 36 cemeteries using a high-resolution scanning process. The effort resulted in high-quality digital files that reproduced approximately 9,344 pages and 113,097 individual records. NCA officials then transferred the original ledgers to the National Archives and Records Administration where they will be preserved. In addition to the NCA’s ledgers, NARA was already the steward of at least 156 military cemetery ledgers transferred from the Army years ago.
In 2011, NCA initiated a partnership with Ancestry.com to index its cemetery ledgers, allowing the data to be searched or browsed in a variety of ways. Ancestry.com spent more than 600 hours indexing NCA’s records at no charge to the government.
Ancestry.com has assembled the digitized and indexed NCA burial ledgers with those at NARA into a new collection, “U.S. Burial Registers, Military Posts and National Cemeteries, 1862-1960.” The burial records contain information such as name, rank, company/regiment, date of death, age at death, date of burial and grave number. A large number of Civil War soldiers were buried where they fell in battle or in temporary cemeteries, and sometimes that information, along with religious affiliation, can be found in the ledgers.
The collection was posted on the ancestry.com website on Veterans Day 2012. The information can be accessed free of charge by VA personnel as well as by employees of the other federal agencies that maintain national cemeteries, the Departments of the Interior and Defense. Ledger data will also be available for free at all NARA facilities, and at public libraries that subscribe to Ancestry.com. NCA cemetery staff will use the database to answer requests from the public. The general public will have access to the database on their personal devices through Ancestry.com’s regular subscription service.
This partnership between Ancestry.com and NCA supports NCA’s ongoing Civil War 150th anniversary commemoration (2011-2015). For more information on this project, contact Sara Amy Leach (firstname.lastname@example.org), NCA senior historian.
VA operates 131 national cemeteries in 39 states and Puerto Rico, and 33 soldiers’ lots and monument sites. Seventy-two of VA’s national cemeteries date from the Civil War. More than 3.7 million Americans, including veterans of every war and conflict – from the Revolutionary War to the operations in Iraq and Afghanistan – are buried in VA’s national cemeteries on approximately 20,000 acres of land.