The Grand Old Grand Army of the Republic
by Ruby Coleman
After the Civil War, Union soldiers bonded together and formed an organization known as the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR). Their common bond was their military service and loyalty to the Union. The organization was founded in 1866 and provided benefits and support for the veterans and their families.
In the 1870s the Grand Army of the Republic almost completely folded, but was revived by 1890. It was permanently closed in 1949. The records that were created through the years by their encampments provide excellent clues and information pertaining to not only the veterans, but their families. They are worth the effort to locate.
The GAR organization began at a community level with the establishment of posts which were numbered consecutively. They were normally given the name of a prominent soldier. Encampments of posts held yearly meetings and kept records pertaining to their members.
The type of information varies according to the post, state records and what has survived through the years. Doing research in Iowa GAR records I have discovered detailed information on the soldier, his unit and service, name of spouse and children, dates and places of birth, dates and places of death, location of heirs at time of death and burial and obituary information. Not each card is consistent, but each is unique and normally contains helpful genealogical information.
In some cases you may be able to find biographical sketches of members of the GAR. These were usually kept at a local level and may be with their membership records.
There are over 8,600 posts that have been documented. Information on these posts can be found on Internet at, http://suvcw.org/garposts/garposts.htm. Another listing of posts is found at the Library of Congress site, http://www.loc.gov/rr/main/gar/nationa/natlist.html. Detailed information about the Grand Army of the Republic can be found at http://pages.prodigy.com/CGBD86A/garhp.htm .
Some records of the GAR posts have been published. It is also helpful to inquire at state and local archives about the existence of GAR records. Microfilm of some GAR records is available the Family History Library (LDS) and can be borrowed through their Family History Centers. The states included in this microfilming are Alaska, California, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, oregon, Pennsylvania, Utah, Washington and West Virginia. More information on the film available and numbers is located at the FamilySearch web page, http://www.familysearch.org.
Not every veteran joined the GAR. Some were not joiners, or they may have been blackballed in which case you may find this information in the records of a GAR post. DonŐt stop your research with military and/or pension files from the National Archives. It is important to always check into the possibility that your ancestor joined the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR).
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