Our early 19th-century ancestors might have felt they were experiencing deja-vu. Just a few decades after gaining independence, trouble was brewing with the British again. British captains, who refused to recognize American citizenship, were forcing US seamen into service on their own vessels. American expansionists were dreaming of adding Florida and Canada to the national coffers. Pioneers were pushing Native Americans off their land. And British agents in Canada were inciting the Indians to frontier attacks. War was declared in 1812 and lasted until 1814.
Though it hasn’t captivated Americans as much as the Civil War or American Revolution, the War of 1812 had quite an impact on US history: The Battle of New Orleans catapulted Andrew Jackson to national prominence and the presidency, Francis Scott Key wrote what would become our national anthem and the USS Constitution sailed into history as “Old Ironsides.” Native Americans’ lands were served up to a pioneering population. Canada secured its status as a British colony and put an end to dreams of an American-dominated continent. And British troops would never again fight on American soil.
For roots researchers, the war is an important records milestone that can help you sort out the puzzles of early 19th-century life and settlement. To learn about the events experienced by your War of 1812 ancestors and to start searching for soldiers, muster up a march to these great Web sites:
- Research Outline—US Military Records: Learn about (or brush up on) methods for researching soldiers in your family tree here. To access this Family History Library Research Outline’s excellent tips, click on “Sorted by Subject,” select M and under “Military History,” click on “US Military Research Outline.” (If you have Adobe Acrobat Reader, download the PDF file—it’s faster.) The guide includes references to the 1812 records held by the National Archives and state agencies, as well as the addresses to write for records. If you’ve never researched military records, this is a great starter site. Not only does it explain how and where to write for records, it also covers the types of military records, including pension files, bounty land records and service files.
- The Ohio Historical Society War of 1812 Roster of Ohio Soldiers: Ohio was the center of some of the strongest pro-war sentiment. In all, more than 25,000 Ohioans enlisted for service. The database indexes the full text from the Roster of Ohio Soldiers in the War of 1812, published by the Adjutant General of Ohio in 1916. When searching for a soldier’s name, the results page will return hits ranked in the order of their relevance to your query. When you click on a hit, you’ll see the actual roster page, which includes the name of the soldier’s company and the county of origin (if known), plus the name and rank of everyone in the company. For best results, search with both last name/first name and first name/last name formats.
- Database of Illinois War of 1812 Veterans: Here’s the place to look for War of 1812 soldiers from Illinois. Housed at the Illinois State Archives site, this database searches the muster rolls published in the ninth volume of the 1902 Report of the Adjutant General of the State of Illinois. To search the database, use the last name/first name format. Searches are not case sensitive. If your veteran shows up in the database, his rank, company and place of enlistment will be listed.
- The Library of Virginia Index to the War of 1812 Pay Rolls and Muster Rolls: Visit this site to search an index of 40,000 names from the 1851 Pay Rolls eagle.vsla.edu/war1812/f Militia Entitled to Land Bounty Under the Act of Congress of Sept. 28, 1850, and its 1852 supplement, Muster Rolls of the Virginia Militia in the War of 1812. Search using the last name/first name format. If you’re unsure of a first name, just enter the surname. The search results will tell you which page of the index your ancestor appears on. Once you’ve found the name, follow the instructions on the page to order a copy of the records.
- The War of 1812 Website: If you’ve ever wondered what the “other side” felt, this Canadian-slanted Web site is the one to visit. Its content focuses on Canadian and British soldiers and policies. You can read personal stories of the war as told through soldiers’ letters home, chronicling the horrors of battle as well as life in an Army camp. Among the articles is a summary of major battles and eyewitness accounts. Follow the links page to period newspaper articles that debate the war’s pros and cons. Period songs such as “The Bold Canadian” will give you an inkling of how Canadians felt about the American invasion of their country.