One other place where you can find military records may be rather unorthodox, but it can yield extremely useful results. Once you’ve looked through all of the official military records that exist on a particular ancestor, you can turn to old newspaper records to potentially find out more about their service. Local papers, especially, often published news about the “boys from home” when they were away in various wars, letting the hometown readers know what they were doing in the far-off places they were serving. Occasionally, your ancestor may have even done some remarkable or unusual feat that landed them in national newspapers.
This is where you will find detailed stories about an ancestor’s war service. These are not just bits of data recorded in official records, or second-hand stories (or sometimes first-hand ones) in pension applications. They are detailed war stories, exploits of your military ancestor as told by a reporter who was either there, or who received a wire from a reporter who was there. The information in pension applications is fascinating, but it is usually told from a period of years or even decades from when the events being described happened. Military stories found in old newspapers are usually told either while they are happening, or immediately thereafter, so the memory of the event is still sharp and clear, and the recounting of events is about as accurate as it can be. These are excellent resources.
Occasionally, you might even find a letter home that is published in an old newspaper. This is a letter from a hometown soldier written either to a relative who gives it to the paper to publish or written directly to the paper with the purpose of giving news from the front to the people at home (news that wasn’t officially censored, anyway). There are even instances of soldiers writing poetry in the field and sending it home for the local newspaper to publish. The poems are about a variety of topics, but usually about memories of home or poetic recounting of their experiences overseas. If you can find anything like this that came directly from your military ancestor, it is a bit of genealogical gold that you and the rest of your contemporary family will undoubtedly treasure. It does not get much more personal than this kind of writing, straight from the horse’s mouth, as the saying goes. Old newspaper records can also be sources of photographs of your military ancestor in their uniform. Local and national newspapers often published these photos, either as individuals or as regiments, whatever the type of article required. It is quite exciting to see your ancestor in their uniform and/or with their fellow soldiers. This is especially true if you don’t have a photo of them, or if only have photos of them when they were older. In fact, old newspaper records are excellent sources for photos of Civil War soldiers and are often the only photos ever taken of the men who served in that conflict. As you can see, old newspapers are sources you should definitely be using in your military record search.