A new free web site, BetterSoldiersAndSailors.com, provides a dramatic improvement over the popular “Soldiers and Sailors” site offered by the National Park Service (NPS). The old NPS system has a weak search engine and it fails to address many limitations of the data itself. The resulting failed searches and unorganized search results lead researchers to many false conclusions.
The new site uses the same databases as the NPS system (soldiers, sailors, regiments, and prisoners) but overcomes those limitations, searches additional databases at the same time, and actually helps you to get copies of the soldiers’ military records.
The limitations of the NPS system are numerous but largely stem from the fact that you have to match the spelling of the name precisely. Any discrepancy in the spelling, punctuation, or spacing within the name will cause the search to fail. So, for instance…
- A search for “Denison Butler Baldwin” won’t find that soldier because his first and middle names happen to be abbreviated to just one letter in the database. Nearly HALF of the soldiers have their given or middle name abbreviated in this way. (In fact, in this case, a search for “D. B. Baldwin” or “Baldwin, D. B.” won’t find him either because his name happens to be saved in the database as “D.B. Baldwin” with no space after the first period!)
- Conversely, a search for “Jose A. Sanches” won’t find the soldier by that name because his middle name of Antonio is spelled out in the database;
- A search for “George Washington” won’t find a soldier whose name happens to be recorded as “Geo. Washington” ” like the one who served in the 64th NY Infantry. There are nearly 100,000 records with abbreviated names like Geo., Wm., Robt., Jno., Benj., Sam’l, etc.
- A search for “John Smith” won’t find “John Smyth” or “John Smythe” unless those spelling variations have been explicitly saved as alternate names in the record;
- A search for “McDonald” won’t find “MacDonald”; “Van Able” won’t find “Vanable”, “de la Croix” won’t find “Delacroix”, and “Saint John” won’t find “St. John”, among many other examples.
- And perhaps worst of all … a search for a name like “Robert J. York” won’t find him unless you think to scroll past dozens of soldiers like Robert J. Shamburg who happened to serve in a New YORK regiment.
As you can imagine, the requirement that you guess the exact way that a soldier’s name is spelled and/or abbreviated in the database may produce thousands of false negatives. You’ll never know what you didn’t find. At the same time, the peculiarities of the NPS search engine could cause your soldier to be lost in a sea of false positives.
BetterSoldiersAndSailors.com resolves those problems and adds many additional features that greatly improve and prioritize your search results, including:
- Phonetic Searches so “Canon” finds Caenan, Keynon, Canon, Cannon, etc.;
- Wildcard Searches so “M?N*HAN” finds Mennehan, Managhan, Monaghan, Mynihan, etc.;
- Automatic matches on abbreviations – when the first and/or middle name is recorded by only the first letter;
- Automatic recognition of common abbreviations like Geo., Wm., Robt., Jno., Benj., Sam’l, etc.;
- Search results are sorted according to how closely they match the search terms.
And while the new search site includes the same databases of Soldiers, African-American Sailors, Prisoners, and Regimental Histories, you can also search some databases that are not included in the NPS system:
- more than 200,000 Court Martial records;
- more than 700,000 burial records in more than 16,000 cemeteries around the country;
- more than 1,000 ships of the Union Navy with their histories.
Other handy features allow you to:
- Simultaneous searches of the databases instead of requiring separate searches of soldiers, sailors, prisoners, etc.
- Export up to 300 search results to a database or spreadsheet for further analysis;
- Get a list of all known soldiers in a specific regiment sorted by name or by company;
- Filter regiments for those that participated in a specific engagement (e.g., Gettysburg);
- Get advice on where to find a specific soldier’s records online, when appropriate, including links to the National Archives website (free), FamilySearch.org (free), Ancestry.com ($), and Fold3.com ($);
- Optionally link directly to GopherRecords.com to order copies of a soldier’s records that will arrive much faster and at a much lower price than when ordering directly from the National Archives.
BetterSoldiersAndSailors.com will revolutionize the way that you search for Civil War soldiers.
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