by Johni Cerny
Few records so rich with biographical and genealogical information have gone unnoticed more than the Tennessee Civil War Veterans Questionnaires. The first questionnaire was sent to all known Tennessee Civil War veterans by the Archivist of Tennessee in 1914 and 1915. A second revised questionnaire was sent by the Director of the Tennessee Historical Commission in 1920. The total number of forms distributed is unknown, but 1,650 veterans responded by 1922. Their biographies now comprise one of the major genealogical record sources of that era. Although the soldiers in this collection served in Tennessee, many of them, as well as their parents and grandparents who appear in the biographies, were born elsewhere in the United States or abroad.
Tennessee, like Pennsylvania, was a “keystone” state during the period of westward expansion. Millions of Americans living today have more than one ancestor who was born or lived in Tennessee before 1900. Although an ancestor may not have served in the Civil War, one of his brothers, cousins, or uncles may have fought for the Union or Confederacy. One of them may have returned a questionnaire that will help trace a family during a period when people were on the move and record of their central life events is scant.
Most of the original questionnaires are handwritten, but a few are typescripts. Two new questions were added to the revised form and the others are asked in a different order than in the first form. These records are filled with valuable genealogical information, including at a minimum the following about each veteran:
- Place of birth
- Military Unit(s)
- Parents’ names and birthplaces
- Names of maternal and paternal grandparents and their residences
- Names of great-grandparents and their residences
Many veterans provided more than four generations of their ancestry on addendum sheets. They give details about their family’s arrival in America, property owned by the veteran and his parents, education and the general quality of the their lives. See following blog entry “Edward Bourne’s Questionnaire” for an example–altered slightly from the original for clarification and to fit this presentation format.