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Volume 3, Number 9 Mountain Press, P.O. Box 400, Signal Mountain, Tennessee 37377, 1-423-886-6369 June 8, 2011
In this article we will be discussing the militia records. Even though they can sometimes be difficult to find, the militia records can help you pinpoint an ancestor from a particular time and date. These records can be very valuable in your research.
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James L. Douthat
In doing genealogical research, frequently we find that we have to get into the military/militia records for our ancestors. The military records are fairly easy to find since the Federal Government has kept most of these. The main thing you have to know is about the time period researching. Most of the military records are kept by the war that was fought at the time you are researching.
The most difficult records to locate are those militia records from the very early periods of our history. From the very beginning of our nation, the general citizen was used to protect the homeland. From about 1607, a militia was formed to protect the settlers from any intrusion by a hostile force. These hostile forces might be the French, Spanish or even the Native Americans. In the westward movement of the settlers, the militia became more and more important. Even the early census reflects the need to know the fighting strength of an area. If you notice that in the early census the breakdown of age groups from about 16-45 years of age for males was the most important. This is the age group for those who will make up the militia.
At the beginning of the nineteenth century, each area had well developed units of militia defined by the county government body. Sometimes a county might have at least one and many times they had multiple units for the defense of the community. It was required that all males in the 16-45 age group to be in a unit of militia. There were some exceptions like millers, ministers and saloon keepers as well as judges and politicians. You can tell the importance of these positions held in the community. Each community needed their millers and saloon keepers, but they also were in need of the judges and politicians. Ministers were also exempt from service, however, it is noted that most of the ministers went with the militia on marches to keep their spirits up and their eyes on the Almighty.
Each person was required to attend at least six militia meetings a year of their unit. There were muster calls each time and the clerk of the unit kept a listing of those not present. When the Court Martial was held at different times of the year, those who were absent were usually fined anywhere from .50 cents to a few dollars. These “fine listings” in most states were sent to the sheriff of each county to collect and to the State Audit department. Rarely do we find these listings in the local area as the sheriff would collect the fines and then the papers were generally destroyed since he considered his job was done. The State Audit department sometimes kept these filed away. In the south, if the fires from the Civil War did not destroy them, they might still be available in the state records. However, good luck finding them. Virginia has over 100 boxes of these records in the State Archives, but one has to go box by box to find the one sheet of paper for each county in each time period.
For the officers of the units, the county court system generally appoints the soldiers down to the Captain level and these are found in the minutes of the court. You still have to search for these carefully. The names do change frequently within the county as families moved in and out and the names are changed to reflect this. In some cases, the individual falls out of favor with the officials and they are replaced or exchanged. Normally, the Colonel of the unit is one of the leading men in the county with the largest land holdings and the most important job within the county. They are easy to find and identify.
Since these units are armed and trained citizenry, the unit meetings became something of great interest as the country grew more and more stable. By the mid-nineteenth century, these became a day for the whole families to gather, visit with neighbors, swap horses, guns and anything else that can be traded. Many times, the day ended with the men getting a bit tipsy after their turkey shoots and enough swapping of lies. All manner of contest were held even into the night when a dance might follow the day’s events. The meetings became very social instead of the business of training to keep the eye sharp and the rifle in good repair.
The militia system lasted at least down to the time of the Civil War. Many of the early southern units came from the militia units already in existence at the beginning of the conflict. The records of the militia are well worth the effort to find as they put your ancestor in a particular place and time. Since the records are fairly frequent, you don’t have to wait for the ten year census to see when they moved to other areas.
Tennessee Militia Books
Roane County, TN Militia Fines Record 1806-1836
79 Pages, 8.5 x 11, Soft Cover, Index, TN-1314, $17.00
The militia was in operation during this crucial time period for protection of the citizens. The “fines” occurred when a person missed one or more of the muster calls of his unit.
1814 Court Martial of Tennessee Militiamen
181 Pages, 8.5"x11", Full Name Index, Perfect Bound, TN-0877, $28.50
The rosters list the men who served from West Tennessee [this is now the area we call Middle Tennessee] and give the military service records of these men. Since they were all court- martialed they could not apply for pension and therefore, do not appear in many of the listings for the soldiers of the War of 1812. The surname index includes over 7000 names in this volume.
Virginia Militia Books
The Militia of Washington County, Virginia 1777-1835
169 Pages, 8.5"x11", Two Indices - Officers and Other Men, Perfect Bound, VA-0410, $30.00
The information was gathered over thirty years by Gerald H. Clark. He spent many days at a time in the Virginia State Archives going through about 150 boxes of unfiled papers to find those few sheets that pertained to the Washington County. This collection of materials is found in the Auditors group of papers and were "fines" list sent in from time to time by each local County Sheriff. These fines were collected when a man did not report for the muster call of the Militia Units across the state.
North Carolina Militia Books
North Carolina Militia Returns 1754-1755, 1758 AND 1767
120 Pages, 8.5"x11", Full Name Index, Soft Cover, NC-0203, $25.00
The records here include many of the eastern counties in North Carolina since most of the western counties at this time had not been formed. There are hundreds of names listed here with their units and sometimes a little about where they were assigned in conflict.
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