This Is Not a Drill: Pennsylvania Military Records Can Be Found Online!
Documenting military service is a goal for many genealogical researchers. For those with Pennsylvania ancestry, many military records are just a click away on the ARIAS website run by the state’s official archives.
What Is ARIAS?
ARIAS is an acronym for the Archives Records Information Access System, a website created by the Pennsylvania State Archives to enhance free access to databases showing the service of thousands of the state’s residents in various military outfits, tied to service in conflicts ranging from the 1700s to the early 1900s.
Earlier Wars’ Records More on State Level
Before talking about the records on ARIAS, it’s a good idea to back up for a moment to talk about U.S. military service in general. For the early wars, the federal army was relatively tiny when compared to the militias organized on the state level.
Even as late as the Civil War, many more fought as members of state-organized units rather than directly for the federal level. As a result, the rule of thumb is that you’ll find many more records of military service on the state level compared to the federal level.
For the entire nineteenth century, Pennsylvania was America’s second most populous state and the manpower it provided for various wars was commensurate with that ranking.
Focus on Revolutionary War
For those with colonial Pennsylvania ancestry, the “Revolutionary War Military Abstract Card File” is a quick way to perform a search to determine whether an ancestor served from Pennsylvania in America’s founding conflict.
The database is arranged alphabetically by the surname of the soldier and consists of digitized index cards. It contains transcriptions of data extracted from original records in the custody of the State Archives concerning Revolutionary War service in the Pennsylvania Militia, Pennsylvania Line, and the Navy. Information provided is the name and rank of soldier, whether active or inactive duty, county of residence, battalion in which served, and record from which information was extracted. In Daniel Keim’s card, he’s placed as a member of Capt. Anthony Lerch’s 1st Company of the 4th Battalion of the Northampton County Militia.
Many of the cards refer to sources of information found in the volumes of the published Pennsylvania Archives series of records—for example, on Daniel Keim’s card, the reference on the lower right side is to the published Archives Fifth Series, Volume VIII, pages 352-365. The entire 138-volume run of the published Pennsylvania Archives is a free item on Fold3.com.
Because there are many similar names of soldiers, the Pennsylvania State Archives has a finding aid on its main website called “Revolutionary War Militia Battalions and Companies,” which can help you match the information found in the card file to determine whether the unit was raised in the area of your ancestor.
Also for the Revolutionary War, ARIAS has a database of “Militia Officers Index Cards, 1775-1800,” an index card file of the names of Pennsylvania militia officers who served during the American Revolution, in Indian campaigns in northwestern Pennsylvania, and in quelling the Whiskey Rebellion. The cards are arranged alphabetically by surname of officer.
Focus on Civil War
Pennsylvania, the site of the Civil War’s largest battle (Gettysburg in July 1863) was a crucial source of manpower during the conflict. The ARIAS database “Civil War Veterans’ Card File, 1861-1866” contains index cards initially prepared to serve as an index to Samuel Penniman Bates’s History of Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-1865 and then supplemented with data from muster rolls.
In addition to soldiers’ names and military units, many of the cards contain further information including ages at enrollment, descriptions (complexion, height, color of hair and eyes), residences and birthplaces; the dates and places where enrolled; the dates and places where mustered in; and the dates of discharge. This car for George Magee gives a huge bounty of information about his service—everything from the dates he “Enrolled” and “M.I.” (mustered in) to his age, height, hair and eye color!
Finding Other Documents
Service of Pennsylvanians in four other conflicts are included in ARIAS; these are the “PA National Guard Veterans’ Card File, 1867-1921,” “Spanish American War Veterans’ Card File of United States Volunteers,” “Mexican Border Campaign Veterans’ Card File” (from 1916); and “World War I Service Medal Application Cards.”
One of the great things about the World War I series is it provides the address when they enlisted and the address when they applied for their medals—useful for tracking ancestors forward and backward in time. As an added bonus, sometimes you discover the original name of an ancestor: From the cards below, it’s learned Walter Skad was originally Waclow Szkadlubowicz.
In all cases, the databases on ARIAS are terrific signposts to other documents—muster rolls, pension records, even fine lists (showing participation!)—that can provide you with pride or a smile at the services of your Pennsylvania military ancestor.
At Legacy Tree Genealogists, we know about records such as those on the ARIAS site that are starting points towards more intensive research! Contact us today for a free consultation and to let us know what our experts can do for you.