Friday, May 02, 2008

Research Resource: Register of Enlistments In U.S. Army

I got an e-mail from Ancestry.com recently that touted some new databases that had been added. Among these was "Registration of Enlistments in the U.S. Army, 1798 --1914. So of course I was interested. I put in the search box a number of my family names, particularly the more unique ones, and turned up nothing. So then I tried the common family names like Johnson and Martin. Still nothing. This made me a little suspicious. I couldn't believe that from 1798 to 1914, for example, only 161 men from Missouri named Johnson had enlisted in the United States Army.

I decided to find out just how many names were actually in the database. I did this by simply leaving the name boxes blank and indicating "United States" in the country box and "any state" and searching. The program reported back that there are something over the 845,000 names in the database. Then I repeated the process placing in the country box the names of countries I thought most likely to have supplied members of the U.S. Army during the time. 1798 -- 1914. Here are the interesting results:

UNITED STATES

845,041

IRELAND

155,122

GERMANY

92,440*

ENGLAND

37,732

CANADA

20,740**

PHILLIPINES

17,005

SCOTLAND

12,083

FRANCE

6,492

RUSSIA

6,195

AUSTRIA

6,107

ITALY

2,396

NETHERLANDS

1,646

POLAND

1,518

TOTAL

1,049,395


*includes 8,329 from Prussia
**includes 10 listed as being from "North America" since Canada was referred to as "British North America"



Are you surprised by these data? I am. More than 10% of the enlistees were born in Ireland. I never would have thought that.

But my purpose was to discover how many records were in the database in order to determine how complete it is. So consider the total number. Except for the Civil War, the Army was fairly small between 1798 and 1914; it could well be 1,050,000 names represents a fairly complete database. But then, it's estimated that during the Civil War, 2,200,000 men served in the Union Army. If that's the case, I reasoned, perhaps most of the records in this database came from the Civil War era. To check this theory, I put in the year box "1863" selected "any country," left all other fields blank, and searched. That yielded a total of 13,568 enlistments. Hmm! Clearly it would take more of an 13,000 enlistments a year to sustain an army of over 2 million. (The total for 1861, the first year of the war, was 29,265).

So perhaps it is that this database contains mostly non-Civil War enlistments. In any event, it's clear that this is not a comprehensive database of U.S. Army enlistments during the period 1798-1914.

Ancestry.com says the original data was found in National Archives Microfilm Publication M233, 81 rolls; Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, 1780’s-1917, Record Group 94.

2 comments:

Chad Milliner said...

Craig, the database is complete for the range of years it covers. What you are overlooking is that most of the men who fought in America's various wars during the eighteenth- and nineteenth-centuries were NOT members of the regular United States Army. Instead, they were volunteers in military units raised by states. They never enlisted in the Army of the United States and thus are of course not listed in the registers that Ancestry.com put online.

To say it another way, what Ancestry.com put online is the enlistment registers of men who planned to be career soldiers in the Regular Army -- not people who enlisted or were drafted in the various Volunteer organizations comprising what is commonly known as the Volunteer Army.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Regular_Army_%28United_States%29

Chad Milliner
cmilliner@tgn.com

Craig Manson said...

Chad,

Of course, you're absolutely correct! And I feel like a complete dunce for not thinking of that! I'll do an update on the main page.