Genealogists with military ancestors are faced with the tasks of researching and understanding a variety of complicated records—pension files, regimental histories, service records, payment ledgers, war diaries, and other sources. Soldiers’ home records are another valuable military resource that can provide details about a veteran’s family, service, illnesses, injuries, and life after the war.
The first soldiers’ homes—the United States Soldiers’ Home in Washington, D.C. and the United States Naval Home in Philadelphia—were established in the nineteenth century by the federal government. These facilities provided food, shelter, and medical care to retired veterans of the Army and Navy. Following the Civil War, soldiers’ homes were established throughout the nation for disabled volunteers—the men who made up much of the Union Army. These homes, originally known as asylums, were set up and operated by the federal government, individual states, and private organizations. Initially, they were open to Union Army veterans who were left unable to work as a result of war-related injuries and illnesses. Eligibility requirements later changed, and veterans of the War of 1812 and the Mexican War were also eligible for admission. As time went on, veterans from other wars were admitted, including many men who served in the Spanish-American War and World War I.
The United States National Homes for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers—often referred to as national homes or Old Soldiers’ Homes—were the facilities established by the federal government after the Civil War. The individual soldiers’ homes were known as branches. An eligible veteran was able to choose the branch where he wanted to be housed. In addition to the national homes, nearly every state established its own soldiers’ homes after the Civil War. Many private organizations, such as benevolent societies and veterans organizations, also established veterans homes. Southern states had homes for Confederate soldiers, which were either privately funded or funded by the states.
Census records, family sources, pension files, and death certificates can often provide clues suggesting that a veteran spent time in a soldiers’ home. The types of records available from soldiers’ homes vary depending on the type of home (national, state, or private), the location of the home, and the time period.
The United States Soldiers’ Home and United States Naval Home
The United States Soldiers’ Home in Washington, D.C. maintained admission and discharge registers (1851–1941), monthly and quarterly reports (1857–1927), personal papers of residents (1803–1858), and registers and records for sick residents (1872–1943) and residents who died at the home (1852–1942). These records include statements about the veteran’s service, information about injuries and illnesses at the time of admission, admission and discharge dates, death certificates, and more. The records are part of National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) Record Group (RG) 231, Records of the Armed Forces Retirement Home, and are held at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. Additional information about records related to the United States Soldiers’ Home can be found in Preliminary Inventory of the Records of the United States Soldiers’ Home, compiled by Patricia Andrews.
The United States Naval Home in Philadelphia maintained admission permits (1834–1910); reports with details about admissions, deaths, and changes in status (1866–1888); beneficiary files (1887–1943); and personnel files for residents (1931–1959). These records can include statements of service, admission and discharge dates, information about family members and their whereabouts, details about illnesses and injuries, and other genealogical information. The records are part of NARA RG 181, Records of Naval Districts and Shore Establishments, and are held at the National Archives regional facility in Philadelphia.
National Soldiers’ Homes
Records for the United States National Homes for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers were maintained by the individual soldiers’ home branches, and are now held by the National Archives. Each branch kept historical registers, which cover between 1866 and 1938, and include four sections: military history, domestic history, home history, and general remarks. The military history section provides much of the same information that can be found in compiled military service records—date and location of enlistment, company and regiment, rank, date and location of discharge, and reason for discharge—as well as details about war-related illnesses and injuries. The domestic history section includes biographical information about the veteran, including age, religion, occupation, marital status, physical features, and the address of a close relative. The home history section includes details about the veteran’s stay in that branch, such as dates of admission and discharge, pension information, death dates, and burial locations. The general remarks section can include a variety of information, usually related to admissions, discharges, pensions, and personal effects.
The historical registers are part of NARA RG 15, Records of the Veterans Administration. They have been microfilmed and are part of NARA microfilm publication M1749 (Historical Registers of National Homes for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, 1866–1938). The microfilm publication is available in its entirety at NARA in Washington, D.C. Most NARA regional facilities hold parts of the microfilmed collection that cover the national homes located in the geographic area covered by that facility. These records are also available on microfilm at the Family History Library, and online via Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.
Most individual veteran case files have been destroyed. The few that survive are also part of NARA RG 15, and can be found at the NARA regional branch that covers the geographic area where the national home was located. A list of national soldiers’ home branches can be found here. Additional records, such as correspondence and other administrative records, are outlined in Preliminary Inventory of Records of the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers and the National Homes Service of the Veterans Administration, 1866-1937, compiled by Evelyn Wade.
State-Run Soldiers’ Homes
Records created by state-run soldiers’ homes vary by location, but often provide much of the same details as the records from national homes. Most states have maintained general records related to the homes, as well as records specific to individual veterans. Admissions registers and case files that include individual applications for admission, lists of personal effects, surgeon’s certificates, death certificates, and other records can provide information on a soldier’s military service, medical ailments, family members, and life after the war, as well as other biographical details. Annual reports (many of which are available on Google Books) and other administrative records can provide insight into what life was like at the soldiers’ homes. Additionally, many state soldiers’ homes have rich histories that have been documented in historical or military publications. The records for state-run soldiers’ homes can usually be found at the state archives or a state historical society. A list of state-run soldiers’ homes can be found here.
Privately-Run Soldiers’ Homes
Many private organizations, such as benevolent societies and veterans organizations, also operated veterans’ homes. Some of these homes were later taken over by the state or merged into a state-run soldiers’ home. One of the largest civilian-run organizations that operated soldiers’ homes was the United States Sanitary Commission (USSC). The USSC, which helped support sick and wounded Union Army soldiers, operated several facilities known as soldiers’ homes or soldiers’ lodges. These homes provided food, lodging, and care to soldiers who were in transit or who were discharged, disabled, or furloughed. A list of USSC homes and lodges can be found here. Many other organizations operated similar homes for soldiers or their dependents. Surviving records for privately-run soldiers’ homes can often be found at historical societies and libraries.
Do you have a military ancestor that may have spent time in a soldiers’ home? Soldiers’ home records can provide information that often can’t be found elsewhere, and are extremely valuable resources for researchers looking to piece together an ancestor’s military history.
Photo: United States Soldiers’ Home in Washington D.C., Wikimedia Commons.