Frequently Asked Questions
What are the Compiled Service Records (CSRs)?
The original muster rolls (the actual rolls of paper used to record if soldiers were present, wounded / killed, etc. during the Civil War), returns, and registers which made up the month-by-month records of the Civil War’s armies are today housed in the National Archives in Washington, D.C., and scattered about the country at various States’ Archives. Usually, it’s not possible to work with the original documents directly due to their age and fragility. In fact, by the 1890s, the surviving muster rolls had already started to deteriorate, and the War Department commissioned the massive project of the transcription of these records, which record the military service of literally millions of Civil War veterans.
A large team of copyists worked for several decades on this project, the result of which, in the pre-computer age, was a series of cards, each one containing (mostly) handwritten notes about specific events in the military career of each soldier. These cards were placed into an envelope, upon which was written the soldier’s name, unit, rank(s) held, etc. Any surviving wartime documents specifically related to an individual soldier, such as receipts for clothing, pay vouchers, furloughs, etc., were also placed in the envelope. The envelopes were organized by unit, and alphabetically by soldier.
In the 1950s, these cards (now known as the Compiled Service Records, or CSRs) were microfilmed so copies could be distributed to various libraries and universities. It is the microfilmed version of the physical cards, transcribed from the original muster rolls, which is available in digitized form on this website.
How do I get access to the microfilm?
You purchase a subscription to the film bundle in which you’re interested using a credit card. This entitles you to view the microfilm for a period of one month, one year, or longer, depending on the subscription you purchase.
Do I need special software to access the microfilm? Will my dial-up Internet connection work, or do I need a high-speed connection?
The only software required to access the microfilm on this website is a browser running at a minimum screen resolution of 1024 x 768 pixels. The website will be visible at smaller screen resolutions, but you'll need to scroll to see everything.
You will be able to log into the website and access the microfilm images using a dial-up connection, but depending on the speed of your connection, the images may load slowly. You may wish to view our sample microfilm using your dial-up connection before purchasing a subscription.
Can I print copies of documents from the viewer?
Yes. As a subscriber you are authorized to print hard copies of microfilm you view with the viewer provided that the copies are for your own personal use and are not re-scanned back into digital form. You are not permitted to publish any images found on this website as part of another work, such as a book or magazine article.
Can I use copies of the images found on Civil War Microfilm as part of my UDC / SCV application? They have a watermark on them.
Yes! Use of the images as part of a UDC / SCV application is considered individual, private use, which is allowed. The only prohibited use is republication, resale, or reposting of our images on another website without permission.
Can I copy images from the viewer and post them on my website?
No. Although the original microfilm itself is public domain, by digitizing the film and making it a part of this website a new product has been created, which is subject to copyright law.
I work for a university, library, archive / historical society or other organization. Can I subscribe to a bundle and allow our patrons to use it?
No. Subscriptions sold through this website may be used by a single person only and are limited to their individual use, such as personal genealogical research. If you’re a member of an organization and are interested in using our products in-house and / or offering the use of our products to your patrons, we’ll be happy to discuss that with you — please contact us directly.
Why is using Civil War Microfilm better than working with the physical microfilm reels at a nearby library or university? Can’t I get the same thing there for free?
Convenience is obviously a factor. You don’t have to drive to the library or university to work with our film, and you can access documents to which you’ve subscribed 24 hours a day, seven days a week from wherever you wish, whether it’s at a local coffee shop or your home computer in the comfort of your pajamas. There’s also no time limit on our viewer like there is at some libraries during peak hours.
Unless you know exactly what you’re looking for, searching through potentially hundreds of reels of film for a specific soldier can be a daunting task. Civil War Microfilm provides a soldier search built right into our microfilm viewer which allows you to quickly locate the exact reel in which you’re interested, immediately jump to it and start viewing documents within a matter of seconds — no more loading and unloading physical reels of film!
Finally, because we’ve digitized the original microfilm, we allow you to manipulate the images of the original documents in ways which have not before been possible. This can be very important when working with microfilmed versions of handwritten documents from over 140 years ago.
What does the microfilm look like, and what features does the viewer offer?
You can try out a demo of several reels for free here. The images are created from National Archives microfilm and the quality is identical to the original images on their physical counterparts. Our viewer allows you to view the filmed documents in their original sequence, exactly as you would with a "traditional" microfilm reader machine. When you click on a specific image in the sequence, you can rotate, zoom in and out, and adjust the brightness and contrast of the document you're viewing. Additionally, there are many features which are only possible when working with digital images, such as sharpening, de-noising, inverting black and white, etc., which can help make old documents much more legible.
Part of a document I’m viewing is unreadable. Can you fix it?
That depends on why it is unreadable. If the image was cut off during the digitization process and missing (essentially, part of the document was cropped out and never made it onto the image you see in the viewer), let us know and we will attempt to have the individual image rescanned at some point in the future. However, this should rarely be observed as great care is taken during the digitization process to ensure that the images created from the microfilm are of the highest quality.
If the document is unreadable because of poor handwriting or the quality of the image on the original microfilm, there’s not much we can do. The viewer has several tools which are provided to help "clean up" old documents in order to make them more legible, but sometimes certain documents are simply in too poor a condition on the original film to be read.
How can I find out if a specific soldier appears in the microfilm?
Use the Soldier Search found on the National Park Service’s Civil War Soldiers and Sailors database. The search results will tell you on which index reel a soldier’s name appears. By locating the soldier’s name on the index itself, you’ll be pointed towards a specific reel in the Compiled Service Records. Note that the same soldier may appear on multiple reels (e.g., in cases where the same soldier served with multiple units). Of course, if you already know the unit the soldier served in, you may wish to bypass the index reels and jump directly to the soldier’s Compiled Service Record. This is possible because the CSR reels are organized by unit and soldiers’ last names (e.g., M251-84 contains soldiers who served in the 8th Florida Infantry and the beginning of whose last names is between L — O).
Civil War Microfilm also allows its subscribers to tag groups of images into a single Soldier record. Once tagged, individual soldiers can easily be found directly on this website through our own Soldier Search.
Do you plan on offering other film bundles in the future?
Absolutely! We are currently evaluating which other states and / or record groups will be brought online next. There’s a survey on the home page of this site which you can use to "vote" for what film you’d like to see offered next, or of course you can always send us an email.