How to Request Your Michigan CW Soldier’s Service Record

How to Request Your Michigan CW Soldier’s Service Record

The above pastel portrait of my 2nd Great Grandfather, James Pennington (1828-1903) hangs in the Cannonsburg Museum, Cannon Township, Michigan.  The author of this article borrowed the portrait, had it professionally photographed, and reproduced full-size.  It now hangs on my living room wall.

James Pennington hadn’t been married but for 4 years when Lincoln called for troops to invade the South to preserve the Union.  His wife was pregnant with their second child, his oldest was only 3.  They lived in rural Courtland Township, Kent County, Michigan where he worked the fields as a farmer.

His daughter was born in August of 1861.  His 2nd son was born December of 1862.  Men from his community were going off to war fighting with any of the numerous Michigan-based outfits but James held off until 1864.  Lincoln again called for troops in August of 1864 and James Pennington heard the call.  But rather than join any of the Michigan units he chose to travel over 400 miles to Genesee Falls in the state of New York where he joined the 9th New York Cavalry, co. G.

The winter of 1864 proved to be the coldest and harshest in severity of all the war and James suffered because of it.  His limbs and joints were frozen, his body shivered, from exposure to the elements.  As a new recruit, James was placed on picket duty in the deep woods near Winchester, Virginia when his headstrong colt stepped into a hole sending James forward on to the pummel of his saddle before hurling him to the ground.  James’ friend and tentmate Private Rycroft rushed to his aid.  James was white in the face and complained about the pain believing his kidney had been hurt.

They made their way back to camp where James laid inside his tent in writhing pain.  He sent his tentmate for medicine because he hurt too bad to go himself.

It wasn’t his kidney that had been hurt.  Rather it was his left testicle crushed by the blow to the saddle.  This pain would cause him discomfort in passing water for the rest of his life.

The crushed testicle was not his only sustained injury.  He was also compensated for rheumatism in the joints from exposure to the elements and enlarged prostate.

James Pennington was present for the Calvary battle at Waynesboro and at Tom’s Brook.

How did I learn this privileged (and private) information about James’ brief stint in the Army?  That is the scope of this series of articles where we will be taking a comprehensive look at the records available for your Civil War veteran.

In this first article, we will review the CMSR (Compiled Military Service Record) to learn what it is, where it is located, and how to use it in your genealogical research.

In my opinion, the CMSR is the reader’s digest version of your Civil War Soldier’s military service in Lincoln’s War, either with the Union or Confederacy.  The records are held at the National Archives in Washington, DC.  Not to worry, you won’t have to travel there to order your Soldier’s CMSR.

What does the CMSR include?

The CMSR will typically include: the name of your soldier, his unit(s) served, his occupation at time of enlistment, his birth place, his physical description, his rank when mustered in and mustered out, his muster rolls (present of absent) in 2-month intervals.  It may also include any prisoner of war records (if applicable), enlistment papers, record of death (if died in service), any personal papers that might pertain to the soldier, and leaves of absence (furloughs).

Note that I did say the CMSR is available whether Union or Confederate.

The CMSR database has been indexed.  This indexed version is available on is placing many CMSRs online as well.

Let’s now examine the CMSR of James Pennington.

The first document we find in James Pennington’s CMSR is his volunteer enlistment paper.  This paper shows that James was then allegedly 35 years of age, a farmer born in Scotland, and that he enlisted for a period of 1 year from the town of Lockport, New York on 4 October 1864.  James Pennington signed the document.  Below is given a physical description of James.  He had blue eyes, brown hair, a fair complexion, and stood at 5 feet and 9 ½ inches high.

For many people who do not have a photograph of their Civil War document, this physical information, though short on details, is worth having the CMSR.

Apparently, James enlisted from Genesee Falls, New York but signed the papers at Lockport.

The muster cards are equally as useful.  According to James’ daughter Edith who was interviewed shortly before her death in the 1960s, her father was at the battle of Cedar Creek.  Let’s see if this is possible according to the muster cards.

The muster cards were kept every two months to keep track of every soldier: either marked absent or present.

The Battle at Cedar Creek was fought on 19 October 1864 between the forces of Union Major General Philip Sheridan and Confederate Lt. General Jubal Early.  As James enlisted on 4 October in New York he would have been shipped to Washington DC for training.  It is unlikely he was present at the battle.

The muster card dated September and October 1864 shows Pennington marked “absent”.  Remarks state that he was assigned to the company on 25 October 1864 but had not yet joined.  The following muster card for November and December 1864 states that Pennington was then present with remarks that he joined the company on 12 December 1864.  These facts prove that James Pennington was not at Cedar Creek, at least not for the battle.

Something to keep an eye out for in the CMSR file is the summary page found on the outside of the packet.  There is a comment section found on this page entitled “Book Mark”.   If you see a number written in this space it means that there is additional information available: information created post-war and added to the soldier’s file later.  You will need to submit a separate request using this number to obtain these additional records.  In the case of James Pennington there are no additional files.

How to Order Your Soldier’s CMSR

  1. Browse to the National Archives site at
  2. Select the blue menu entitled “Veterans’ Service Record”.
  3. In the middle of the next page search for the section entitled “Research Using Military Records” and select “Locate older (pre-WW1) military service records.

4. Then browse down on the next page to the section “How to Order Older Military Service or Pension Records” and either select “Order Online” or “Download Form”.  If you choose to download the form you will be required to mail it in.  Ordering online is much simpler and faster.

The CSMR request form is Form Number NATF 86.  The charge is $30.  The site states that your order will be fulfilled (online) in 60-90 days.

Let me know on this site what you find in Your Civil War Veteran’s Compiled Military Service Record.

How to Locate Michigan Adoption Records

How to Locate Michigan Adoption Records

Adoption records in the State of Michigan are sealed and generally inaccessible to the public.  However, there are methods, allowed by Michigan Law, where an adoptee and/or direct descendant of an adoptee can request nonidentifying or identifying information pertaining to the adoptee in question.  So, if you are an adoptee looking for a birth parent or former blood sibling, or if you are a direct descendant of an adoptee and have hit a brick wall in your family tree…don’t give up.  There is hope!

In this article we will be examining current Michigan Probate Law as it relates to adoptees and private probate file information sealed by court order.  The Michigan Law we will examine is Michigan Probate Code, Section 710.68 and 710.27.

Adult Adoptees

If you are an adult adoptee, defined as an individual over the age of 18, then you have the right to request from either the adoption agency (if known) or the probate court for all non-identifying information pertaining to your birth parent(s).  Per Michigan Law this information must be delivered to you in written form within 8 weeks.

Unless a written release by the birth parent or parents (if both signed the adoption papers) is on file, then you will not be given identifying information – meaning the name(s) of parent(s) will be blacked out and not given.

The information you will receive can be used to search for the identity of either parent using public records such as city directories, births, deaths, etc.  It all depends on what is received.

So how does this work?  The adoptee requests non-identifying information from the adoption agency.  That agency then has 8 weeks to supply the information in written form.

If you don’t know the agency that handled the adoption you may request this information from the probate court which must supply the information within 4 weeks.

What you will receive varies.  It depends on what the agency has on file.  But generally with older files the information given the courts is much less than what an agency holds.  This is why we typically request the adoption information direct from an agency rather than the court.

This information pertains to all adoptions that occurred between 28 May 1945 and 12 September 1980.  For adoptions before or after these dates this information does not pertain.

If both parents (or single parent if only one parent signed the release form) have statements on file with the central adoption agency consenting to release of the identifying information or if both parents are deceased, then you will receive:

  1. Your birth name before adoption.
  2. Name(s) of Parent(s) at time of termination of parental rights.
  3. Most recent name and address of parent(s).
  4. Names of biological siblings at time of termination.

If a single parent is deceased, then you will receive:

  1. Name of the Parent at time of termination of parental rights.
  2. Most recent name and address of that parent.
  3. Your birth name before adoption.
  4. Names of biological siblings at time of termination.

For adoptions where parental rights were terminated before 28 May 1945 or on/after 12 September 1980, the agency or court will release all identifying information to an adoptee unless a former parent has on file a statement (waived at death of the parent) denying consent.

If an adult adoptee wishes to receive information pertaining to an adult former sibling, the agency/court will submit a clearance form to the central adoption registry and then has 28 days after a reply is received to notify the adoptee in writing of the name/address of an adult former sibling – if a statement is on file.

If neither of the birth parents have a statement denying consent on file, then a copy of the clearance reply form will be released to the adult adoptee.  This form can be used to obtain the adoptee’s original certificate of live birth.  Again, this only applies to those adoptions in which parental rights were terminated before 28 May 1945 and on/after 12 September 1980.

What are the fees?  Fees are set by Michigan Law to $60.00 (or actual cost of supplying information), whichever is less.  But this fee may be waived if indigent or under hardship.

Many genealogists, myself included, have brick walls in our family tree where we run into a person that was adopted.  Can we request information of our ancestor from the State of Michigan?  Yes we can.

Pursuant to the following that reads…

(20) A direct descendant of a deceased adult adoptee may request information under this section. All information to which an adult adoptee is entitled under this section shall be released to the adult adoptee’s direct descendants if the adult adoptee is deceased.

Therefore, if the adult adoptee is deceased, a direct descendant (must be proven) will be treated as if he/she were the adult adoptee and receive the equivalent information authorized by law.

Case File One

I had a recent client that stumbled upon an adoption in her family tree: her paternal grandmother.  Not knowing how to circumvent this brick wall, she contacted me for assistance.

We knew the grandmother’s adopted name and knew the time of her birth.  She had been given up for adoption at birth.

Armed with this information I contacted the probate court within the county where the adoption took place to discover the name of the adoption agency.  The probate court had information that was shared: the birth name of the grandmother and the agency that handled the adoption.

That agency was no longer in existence, so I cross-referenced existing agencies to find which had the records from the former.  Once the proper agency was found it was a matter of my client proving relationship, paying the $60 fee, and waiting for the information.

It was properly delivered, as promised, near the 8-week mark.  The file contained precisely what she had been looking for – the birth name of the grandmother’s father.  And the brick wall was circumvented.

Case File Two

In my own family tree, I had a brick wall in my paternal great-grandmother.  A letter was found written to my grandmother, once my great-grandmother had passed, that explained that the man she knew as her father was not her biological.  Unfortunately, no name was given.

In my great-grandmother’s pocket purse was a small worn photo of a balding man, perhaps in his early 40s, dressed in working clothes, wearing a soiled apron, sandals, and a cap.  He stood in front of the double doors of a garage.  His fingers were stained.

I contacted the probate court to see if any information could be found pertaining to my grandmother’s adoption.  She was born in 1921 and my great-grandmother married in 1923 the man whose name appears on the birth certificate.

The probate court supplied me the name of the birth father.  Unfortunately, the name was fictional.  My great-grandmother had given a bogus name – probably pushed for the information during birth.  She wanted to protect the real father.

I had to circumvent this issue.  But how?  I examined the lives of her four sisters.  One of the sisters, unbeknownst to the family, had been previously married in 1918.  The marriage did not last but a year and ended in divorce on grounds of extreme cruelty.

But what was interesting was found on her marriage certificate.  It gave my great-grandmother as one of the witnesses to the marriage alongside another man.  That man was brother to the husband, of the right age, and worked as a brash polisher in an instrument factory.  There he was!

Or so we thought.  I have since proven otherwise using DNA.  But that is another story for another time.  The point is, the probate court is willing to work with you in the bounds of Michigan Probate Law.  It’s not difficult to do.  You can do this too.  It you do need my assistance, I am more than eager to help.  But first you will need to request the name of the adoption agency from the court wherein your adoption took place.

Whether an adult adoptee looking for you birth parent(s), looking for a blood sibling, or need help requesting records pertaining to an ancestor adopted in the State of Michigan, simply fill out the information below.

5 + 11 =