Wednesday, October 19, 2011

THE GRAND ARMY OF THE REPUBLIC AND IT'S SUCCEEDING ORGANIZATION SONS OF UNION VETERANS OF THE CIVIL WAR (GAR & SUVCW)

THE GRAND ARMY OF THE REPUBLIC AND IT'S SUCCEEDING ORGANIZATION SONS OF UNION VETERANS OF THE CIVIL WAR (GAR & SUVCW)

The GAR ( Grand Army of the Republic) was a fraternal organization founded in 1866 in Decatur, Illinois and ceased in 1956 after the death of its last member. It was made up of veterans from the Union Army, Navy, Marines and the US Revenue Cutter Service, all of whom served in the Civil War.  Once the GAR ceased to function, it was succeeded by the male descendants of Union Veterans who formed the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War (SUVCW). 

The purpose of the GAR was to connect Civil War veterans and for networking purposes regarding advocacy in politics.  The motto of its founding is "Fraternity, Charity and Loyalty."  It was founded April 6, 1866 by Benjamin F. Stephenson.  Early on it advocated for the voting rights of black veterans, and in the 1880's it advocated federal pensions for veterans.  Other goals were in establishing soldiers' homes and caring and educating war orphans.  It consisted of state departments and within individual communities, posts, which were present in every state and a few overseas posts.   The members wore military-style uniforms.  It was the GAR that established Decoration Day as May 30th, which we now know as Memorial Day.  To this day, we celebrate in the same fashion by decorating veteran's graves with flags.  In the late 1800's, its membership was over 400,000 members.  However, by 1940, there were only approximately 1000 members left in the entire U.S.

Just a side note, I was born and raised in Wilkes-Barre, Luzerne Co, PA.  I graduated from Elmer L. Meyers High School and one of our rival schools was G.A.R. Memorial Junior Senior High School.  G.A.R. for the Grand Army of the Republic.

Anyone who visits cemeteries will see GAR markers in older sections.  These markers were placed at the grave sites of Union soldier veterans from the Civil War upon their death.  The Union soldier represented the Federal Government.  They are in the shape of a star, made from iron, brass, later ones of aluminum, and have the inscription "GAR 1861 1885."  The aluminum replaced older ones that were lost or disappeared over the years.  Some of the markers also named the post.  The post quartermaster kept record of the members' graves that were marked. 

The records you can obtain that were kept by the GAR organization are death rolls which date from as early as the 1880s and continue to the 1940s.  They were published in the resource, PROCEEDINGS OF THE ANNUAL ENCAMPMENTS of the departments of the Grand Army of the Republic.  You will have to search by state and community to see where and if you can access these records.

Unfortunately, there was never a central location for GAR member records.  However, you can inquire at the local historical society for the community you are interested in, the local library, veteran posts, state archives or the GAR Museum and Library located in Philadelphia.  They have limited records, but you can look at the list of what they have on their website.
The physical address is:
 Grand Army of the Republic Museum and Library
4278 Griscom Street
Philadelphia, PA  19124-3954
phone:  (215)  289-6484
email:  garmuslib@verizon.net

Here is a small list of links to start your search on the GAR death rolls.  A great suggestion that I read was if you cannot afford to purchase the resource book that has death rolls listed, then ask your local library to do so, it will be a great reference book for them to carry!  You could make a small donation for that purpose. 

http://www.ngpublications.com/ListOfNamesInAllThreeBooks,%20A-Ab.htm

http://wvls.lib.wi.us/ClarkCounty/clark/facts/1888_GARdeaths1.htm

http://www.therainwatercollection.com/reference/ref441.pdf

http://genealogytrails.com/ill/washington/gar.html


You can also search the Family History Library at http://www.familysearch.org where they have some records for Iowa, Michigan, Nebraska, Oregon, South Dakota and Utah.  Use the keyword "Grand Army of the Republic" to search their catalog. 

http://www.familysearch.org/Eng/Library/fhlcatalog/supermainframeset.asp?display=titledetails&titleno=678232&disp=Grand+Army+of+the+Republic%2C+Missouri+D%20%20&columns=*,0,0

http://www.familysearch.org/Eng/Library/fhlcatalog/supermainframeset.asp?display=titledetails&titleno=47538&disp=Honor+roll+of+Oregon+Grand+Army+of+the+R%20%20&columns=*,0,0

The Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War  website  can give you an incredible amount of research links that save you a lot of time!  It is a wonderful resource! 

There are more records that might be available aside from the death rolls, but it will be dependent on what was saved and where you can access the member records.  Unfortunately, GAR documents were considered personal property and when the last member of a post died, they were often destroyed.  If you find more links or locations of death rolls, please feel free to contact me and I will gladly list them in this section for my readers! 

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