Thursday, June 24, 2010

Research Resource Review #1 -

My family did not arrive in America until the mid-1870s so I do not have any ancestors that fought in the American Civil War. For that reason, I never thought I'd have a need to request Civil War military service records or pension files from the National Archives. As it turns out, though, I've had reason to request those records for some of the soldiers I am featuring in my forthcoming book, Notre Dame in the Civil War: Marching Onward to Victory (The History Press, 2010).

To obtain those records in a timely fashion, I have turned to Mr. Jay Odom at and was extremely pleased with his expertise and service. His website offers an easy-to-use interface to order Union or Confederate military service or pension records at an affordable price and great turnaround times and he has offered expert advice in directing me to the best records to ask for.

See my interview below with Jay, some examples of records I obtained through his service, and...


1) Tell me a bit about yourself:

Well, my personal background is, I'm a father of two, boy and a girl. I was born in West Texas, raised in the military, and we lived all over including a long stay in Germany, and then I made it back to Texas for college. I went to college to study music. During college, I started working on my genealogy. That is really where all of this starts, I guess. I have been an avid genealogist for over 15 years now.

2) When and why did you start this business?

While working on my own genealogy, I learned real quick how expensive and time-consuming it was to get war records. Not just Civil War, but all the war records. Some of the records were at the state level, somewere at the National Archives (NARA), some were at libraries, some were held in NARA satellite offices, etc...It gets real confusing, trust me. So, I thought I would try and bring it all together to make it easier for the next person and at the same time charge less than what the Government charges for the same records.

3) Where did your interest in history/military history come from?

My interest really started while researching my paternal line. My great-great-great-grandfather was raised in Tennessee, but yet, joined the Union Army. He actually lived about 15 miles from the Alabama border, and his cousins and other male family members all joined the Confederacy. This to me was interesting. It was even told in my family that his sister was a Confederate spy (which makes for interesting Christmas dinners!). Anyhow, learning about his service through U.S. military records really opened my eyes up to the whole process. Tracking down records has become a passion for me now.

4) What are the advantages of using a service like yours instead of using the NARA forms/process?

I guess to most folks, the fact that we are less expensive would be the first thing that comes to mind. But in my opinion, just having someone to ask questions prior to buying, or questions about what we found, is the more tangible benefit. And of course, the difference in turnaround time is drastic: NARA has a 60-90 day window; we try and get them out in 30 days or less, and have an "expedited" service that allows us to deliver them within 15 days usually.

5) Are most of your customers researching family history, authors working on historical books, other?

A mixture of everything, I suppose. But if I had to guess, family history is probably the largest draw.

6) What information do people need to use your service?

Usually just a name, state of service, and any personal information they may have...i.e. approx. birth and death dates and locations. Place where they were living in the census just before the specified war.

7) what should they expect in a "Compiled Military Service Record" (CMSR)?

A CMSR is just a compiled service record of their time in the military. it is basically a collection of muster rolls which showed whether they were present, absent, sick, or dead. And may show other information such as furloughs they took or place where they died if applicable. Sometimes, there are enlistment papers with Age, Race, Height, Weight, Hair Color, Eye Color etc.

(Learn more about what to expect and - as important - what not to expect in a CMSR at Jay's website)

8) What can they expect with a pension file?

A pension file is very useful to the family history folks in particular. It will usually have all marriage details, children births and living places, names of friends and family that testify to them being in the military and will have very detailed information of their time in the military, such as battles they were in, injuries they sustained, etc.

9) Do you encourage people to contact you with questions before they make an online order?

Absolutely! You can contact me at "Ask the Archivist"

10) What is the future of archive digitalization with services like, etc?

I think records will continue to be available from digitalization, however,, etc do not carry the records which are at the state level (i.e., Confederate Pensions, Amnesty's, etc.) so I'm not sure how that will play out. Right now, they are trying to get the Union CMSR's done, but it is a lengthy process and the hardware to hold that much information is not where it should be. And from what I have been told, there are no immediate plans to scan the pension records, as most of the pension records are 50-300 pages long.

(INDEED! The pension file I received from Jay was more than 120 pages!)

11) Have any customers written back to you with "amazing" finds that they were happy about?

Amazing? Not sure about that. But a very excited customer is pretty common! I had one file that had a picture of a customer's ancestor in it, and they were super-excited!



Disclaimer: I received a complimentary Union soldier CMSR from for review purposes. That said, I have also purchased several Union military and/or pension records on my own dime from

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