Church News - The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Typists marshaled in peaceful army

Published: Saturday, Nov. 8, 1997

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More than 130 years after the end of the U.S. Civil War, a nationwide army of volunteers has been marshaled - but its purpose is not to make war.

On the contrary, the intent is more in keeping with the spirit of D&C 98:16, "Therefore, renounce war and proclaim peace, and seek diligently to turn the hearts of the children to their fathers, and the hearts of the fathers to the children."Under the auspices of the National Park Service - and with computer software and expertise provided by the Church - these volunteers have been working, some of them since 1993, to compile a vast database called the Civil War Soldiers System.

When completed, the database will be installed for visitor use at Civil War historic sites managed by the National Park Service, and in other libraries or repositories. It will provide computer access to the names of about 3.5 million Union and Confederate soldiers, their ranks, and the regiments to which they were assigned. In addition it might feature unit histories, campaign summaries, cemetery records, Prisoner of War records, engagements, and monuments to specific soldiers, units and regiments.

A portion of the completed project is already accessible on the Internet, at this address: http://www.itd.nps.gov/cwss/.

Such readily accessible information can be useful in family history research, explained David E. Rencher, public outreach manager for the Church Family History Department. Knowing a soldier's name and regiment might unlock a wealth of information on file about that soldier at the National Archives in Washington, D.C., he explained.

"Once you know the name and regiment you can send off and get a copy of the soldier's packet of papers, including such items as proof of marriage, children's birth dates, places, an exact history of where the soldier served, a personal description of the soldier, how tall he was, hair color, eye color - any amount of data could be in there." The file might include original documents, including pages torn from family Bibles, Brother Rencher said. For example, a soldier's widow might have been required to send the government a marriage document to receive pension benefits, and such material might be preserved in the soldier's file at the National Archives.

The Church's involvement in the project brings a reciprocal benefit, Brother Rencher said. "We provide the licensing for the Park Service to use the software for entering the data; in return the Church receives a copy of the database without having to pay for the administration of the project, which is about $200,000. It's win-win; everybody gets what they want."

Without the Church's participation, the Park Service would have had to develop its own software and set up the framework for data entry at an estimated cost of $1 per entry, or about $5.5 million for the entire project. (Historians estimate that 3.5 million people served in the Civil War. With alternate spellings, cross references and re-enlistments, that number expands to some 5.5 million entries in the database.)

Software licensed for use in the project is the same as that being used by Church members involved in the Church's Family Record Extraction Program. It allows for data entry in a volunteer's own home, and for cross checking for accuracy.

The Civil War project is supported by a nationwide network of volunteers under the umbrella of the Federation of Genealogical Societies. The Genealogical Society of Utah - corporate name of the Church Family History Department - is a member of that federation. Brother Rencher is the current president of the federation.

Through its member societies, the federation is providing the volunteer force to do the data entry: hundreds of individuals working in their own homes or elsewhere to computerize the information supplied to them by the National Archives. The effort in each state or region is led by a coordinator under the auspices of the genealogical organization in that state or region.

Heading the contingent in Utah - aptly named the "Utah Corps" - is Terry Moyers a member of the Butler 8th Ward, Salt Lake Butler Stake.

"Each of the state coordinators organizes the work however they choose, and Terry has kind of a unique, very successful way of doing it," Brother Rencher said. "In fact, the Utah Corps is the most successfully producing state group we have."

"What I've done," explained Brother Moyer, "is to organize it along Civil War lines. Instead of calling our groups Team 1, Team 2 and so forth, we give them such military-style names as the First Brigham City Infantry, the Second Sugarhouse Cavalry and the Third Cottonwood Heavy Artillery. We have about 25 of these teams or `regiments' - some larger, some smaller - and each one of those has a regimental commander. That person basically is team leader for the typists in that regiment."

Each volunteer typist, through his or her productivity, can earn rank advancements, Brother Moyer explained. "You finish entering five packets of 200 entries each, you get a nice certificate that says you're a private. Ten makes you a corporal, then sergeant and so forth. You can become a three-star general if you stay with it."

"The point is," added Brother Rencher, "the volunteers have had a lot of fun with it. They get so close to their next rank advancement, they'll just move heaven and earth to finish off that packet."

He attributes Brother Moyer's success as state coordinator to his Church experience, serving for five years in charge of his stake's family record extraction program. "I loved that," he said. "I really got into it, and we were one of the leading stakes in FREP."

"That five years of experience really paid dividends," said Brother Rencher. "Our volunteers in other states [who likely are not members of the Church] didn't have that background and experience when they came in, and so they've struggled more than Terry's group. But he so thoroughly understood how to use the software and how to disseminate the packets and get them back and keep them rolling, that he had a real leg up."

Brother Moyer said that in those five years, he learned something that is crucial to success: "People will do almost anything worthwhile if they're recognized and thanked." To that end, he publishes a monthly report among the volunteers in his charge recognizing those who have excelled.

He acknowledges that there are other payoffs as well. "I had the great joy of typing in information from an index card for my great-grandfather's brother. One night I was hunched over my computer and banging away, and all of a sudden the names got close to Moyer, then they were Moyer. I finally came to William L. Moyer, Company K 145th Pennsylvania."

Did his relative die in battle? "No, he was injured and then transferred to what they called the Veterans Reserve Corps, which was made up of men who knew how to soldier but had been sick or hurt so that they couldn't function as regular soldiers anymore. They were there as an emergency backup, doing light duty. I think in his case it was probably tuberculosis. He didn't last long after the war before he died of the disease."

The thrill Brother Moyer experienced - making a family connection with a watershed event in U.S. history - will soon be available to many descendants of Civil War personnel. Brother Rencher said the project is about 60 percent complete.

At the moment, the names of some 231,000 African Americans - the U.S. Colored Troops - have already been computerized. They were researched first so as to be placed on a monument that will be dedicated near Union Station in Washington, D.C., on March 21 of next year. Those names are the ones available on the Park Service's worldwide web site. As other portions of the data are completed, they will be added to the web site.

Expected to be available to the public sometime in early 1999, the entire database will be on compact disc at each of the Civil War National Battlefield Parks, the National Archives and possibly at the Church Family History Library and family history centers as part of FamilySearch, Brother Rencher said.

Persons interested in volunteering to work on the project may contact the Federation of Genealogical Societies Business Office, Civil War Project, P.O. Box 830220, Richardson, Texas 75083-0220.