Black Man Buried With My White Kin; Why?

Tracing Your Roots: A white reader wants to learn about a Civil War vet interred with his ancestors.

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The records might indicate who paid for the burial plot and when. If the family of the man whom you believe Banks replaced purchased the burial plot, then his service as a replacement soldier could be a reason for his being buried there. You can also check with the local history society to see if it has the cemetery records. If he was buried in a church cemetery, then you should contact the church or cemetery association. Those records might provide clues into his background.

Another source of information about the possible connection would be family papers. The personal papers might include a diary or correspondence that could indicate some type of family servitude of Banks. Oftentimes, well-to-do people paid for substitute soldiers if they wanted to avoid the draft, so it is also possible that some family personal papers are held by a larger institution as part of a collection. You can do a general search to see if his name comes up on World Cat, which lets you search participating libraries' holdings for information.

You can also search for a pension record for Banks or his widow. To see if Banks received a pension, search the database General Index to Pension Files, 1861-1934, which is available at and A pension record often includes correspondence that proves the veteran did serve in the Civil War and why he is in need of a pension. If Banks served as a replacement for someone else, there might be a letter from a family member stating that he served as a replacement. If he is found in the index, you would then need to contact the National Archives and Records Administration to obtain a copy of the pension.

Henry Louis Gates Jr. is the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and the director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African-American Research at Harvard University. He is also editor-in-chief of The Root. Follow him on Twitter.

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This answer was provided in consultation with Jason Amos, a researcher from the New England Historic Genealogical Society. Founded in 1845, NEHGS is the country's leading nonprofit resource for family history research. Its website,, contains more than 300 million searchable records for research in New England, New York and beyond. With the leading experts in the field, NEHGS staff can provide assistance and guidance for questions in most research areas. They can also be hired to conduct research on your family. Learn more today.

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