The following article is from Genealogy Research Associates' newsletter and is copyright by GRAonline.com. It is re-published here with the permission of the author. Information about the newsletter is available at www.graonline.com.
If your ancestor was born between 1805-1847 . . .
. . . then he may have served in that conflict which pitted family against family in the United States, known as the Civil War. Hundreds of thousands of Americans fought in the Civil War; the entire population felt its effects. Even men in their 60s, and boys in their early teens participated. For the genealogist, the Civil War can be one of those tragic events in American history that can open up your family to its posterity. The records that resulted have helped genealogists break down their brick walls and add fascinating stories to their ancestors' lives. If your ancestor was born between 1805 and 1847, chances are good that service and even pension records exist for them.
Pension Records: a Gold Mine of Information
Without question, pension records when used with service records can be the most revealing documents on the personal effects of the war on your family. We've seen files ranging from 1 page up to nearly 500 pages. These papers commonly contain medical examination records, affidavits from family members, applications for invalid pension, and applications for widow's pension. Often, letters from the soldier are included, and in a fewer cases, photographs of the soldier.
Some of the best documents include questionnaires that the solider was asked to fill out. Here are some of the required questions:
- Date and place of birth?
- State your wife's full name and her maiden name.
- Were you previously married? If so, state the name of your former wife, the date of the marriage, and the date and place of her death or divorce.
- State the names and dates of birth of all your children, living or dead.
Soldiers were often asked to give legal proof of their birth or marriage. If they could not provide a physical marriage certificate, they would either transcribe information directly from the family Bible, or they would rip out the relevant page in the Bible and send it. These pages are often still in the pension packet.
The best pension packets are the ones where the soldier's application was denied. In the case of Frederick Deppe, the application and denial resulted in over 400 pages of information. Frederick claimed that the effects of the war led to his blindness. To verify these claims, the government sent an agent to his home in Arizona. The agent requested that Frederick spit watermelon seeds into a bucket to test his blindness. These stories led to a wealth of information about Frederick, his ancestry, and his immediate family.
How to Obtain Pension Records
Pension records for Union states are located in the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) in Washington D.C. Ordering directly from NARA can take 3-6 months. GRA's Record Lookup Service can provide you with the pension records in just weeks. First you'll need to obtain the index information:
- you can search these cards at Ancestry by clicking here, or
- you can order the index from GRAonline by clicking here.
With the index information, order the pension file:
Not everyone applied for a pension, but they will have service records. While service records do not contain the same wealth of information as pension records, they can still be valuable. Asa Goas' pension papers totaled over 130 pages, but not once was his birth place listed. His service records which included seven documents listed his birth place as Beaver, Pennsylvania.
Perhaps your ancestor was a minor, or very close to the age of 18. In these cases, they often had to obtain permission from their parents. In the case of David Brown, his father, Asa C. Brown signed the papers.
Civil War Websites
Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System: http://www.itd.nps.gov/cwss/
American Civil War Research Database: http://www.civilwardata.com
The Civil War Archive Regimental Index: http://www.civilwararchive.com/regim.htm
Civil War links at Cyndislist: http://www.cyndislist.com/cw.htm