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Records of Veterans Benefits

The provision of benefits was not widespread until after the revolutionary war, although the separate colonies sometimes provided pensions for veterans disabled by injuries incurred during their service. Fighters in Indian skirmishes and local riots submitted claims for supplies, equipment, and time spent to both legislative assemblies and county courts. Bounties were also paid in both land and money for some military actions.

Pension Records (1774–1811)

The first congressional legislation authorizing the payment of pensions for Revolutionary War service was dated 26 August 1776, but the government did not begin paying pension allowances until 28 July 1789; applications for pensions were made to the federal government from that date. Many of the early applications were destroyed by fire in 1800 and 1814. A partial record of the earlier pensioners is included among reports to Congress in 1792, 1794, and 1795.

Although applications for pensions were made to the U.S. government, they were initiated in the courts of the counties and towns in which the veterans lived. Note that a Pension Board refusal often led the claimant to seek relief from Congress directly.

The pension records for the revolutionary war and later wars can contain much of genealogical value: affidavits made by the veteran and his neighbors or associates to support his claim, summaries of his service, the military organization in which he served, the dates of his service, his date and place of birth, names of heirs, relationship to others who served with him, his movements after the war, and information from family Bible records. Sometimes the Bible pages, torn out of the book, are enclosed as evidence.

For example, the revolutionary war pension file of Reuben Johnson was filed in Anderson District, South Carolina, on 19 November 1832. The file is too long to reproduce in its entirety but is illustrative even in summary. Reuben Johnson filed a sworn statement with the justice of the peace of Anderson District to apply for a pension for his revolutionary war services as a member of the Fourth Regiment of the North Carolina Line. He enlisted with Richard Phillips in 1776 at Surry County, North Carolina, and served for two and one-half years in the command of Captain Joseph Philips. On his statement he also named the marches in which he took part. After reenlisting he was present at the siege of Charleston, where he was taken prisoner by the British.

While his affidavit does not indicate his birth date or place of birth, many applications do contain that information, as well as the veteran’s residences after the war.

Reuben’s wife applied for a widow’s pension after her husband’s death. This document contains information of greater importance. Nancy Johnson’s affidavit of 29 March 1843 states that she was the widow of Reuben Johnson, that they were married 20 November 1788, and that her husband died 26 January 1833. Her sister Margaret Burroughs made a sworn statement that her sister was Nancy Johnson, nee Greenlee, who had married Reuben Johnson in North Carolina many years before. Margaret was six years old when Nancy and Reuben were married and did not know the exact date of their marriage, but she knew Reuben and Nancy had moved to South Carolina with her father, Peter Greenlee, and that the two families lived on the same plantation. Peter died about forty years before her testimony. Her mother died 1 December 1842.

Reuben Johnson’s file also contained a copy of his marriage record from Wilkes County, North Carolina. The documents in Reuben Johnson’s file permit the researcher to outline his movements from the time of his enlistment to his death and document two generations of ancestry.

A four-volume set by Virgil D. White will prove useful in locating information from these files: Genealogical Abstracts of Revolutionary War Pension Files (National Historical Publishing Co., 1990–92). Also helpful are the compilations by Murtie J. Clark, including The Pension Lists of 1792–95; With Other Revolutionary War Pension Records (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1991. Reissued 1996). The National Genealogical Society’s Special Publication No. 40, Index of Revolutionary War Pension Applications in the National Archives, indexes applicants and indicates the disposition of their applications. This last publication will identify certain applications that were rejected.

Rejection of revolutionary war pension applications did not necessarily mean that the applicant made a dishonest claim. Hundreds of applicants simply could not provide the necessary proof of service to be awarded a pension. The majority of applications were filed when Congress granted permission to all veterans in 1832. Discharges had often been lost or, in many cases, never issued. Comrades-in-arms who could have attested to service were often deceased or had moved away.

The revolutionary war pension application files have been microfilmed by the National Archives, and copies are on file at libraries throughout the country, including the Family History Library and its centers. This library has facilities for inexpensive photocopying. You may also request copies from the National Archives using NATF form 80.

The Act of 1832, mentioned earlier, required pension applications to include the birthplace, age, and residence of the applicant, and more. Applications may also include mention of a soldier substituting for another relative who was drafted into service. Once all of the applications pertaining to a veteran were received, including those of the widows and other claimants, they were combined into one file.

Bounty-Land Records

Bounty-land warrants were authorized by Congress in 1776 as a substitute for the wages it was unable to pay its soldiers. If the soldier was deceased, his heirs took claim to the land after the war. The number of acres granted was based upon the soldier’s rank and ranged from 100 to 1,100 acres. This method of decreasing military costs worked so well that bounty-land warrants continued to be issued for post-revolutionary war service. Congress eventually authorized bounty-land warrants to be issued for military service performed prior to 1855.

The number of applicants for bounty lands far exceeded the number of persons applying for pensions, but the bounty-land warrant application file is basically the same as that of the pension application file. The application provides the veteran’s name, age, residence, the military organization in which he served, and the term of his service. If his widow or other heirs made claim, their names, ages, and places of residence are given. Not all veterans actually farmed the land granted to them. Many assigned their warrants to others for a fee.

Not all bounty-land applications were approved. The claimant had to prove his service in the war in exactly the same manner that a pensioner had to prove his service. Again, a rejected claim did not necessarily indicate that the claimant’s service was never rendered, only that the claimant was not able to provide sufficient proof.

An estimated 450,000 bounty-land claims are on file in the National Archives. Some early claims were destroyed by the fires previously mentioned, but those remaining are available from the National Archives upon request using NATF form 80. In addition to land grants made by the federal government for revolutionary service, Connecticut, Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Virginia chose to reward their soldiers with bounty land. Lloyd DeWitt Bockstruck has indexed the bounty-land records from these nine states in Revolutionary War Bounty Land Grants Awarded by State Governments (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1996).

Pension Records (1789–1861)

Pension records exist for the period between the end of the revolutionary war and the beginning of the Civil War, primarily dealing with the War of 1812, the Indian Wars, and the Mexican War. All of the indexes to these pension records have been published. These records are classified in three groups as the Old War Series Pension Records. These records pertain to pension applicants who were disabled or killed while serving in any war after the close of the revolutionary war and before the start of the Civil War, except for the War of 1812 pensions included in the regular War of 1812 pension application files. A few early death and disability claims of Civil War veterans prior to July 1861 are included. The original applications are located at the National Archives and can be requested in the same manner as all of the records discussed earlier. These pension applications have been indexed; the microfilmed index is available at the Family History Library.

War of 1812

Pension application files for veterans of the War of 1812 include applications of veterans still living after 1871, when Congress authorized pensions to veterans who did not later support the Confederate States of America. Applications for death, disability, regular service, widows, and other claimants are included in the same collection. A second act of Congress in 1878 authorized pensions for veterans who saw as few as fourteen days active duty. Virgil D. White’s three-volume Index to War of 1812 Pension Files (National Historical Publishing Co., 1989) indexes applicants eligible for pensions or bounty lands under these two acts.

These pension files will give you the veteran’s name, age, and place of residence. If he was married, the marriage date and the maiden name of his wife are stated. The unit in which he served, the date and place of enlistment, and the date and place of discharge are also given. The widow’s pension file will provide her name, age, and place of residence, their pertinent marriage information, the date and place of the veteran’s death, his enlistment date and place, and the date and place of his final discharge. The pension files are available from the National Archives, but the microfilmed indexes are available in various libraries throughout the United States.

Indian Wars

There were innumerable Indian Wars between 1817 and 1858. Veterans of these wars received pensions for and claims dating from 1892 to 1926. The files are classified as Indian survivors, originals, Indian survivors’ certificates, Indian widows’ originals, and Indian widows’ certificates. These files are indexed, and the microfilmed indexes are available at various libraries throughout the United States. The pension files are located at the National Archives.

Mexican War

Pension application files from the Mexican War were authorized by Congress in 1887, permitting veterans and their widows to file claims with the government. New restrictions specified a minimum of sixty days of service, a minimum age at application of sixty-two, or being disabled or dependent.

These files contain basically the same information required in other pension applications but also required the maiden name of the wife, the names of former wives, death or divorce information about previous wives, and the names and dates of birth of living children. Pension applications were accepted between 1887 and 1926. They are indexed by name, and the index has been microfilmed as NARA publication T317. Copies of the files can be obtained from the National Archives.

Civil War and Later Pensions Records (1861–1934)

Pension applications filed for the Civil War and later include records of Union soldiers. The files are arranged in nine categories: navy survivors, originals, navy survivors’ certificates, navy widows’ originals, navy widows’ certificates, survivors’ originals, survivors, certificates, widows’ originals, widows’ certificates, “C” and “XC” files.

Federal pensions were granted to veterans of the Spanish-American War of 1898, the Philippine Insurrection of 1899 to 1902, the Boxer Rebellion of 1900, and the regular establishment. Pensions based upon such service are included in the same index for Union Civil War veterans for 1861 to 1934.

Pensions of Civil War veterans, their widows, minor children, or parents have been indexed by the name of the veteran. You should not presume, however, that the actual files of a Union pensioner will be in the National Archives in Washington. While most of them are, others are still maintained in appropriate federal agencies across the nation. If the file is not in the custody of the National Archives in Washington, D.C., you will be directed to the proper agency for copies.

The indexes have been microfilmed and are available at local libraries. Figure 9-2 shows the index card of John W. Fulton, who served in three different companies of the 12th Illinois Cavalry, applied for a pension 20 November 1901 in Pennsylvania, and was granted a certificate of pension based on his application. The same information would be included for a widow’s or minor’s pension.

Civil War pension application files are the best of the early military documents compiled and contain valuable genealogical information. These files do not all contain the same amount of information, but one can expect to find the name of the veteran, the military or naval unit in which he served, the date and place of his enlistment, his birth date and place (in some files only), the date and place of his marriage, the names and birth dates of his children, the maiden name of his wife, information about subsequent marriages, the date and place of his discharge, physical disabilities connected with service-related injuries, and his residences since his discharge. There will also be general affidavits of individuals who could attest to his disabilities and copies of the findings of examining physicians at the time of his injury and during subsequent periodic physicals.

Each pension applicant was required to complete a Declaration for an Original Invalid Pension. Pensioners also completed periodic requests for additional information. Another document in the pension file is the termination of the pension. If the cause was death—the most common reason—the death date is usually listed.

One of the most valuable contributions that a pension file can make in genealogical research is listing the veteran’s residences after discharge. Westward expansion sent many families leapfrogging states between censuses in the post-Civil War years. Tracing the exact movements of individuals and families during that period is difficult at best and sometimes impossible without the assistance of the “road maps’’ provided in these pension files.

Because the Confederacy was dissolved after the war, no central governmental agency provided pensions for service or disability of Confederate soldiers. Some of the former Confederate states, including Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia, authorized pensions to veterans and their widows. Each state had its own regulations which applicants had to meet. In each case, however, the pension could be paid only if the applicant continued to reside within the borders of the state. If he or she moved elsewhere, the applicant had to qualify under the regulations of the new jurisdiction. Many of these pension files are on microfilm in the Family History Library. The originals will be found with the various state archives. There is no standard format for pension applications for the Confederacy

Tennessee compiled a valuable but little-used record consisting of the biographical sketches of veterans of the Civil War who were still living in 1922 . These records are filled with valuable genealogical information, including the veteran’s name, residence, age, place of birth, occupation, the unit he served in during the war, his parents’ names and birthplaces, the names of his paternal grandparents, and their residence. The residence of the veteran’s father and all facts known about parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents (including when the family came to America, property owned by the veteran and his parents, education, and the general quality of the veteran’s life) are included in these sketches.

Similar to the Tennessee Civil War questionnaires were censuses of pensioners taken in 1907 and 1921 in Alabama, 1911 in Arkansas, and 1911 in Louisiana.

War of 1812 Prisoner-Of-War Records

Records relating to British and American prisoners of war for 1812 to 1815 include miscellaneous correspondence and lists of prisoners sent from the Treasury Department to the Adjutant General’s Office and from the Navy Department to the Adjutant General’s Office. Some of these records have been microfilmed by the National Archives as M2019, Records Relating to War of 1812 Prisoners of War (one roll). These are indexed in M1747, Index to War of 1812 Prisoners of War (three rolls).

Burial Records

Veterans of the military services have had the benefit of being buried in one of the many national and other federally administered cemeteries since 1861. The most famous of them is Arlington National Cemetery just outside of Washington, D.C. Records pertaining to almost all soldiers and veterans buried in the cemeteries under federal jurisdiction are in the custody of the Cemetery Service, National Cemetery System, Department of Veterans Affairs, 810 Vermont Ave., Washington, DC 20420. The names of the deceased are indexed, and information will be furnished on request.

Some soldiers were buried on U.S. military installations between 1807 and 1939. Records of those buried in the U.S. Soldiers’ Home Cemetery in Washington, D.C., national cemeteries, military installations in the United States, and post cemeteries in Cuba, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and China are also included in this collection. You must know where the soldier is buried to find the burial record. The early burial registers record primarily burials of active-duty soldiers except in the case of frontier army posts, where family members and civilian dependents were also buried in the post cemeteries.

Four volumes of records dating from 1861 to 1868 pertain to burials of soldiers at the U.S. Soldiers’ Home Cemetery. The registers provide the soldier’s name, military organization, date and place of burial, rank, place of residence before enlistment, name and residences of the soldier’s widow or other relative, age, cause of death, and place and date of death. Each volume is indexed by the initial letter of the soldier’s surname.

Three correspondence files also contain information pertaining to soldiers’ burials: letters relating to buried soldiers (1864–90), quartermaster’s notifications (1863–66), and reports of Arlington National Cemetery sexton (1864–67).

Applications for headstones to be placed at the graves of soldiers and veterans range in date from 1879 to 1924. The information in the applications includes the name and addresses of headstone applicant, name of the veteran, rank, years of service, place and date of burial, and sometimes the date and cause of death. Most of these applications are filed by state, then by county, then by cemetery. Applications for headstones for soldiers, sailors, and marines buried outside the United States between 1911 and 1924 are arranged by country of burial. Soldiers buried in the cemeteries of the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers for whom headstone applications were made are arranged by the name of the home.

A card file indexing applications for headstones for 1870 to 1903 has been compiled and includes the serviceman’s name, military organization, date and place of death, name and location of the cemetery, and date of the application. These cards are arranged alphabetically by the surname of the soldier and include Confederate and post-Civil War veterans’ applications.

The names of 228,639 Union soldiers who were buried in more than three hundred national cemeteries during the Civil War are published in Roll of Honor: Names of Soldiers Who Died in Defense of the American Union, Interred in the National Cemeteries, Numbers I–XIX. Originally published by the Quartermaster General’s Office in 1868, the entries are arranged by name of cemetery and thereunder alphabetically by name of soldier. The date of death is shown. In 1994, the Genealogical Publishing Company of Baltimore reprinted this work. In 1995, the same company published an alphabetical list of soldiers and a comprehensive, state-by-state index to burial sites: Martha and William Remy, comps., Index to the Roll of Honor.

There are also card file records of World War I-era soldiers who died overseas between 1917 and 1922. These files consist mainly of grave registrations, records of American names in European chapels, and records of American soldiers who were buried in Russia. They are arranged alphabetically by surname of the soldier or name of the cemetery. The collection of grave registrations includes the name of the soldier, military organization, date of death, a statement that he was killed in action, name and address of the nearest relative or guardian, and name of the chapel. The record of American names in European chapels includes the name of the soldier, military organization, date of death, statement that the soldier was killed in action, name and address of the nearest relative or guardian, and name of the chapel. These records are all on file in Record Group 92, Records of the Quartermaster General, in the National Archives.

A list of soldiers missing in action is in the custody of the National Archives under the Records of American Battle Commission, Record Group 117. The information includes the name of the missing soldier, the unit in which he served, and the date of disappearance.

Veterans’ Homes

Records pertaining to the federal veterans’ homes are housed in the National Archives in Record Group 15, Records of the Veterans Administration, and in Record Group 231, Records of the U.S. Soldiers’ Home. Below is a list of the National Homes for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers (now known as Veterans Administration Centers) and the dates of their creation:

  • Eastern Branch, Togus, Maine: 1866
  • Central Branch, Dayton, Ohio: 1867
  • Northwestern Branch, Wood, Wisconsin: 1867
  • Southern Branch, Kecoughtan, Virginia: 1870
  • Western Branch, Leavenworth, Kansas: 1885
  • Pacific Branch, Sawtelle, California: 1888
  • Marion Branch, Marion, Indiana: 1888
  • Roseburg Branch, Roseburg, Oregon: 1894
  • Danville Branch, Danville, Illinois: 1898
  • Mountain Branch, Johnson City, Tennessee: 1903
  • Battle Mountain Sanitarium, Hot Springs, South Dakota: 1907
  • Bath Branch, Bath, New York: 1894
  • Saint Petersburg Home, Saint Petersburg, Florida: 1930
  • Biloxi Home, Biloxi, Mississippi: 1930
  • Tuskegee Home, Tuskegee, Alabama: 1933
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