Want to find your ancestor in military records? Here is an efficient way to identify all military records on FamilySearch, and to narrow your search by collection. It is then easy to search within a single collection.
On the FamilySearch home screen click “Search” and then “Records” in the dropdown menu.
Military records are a valuable source of genealogical information—one of the best! Military service records, bounty land files, and pension files are some of the more commonly used in this record group, but don’t stop there. Draft cards, discharge papers, prisoner of war records, veteran cemeteries, soldier homes, and veteran/lineage societies can be rich resources for the researcher.
Do you know if your ancestor served in the military? The FamilySearch Wiki provides an Ages of Servicemen table to help determine this. From this table I created the Table of Wars – Ages of Servicemen downloadable cheatsheet with a timeline of wars servicemen might have been involved with, according to their birth dates at the time of the conflict. This is a table for wars the United States was a part of, but since most of these wars involved foreign countries, it can be a helpful tool for your foreign-born ancestors, as well.
We tend to think of wartime service for veterans, but don’t forget that men and women served in peacetime, too. Use this cheatsheet to determine if your ancestor might have been part of a military conflict, and then check the FamilySearch Wiki for search strategies specific to each war.
Today marks the 149th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg Address. The Civil War affected the entire nation—even the folks Out West. Here is an image of Lincoln’s speech, followed by the transcription, as found on www.ourdocuments.gov:
Transcript of Gettysburg Address (1863)
Washington, , 186 .
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that “all men are created equal”
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of it, as a final resting place for those who died here, that the nation might live. This we may, in all propriety do. But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow, this ground– The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have hallowed it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here; while it can never forget what they did here.
It is rather for us, the living, to stand here, we here be dedica-ted to the great task remaining before us — that, from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here, gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve these dead shall not have died in vain; that the nation, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people by the people for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
Abraham Lincoln, Draft of the Gettysburg Address: Nicolay Copy. Transcribed and annotated by the Lincoln Studies Center, Knox College, Galesburg, Illinois. Available at Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress, Manuscript Division (Washington, D.C.: American Memory Project, [2000-02]) http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/alhtml/malhome.html
Military records are a key record group for genealogists, and pension records in particular can be a rich source of personal information about an individual. The 1883 Pension Roll is a handy index to some of these records. If you have a an ancestor who might have served in the Civil War (Union side only), various Indian Wars, or the War of 1812 (of course, he’d be at least 90 years old by 1883!) you will want to check out this pension roll.
It is available on the subscription site Ancestry.com, but you can find the free ebook online at Google Books. Each volume covers different states. Western States researchers will want to see Volume 4:
Vol 1 Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Jersey, District of Columbia
Vol 4 Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado, California, Oregon, Nevada, Indian Territory (Oklahoma), Dakota Territory (North and South Dakota), New Mexico Territory, Montana Territory, Washington Territory, Idaho Territory, Utah Territory, Arizona Territory, Alaska Territory, Wyoming Territory
Vol 5 Delaware, West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland, N. Carolina, S. Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri, and foreign countries
Check out the “cause for which pensioned” column – yikes! “G.S.W.” means “gunshot wound.” Here is a list of other abbreviations posted by the Illinois GenWeb project:
The 1883 Pension Roll lists anyone on the U.S. military pension roll as of 1 Jan 1883, including soldiers, their widows, or parents – whoever was receiving a pension check. It gives a certificate number, pensioner’s name, post office address, cause for which pensioned, monthly check amount, and the date of the original allowance.
Here are your ordering options on the NARA website:
1. Compiled Military Service File (NATF 86): $25.00
2. Federal Military Pension Application – Civil War and Later Complete File (NATF 85A): $75.00
3. Federal Military Pension Application – Pre-Civil War Complete File (NATF 85A): $50.00
4. Federal Military Pension Applications – Pension Documents Packet (NATF 85B): $25.00
5. Military Bounty-Land Warrant Application File (NATF 85C): $25.00
If you are seeking a Civil War pension packet you must choose between #2 and #4. #2 will get you a copy of the entire packet, which can be upwards of 30 pages. It is expensive at $75.00, but cheaper than a trip to Washington, D.C.! #4 will get you 8 documents from that same packet, chosen by the clerk at NARA. They will choose 8 that have genealogical information. If you are on a budget, this will save you some money. If you decide you would like the complete file later, however, you will still have to pay the full $75.00. I know…rip-off!…but still cheaper than that plane ticket.
If you merely want a Compiled Military Service File choose #1. These are valuable, too, but I would go for the pension file first, because there is usually more genealogical information in a pension file.
If you are seeking a pension packet from an earlier war choose #3 or #4, depending on what size file you want.
Here is an image of Angeline Shults’ Confederate Widow Pension Application, from 23 Feb 1923. She is my great-great grandmother. She claimed her husband, Martin Van Buren Shults served in the Confederate Army for three years before being discharged in 1865. I just discovered this record on Ancestry.com, and there are many more pages in the file. This page gives important information about Martin’s death date and place, their marriage date and place and their ages, places where Angeline lived, as well as Martin’s middle name. Prior to this I did not know Martin was in the Civil War, nor did I have any documents with his middle name. It is an interesting record: