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.
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.
In honor of Independence Day this post features a snippet from the Revolutionary War pension file for my 4th great-grandfather, William Tong. He was born 9 Aug 1756 at Piscataway, Prince Georges County, Maryland and died at age 93 at Mt. Vernon, Jefferson County, Illinois.
Military pension files, as mentioned previously in this blog, are of immeasurable value for their content. Note the answers William gives the interviewer:
Here he gives a rundown of the battles he participated in when his company of minute men joined the army of General George Washington at the battles of Brandywine and Germantown:
Worldcat is the catalog for more than 10,000 public and university libraries worldwide, and items you find can be ordered through Inter-library loan to your local public library. I was able to order a copy of his autobiography through my small-town library.
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:
Thomas Gooch (widow Verlinda), WC #5820; Mexican War Pension Files; National Archives and Records Administration; Documents dated 1882-1883. Widow’s documents dated 1888. Copy of original file in possession of Dayna Jacobs.
These are abstracts and extracts of key documents in the file:
On 1 July 1846 he enrolled in Co. G Mounted Regiment, Arkansas Volunteers (Capt. Edward Hunter’s Co., Colonel Yell’s Regiment) at Pariclifta, Sevier Co, AR. They rendevouzed at Washington, Hempstead Co, AR and were mustered into service for the Mexican War. Thomas was 3rd Corporal, while John Hall was 4th Corporal, and A.L. McAfee was first Lt. He says he incurred chronic diarrhea on 23 Feb 1847. Records show that his company was in action at Buena Vista on this date. He also says he lost a finger on his left hand in a charge made by lancers at the battle of Buena Vista. Jan/Feb rollcall records show him absent sick at Saltillo from 9 Feb 1847. He says he was in the hospital about 6 weeks under the care of an Army surgeon. On 27 May he was discharged from Saltillo and reenlisted as a private in Capt. Gaston Meare’s Co. of the Ark Mounted Vols. MOR dated 24 Jun 1848 reports him as deserted at Buena Vista 22 Jan 1848.
Since leaving the service he resided mostly in Llano Co and was a stock raiser.
6 Feb 1882… affidavit signed by A. V. Chism and David Fowler (mark). Witnesses R. A. McInnis and J.S. Atchison.
7 May 1883…affidavit signed by W.M. Owen, M.D. attesting to Thomas’ disability, and saying he treated him in 1850. His P.O. address is Round Rock, Williamson Co, TX.
9 May 1883…affidavit signed by W.A. Blackburn of Burnet, Burnet Co, TX, who was a lawyer and judge in the Llano area, and knew Thomas very well. He states, “I know of no man whose character for truth, honesty and integrity, and love of law and order, and peace in a community, is any better.”
9 May 1883…affidavit signed by W.W. Brooks, personal friend of Thomas. Brooks “resided in the county of Burnet and Sate of Texas and that Burnet in said county and state was his post office address from January 1st 1861 to May 9th 1865 and that he was personally acqainted with Thomas Gooch during all of that period and before and since, and knew him to be an outspoken Union man, and that he did not serve in the Confederate army, did not hold office under, pay taxes to willingly, or in any other manner aid or abetted the Confederate Gov….and that he has good reasons to believe that Thomas Gooch did not vote for secession for the reason that he knows that Thomas Gooch was very bitter against secession and very outspoken against the Confederacy, and that his life was in great danger on account of his Union principles during the above mentioned period, and that he was himself a Union man and loyal to the United States…”
9 May 1883…affidavit signed by G. McFarland… similar to Brooks’ statement.
11 May 1883…affidavit signed by Thomas Gooch says he has been farming on a small scale with the assistance of his children, and working some at the gunsmith trade.
23 May 1883…Court, Llano County. State of Texas, County of Llano: “…Personally appeared before the undersigned authority, Thomas Gooch, who being duly sworn upon his oath, declares and says that he was born on the 30th day of August A.D. 1826 in the town of Lexington, County of Fayette (sic), State of Missouri…” signed E.R. Beeson, County Clerk
7 Nov 1888…Indian Territory, County of Chickasaw Nation: “…On this 7th day of November 1888, personally appeared before me, a U.S. Commissioner for the West Dist. of Ark, Mrs. Verlinda Gooch, a resident of Paul’s Valley, in the county of Chickasaw Nation, Indian Ty., who, being by me first duly sworn according to law, deposes and says: I am the widow of Thomas Gooch…that I was married under my name of Verlinda Jennings to my said husband by Parson Miller, on or about the 7th day of March 1851 at Georgetown, WIlliamson Co., in the state of Texas, and lived with my said husband from the date of my said marriage until the day of his death, to wit, the 2nd day of March, 1885, when my said husband died at Llano Co., in the state of Texas, and I have not since married…” signed Verlinder Gooch, witnesses Martin V. Shults, and William P. Croft
30 Nov 1898 “…Verlinda Gooch, who was a pensioner…under certificate No. 5820.. has been dropped because of her death… Died 5 Nov, 1898”