Some colonies provided benefits for injured or disabled veterans, but the practice wasn’t common or uniform until the Revolutionary War ended. County courts and legislative assemblies heard claims for equipment, supplies, and other compensation during colonial times. Money and land were also given to some veterans after certain conflicts.
Pension Records (1774 to 1811)
On August 26, 1776, congress passed the first legislation giving Revolutionary War pensions to veterans. However, pension payouts didn’t actually begin until July 28, 1789. Veterans could apply for pensions from that point forward. Pension applications were filed. However, fires in both 1800 and 1814 destroyed many of them. Reports to Congress in 1792, 1794, and 1795 include some of those early pension records.
County and town courts were the starting points for pension applications, which were later sent to the federal government. Sometimes local Pension Boards refused application requests and the veterans contacted Congress to appeal the decision.
There are many items included in pension records that can be useful to genealogical researchers. Some of those items are:
- Veteran Affidavits
- Affidavits of Neighbors of Veterans
- Service Summaries
- Military Organizations to Which the Veteran Belonged
- Service Dates
- Birth Date
- Post-War Movements and Residences
Other documents, such as family Bible records, may also be included to prove that the person was entitled to a pension.
One good example of such a record is a rather large pension file from November 19, 1832. It was filed in Anderson District, South Carolina by Reuben Johnson. Even the short summary of the file is a wealth of information. It explains that he served in the Revolutionary War for the North Carolina Line’s Fourth Regiment. It also mentions that he originally enlisted in 1776 in Surry County South Carolina with Richard Philips. It goes on to discuss his reenlistment during a siege of Charleston and his capture by British soldiers. Other information about his service and those he served under is also included. However, that particular record does not list the veteran’s place or date of birth.
When Reuben Johnson died, his widow applied for her pension. That pension application document is even more detailed. Her name was Nancy Johnson and she filed on March 29, 1843. It lists the date that they were married, which was November 20, 1788. It also lists the date of her husband’s death, which was January 26, 1833. It includes a sworn affidavit by her sister, Margaret Burroughs and her maiden name, Greenlee. The couple was married in North Carolina, but later moved to South Carolina, where they lived on a plantation with Nancy and Margaret’s father, Peter Greenlee. Their mother died on December 1, 1842. As you can see, a lot of genealogical information can be gained from that file.
The application filed by Reuben Johnson also included more details, such as his marriage license. That license backs up Margaret’s testimony about Reuben and Nancy being married in North Carolina. The license was recorded in that state, in Wilkes County. An observant researcher can easily track the movements of Reuben and his family using those files.
Genealogical Abstracts of Revolutionary War Pension Files (National Historical Publishing Co., 1990–92) is a 4-volume set by Virgil D. White. It can assist researchers in locating records, such as the one described above. Other useful resources include Murtie J. Clark compilations, such as The Pension Lists of 1792–95; With Other Revolutionary War Pension Records (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1991. Reissued 1996). Applicant indexes and related information, including information about rejected applications, can also be found in The National Genealogical Society’s Special Publication No. 40, Index of Revolutionary War Pension Applications in the National Archives.
Although many pension applications were rejected, the applicants weren’t necessarily filing fraudulent claims. Many of them simply couldn’t prove that they or their spouses served when they said that they served. Congress granted permission to file applications in 1832, and most applications were filed around that time. However, some were filed later. Many discharge files were either never issued at all, or had been lost since they were issued. So, it was often a case of a person’s word. Those who served with a person could sometimes verify that person’s service, but often those people were difficult to locate, or they were deceased.
The National Archives has a collection of pension files from the Revolutionary War on file. Copies are also available in various libraries across the United States, such as the Family History Library (FHL). Photocopies can be easily made, particularly at the FHL. NATF Form 80 can also be used to request copies of records from the National Archives.
Pension applicants under the Act of 1832 had to supply certain information in their pension applications. That information included their name, age, residence, and birthplace, among other things. Researchers should also note that, in some cases, people were allowed to volunteer to be substitutes for those who were drafted. Records of those substitutions may be included in those files. There may be multiple applications relating to a single veteran, if widows and other relations filed claims. In those cases, one file was created containing all of the related documents.
In 1776, Congress authorized the distribution of bounty-land warrants because it didn’t have the money to pay those who had served in the military. When the war ended, either the soldiers themselves or their heirs took possession of the land. The soldier’s rank determined how much land he got. Land allotments varied from 100 to 1,000 acres each. Bounty-land warrants were also given out to those who served after the Revolutionary War up until the year 1855.
More people applied for bounty lands than applied for pensions. However, both types of file include the same basic pieces of information, including ages, residences, names, and military branches. Length of service is also included in most files. Names of heirs and widows, as well as ages and residences of those claimants, are listed in cases where people other than the veterans themselves applied. Many veterans sold their bounty-land warrants to other individuals. Although, some veterans kept the land granted to them.
Just as with pension applications, those who applied for bounty-land had to be able to prove their military service. Some people could not do so. Therefore, their bounty-land applications were denied.
The National Archives has approximately 450,000 claims for bounty land in its collection. Some claims were lost in fires throughout the years, but NATF Form 80 can be used to request information from records that still exist. The federal government distributed some bounty land, but bounty-land grants were given out to Revolutionary War veterans by several states as well. Those states are Connecticut, Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Virginia.
Revolutionary War Bounty Land Grants Awarded by State Governments (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1996) by Lloyd DeWitt Bockstruck provides a detailed index of the records from those states.
Pension Records (1789 to 1861)
There are Pension Records available for the time period between the close of the Revolutionary War and the start of the Civil War. Most of those records relate to the Indian Wars, the War of 1812, and the Mexican War. There are published indexes available for all of those records.
The records are known as the Old War Pension Records. They include records of pension applications for those who were killed or disabled in wars that occurred between the Revolutionary War and the Civil War. Some Civil War records from before July 1861 can also be found in the collection. However, pension records for the War of 1812 are in separate files. The National Archives is home to the original files. So, researchers can request information from the National Archives. Indexes of those records are also available at the FHL and the National Archives.
War of 1812 Records
War of 1812 veteran pension files include files on veterans that were still alive as of 1871. That’s when an act of Congress was passed giving pensions to veterans who were not Confederate States of America supporters. The files include regular service, disability, and death applications, as well as claims filed by widows and heirs. Veterans serving as little as 14 active duty days were given access to pensions as of 1878, when another act of Congress was passed.
The pension files list the full name of the veteran, where he lived, and his age. Wives and marriage dates are also listed, unless the veterans were not married. Enlistment and discharge information is also included in the files. In cases where a pension application was filed by a widow, the file includes all of that information, as well as the name, age, and residence of the widow, information about the veteran’s place and date of death, and other useful facts. The National Archives has the files themselves, but indexes to them can also be found in other United States libraries and archives.
Indian Wars Records
From 1817 to 1858 there were many wars between the United States and Native American tribes. Veterans who participated in those conflicts were eligible to receive pension claims between 1892 and 1926. Those records are classified in the categories of:
- Indian Survivors Originals
- Indian Survivors’ Certificates
- Indian Widows’ Originals
- Indian Widows’ Certificates
An index to those files is available on microfilm at many libraries and repositories across the country. The National Archives is home to the files themselves.
Mexican War Records
Congress authorized Mexican War veteran pensions in 1887. Both veterans and their widows were eligible to apply, as long as the veteran had served for at least 60 days. Dependent or disabled veterans could apply at any point. Able-bodied veterans could not apply until they turned 62.
Mexican War pension records contained similar information to that found in other pension records. The exception is that Mexican War pension records also listed former wives, current wives, and information about the divorces or deaths of those wives. The applications also listed birth dates of children who were living at the time that the application was filed. Applications for Mexican War pensions were taken from 1887 to 1926. NARA publication T317 contains a microfilmed index of those records. The National Archives can provide copies of the files to researchers.
Civil War and Later Pensions Records (1861 to 1934)
Civil War pension applications include Union Soldier records. They are categorized in the following ways:
- Navy Survivors Originals
- Navy Survivors’ Certificates
- Navy Widows’ Originals
- Navy Widows’ Certificates
- Survivors’ Originals
- Survivors Certificates
- Widows’ Originals
- Widows’ Certificates
The Spanish-American War took place in 1898. It was followed by the Philippine Insurrection, which lasted from 1899 to 1902. Then came the Boxer Rebellion, which occurred in 1900. Pensions were offered to veterans from all of those conflicts. Those records can be found in the Union Civil War veterans index covering the years of 1861 to 1934.
Pension records from veterans, children, parents, or widows have all been indexed alphabetically according to the last name of the veteran. While many Union pension records can be found at the National Archives, several records are kept by other agencies of the federal government in other parts of the country. Nevertheless, the National Archives should be able to tell the researcher which agency has the record of interest.
Local libraries have indexes of pension records on file. Minor’s and widow’s pension files contain the same information in application files from veterans.
Of all available military documents relating to the Civil War, the pension files are some of the most genealogically significant. Not all of the files contain equal information, but they all include a minimum of the veteran’s name, unit, and enlistment information. Some also include information about the veteran’s birth, marriages, children, discharge, and even injuries received on duty. The veteran’s place of residence after he left the military may also be listed. Records from physicians and affidavits about injuries may also be included.
A Declaration for an Original Invalid Pension wad filed by every pension applicant. Some pension applicants also filled out forms asking for more information about collecting their pensions. Pension files also contain information on pensions that were terminated for reasons such as death. Death dates may be listed, if that’s the case.
Pension files are particularly valuable from a genealogical standpoint because they list where the person lived after they were discharged from the military. Several families moved from state to state after the Civil War ended, as exploration expanded to the west. Pension files can help researchers to track the movements of many of those files, which would be impossible, or extremely difficult, otherwise.
There was no central agency responsible for distributing benefits to Confederate veterans because the Confederacy ceased to exist after the war ended. However, several states that previously belonged to the confederacy did give veteran and widow pensions. Those states are Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.
Applicants had to meet the state regulations in order to receive their pensions. Those regulations varied in each state. However, all states required that the pensioner live in that state. Veterans who moved to other states had to go through the application process again in the new state. The Family History Library (FHL) has copies of several those files available on microfilm. Archives in each state hold the original documents, which vary in format and useful information from state to state.
Civil War biographical sketches of veterans who were still alive in 1922 were compiled by the state of Tennessee. Those records include:
- Veteran Name
- Service Unit
- Names and Birthplaces of Parents
- Names of Paternal Grandparents
- Residence of Paternal Grandparents
- Information about the Veteran’s Father’s Family, Including Parents, Grandparents, and Great-Grandparents
- Other Life Details of the Veteran and His Family
Censuses and questionnaires were taken of pensioners in 1911 in both Louisiana and Arkansas. Similar censuses were taken in Alabama in 1907, as well as 1921.
War of 1812 Prisoner-Of-War Records
American and British prisoner-of-war records from 1812 to 1815 contain prisoner lists from the Navy Department and the Treasury Department to the Adjutant General’s Office. They also contain miscellaneous letters and other documents. M2019, Records Relating to War of 1812 Prisoners of War (one roll) at the National Archives contains several of those records. An index to those records can be found in M1747, Index to War of 1812 Prisoners of War (three rolls).
From 1861 onward, veterans were given the privilege of burial in federally-run cemeteries. Arlington National Cemetery is the most well-known of those cemeteries, but there are several others scattered across the country. The Cemetery Service, National Cemetery System, Department of Veterans Affairs, 810 Vermont Ave., Washington, DC 20420 has records relating to burials in all of those cemeteries. An index is also available.
From 1807 to 1939 some soldiers were buried in the Philippines, China, Puerto Rico, Cuba, and at other U.S. military installations and post cemeteries. Information on those burials is included along with the records from national cemeteries and the U.S. Soldiers’ Home Cemetery in Washington, D.C. In order to find the burial record for a certain soldier, the researcher must already know where the soldier was buried. Most of the early burial records only list soldiers who died while on active duty. However, early frontier army posts allowed depends and family members to be buried with the soldiers.
The are 4 volumes of records on the U.S. Soldiers’ Home Cemetery. Those records span the years of 1861 to 1868. They list the name of the soldier, the military organization to which he belonged, his rank, where he lived when he enlisted, where he was buried, when he was buried and other useful information. Some of that information includes the names and ages of wives and relatives, which can help researchers to track down more family members. There is also an alphabetical index of those records available.
Information about soldier burials can also be found in the following three files:
- Letters Relating to Buried Soldiers (1864 to 1890)
- Quartermaster’s Notifications (1863 to 1866)
- Reports of Arlington National Cemetery Sexton (1864 to 1867)
Between 1879 and 1924, applications were files for veteran and soldier headstones. Those applications list the name of the soldier or veteran in question, his rank, when he served, and when he was buried. Some of them also list when and how he died. Most of the files are organized by state, county, and cemetery. Those applications that applied to sailors, soldiers, and marines buried in other countries from 1911 to 1924 are sorted alphabetically by country. National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers headstone applications are organized according to home name.
There is a card file available that provides an index of headstone applications that were filed from 1870 to 1903. The index lists the veteran’s birth information, cemetery location, when the application was filed, military organization, and other pertinent information. The index includes Confederate veterans and veterans who served after the Civil War ended. They are arranged by the soldiers’ last names.
Honor: Names of Soldiers Who Died in Defense of the American Union, Interred in the National Cemeteries, Numbers I–XIX lists 228,639 soldiers who served for the Union. They were buried in over 300 national cemeteries. Information about the soldiers and the cemeteries is included in the listing. The entries are organized by cemetery name and then by soldier name. They include the dates on which the soldiers died. The work was originally printed in 1868 by the Quartermaster General’s Office, but it was reprinted in 1994 by the Genealogical Publishing Company of Baltimore. The following year they released a state-by-state burial site index for soldiers called Martha and William Remy, comps., Index to the Roll of Honor.
There are records available in card files for World War I-era soldiers who died from 1917 to 1922 in foreign countries. The files include soldiers buried in Russia, information about chapels in Europe, and grave registration information. The records may be organized by cemetery name or by soldier name and may also include information about the soldier’s death, his next of kin, and other helpful genealogical insights. Record, including those of Americans buried by European chapels can be found at the National Archives in Record Group 92, Records of the Quartermaster General.
The National Archives also holds a file called Records of American Battle Commission, Record Group 117. That files includes the names, units, and disappearance dates of soldiers who went missing in action.
Veterans’ Homes Records
Federal veterans’ homes records can be found in Record Group 231, Records of the U.S. Soldiers’ Home and Record Group 15, Records of the Veterans Administration. Both of those collections are housed at the National Archives. The National Homes for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, which are now collectively called the Veterans Administration Centers and their founding dates are:
- 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