Tuesday, June 22, 2010

US Civil War Pension Files

Last Wednesday, Ol' Myrt here had the pleasure of visiting with family history missionaries at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building (in Salt Lake City, Utah) and those connecting via the Internet for my virtual presentation NARA: Union Civil War Pension Files. The class was designed for those who had not had experience with this record group.

There is more than one way to skin a cat, but that day participants were invited to use the Civil War Collection at Footnote.com (free until the end of the month) to locate an ancestor's pension file index card from the NARA (National Archives & Records Administration) Record Group T289 Organization Index to Pension Files of Veterans Who Served Between 1861-1900, originally available on 765 rolls of 16mm microfilm. This index actually includes US Army pension applications 1861-1917 of veterans, widows and dependents. (Note this is different from T288, the General Index to Pension Files, 1861-1934 at Ancestry.com.

The T289 record group contains 2,983,078 pension index cards for those serving in the:
  • US Civil War
  • Spanish-American War
  • Philippine Insurrection
  • Indian Wars
  • World War I

Since these cards are digitized and available at Footnote.com, one may search by the soldier's name.

In this case, my ancestor William G[ist] Froman served as [sgt.] in Company D, 3rd Provisional Enrolled Missouri Militia.

On the bottom line of the index card, William's death date is listed as 1 Feb 1917. Note that there are different numbers for the invalid's application and certificate, and for his minor children. The card would imply the widow's application was denied, as there is no certificate number on this index card.

To find out more, we must go from the index card to the original file.

Fortunate for me as a researcher, this hotly contested widow's application included numerous affidavits and depositions from siblings of both the soldier and his wife, providing considerable evidence about extended family members. Because she chose to live with a series of other men while her veteran husband was confined to the National Military Home in Leavenworth, Kansas, the widow and her youngest child were denied benefits. Another individual was appointed to administer the benefits to the older minor children.

Complete the NARA Form 85B or 85D inserting the name, rank, service unit, application and certificate numbers found on the index card in order for the file to be pulled from the back stacks at the National Archives. BUT BE CAUTIOUS.

While one may obtain partial file copies for a fee, it is necessary to obtain the COMPLETE FILE, by having someone go in person and make the copies for you until, of course, this collection is completely digitized.

WHY? Because once the initial 8 or 100 pages are photocopied, there is no guarantee that when your follow-up request for additional pages is processed the papers in the file will be in the same order as when the NARA photocopy service made your first set of photocopies. I've seen photographs, newspaper clippings, letters and forms for widows applications interfiled with the veteran's application for increase in pension benefits in all 140+ files I've worked on in person. These are loose files, and pages are very mixed up as to date, form, application, etc.

*Federal Military Pension Applications - Pension Documents Packet (NATF 85B) 8 pages. Fee (includes shipping & handling):$25.00
Federal Military Pension Application - Civil War and Later Complete File (NATF 85D)
100 pages (NARA provides info for obtaining copies of additional pages, but this isn't reliable since pages may become rearranged by the next in-person researcher before your follow-up order is processed.) Fee (includes shipping & handling):$75.00
While each veteran's file is different you'll at least learn about your soldier ancestor's service unit, dates of service, and his physical condition. Among the other basic forms that had to be completed periodically, see the one below signed by WM. G. Froman indicating his wife's name including maiden name, marriage info, information about previous wife and her death date. See also the list of all children by name and birth date. As these forms had to be resubmitted from time to time, it pulls on my heart strings to watch my great-grandfather's handwriting deteriorate over time.


See also:

While this presentation wasn't intended to be an all-inclusive study of pension files, it was enough to encourage several participants to look at this record group to add flesh to the bones of their soldier ancestors.

I'd like to hear from my DearREADERS about your experiences researching Union Civil War pension files.

Happy family tree climbing!
Myrt :)
Your friend in genealogy.

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