14 June 2011

Tuesday's Tip: Finding All Our Grandmothers Part 6

Military Records

There are stories of women serving in all of America’s wars – sometimes disguising themselves as men to serve in the earlier ones. But the sad fact is that the best military records for finding our female ancestors are Pension records and bounty land warrants.

Pension Files: 
The U.S. government awarded pensions or bounty land to officers, disabled or needy veterans, widows or orphans of veterans who met the eligibility requirements for those pensions.  In addition to the expected info such as the soldier's name, unit, term of service, narratives of events during service, etc., pension files often contain supporting documents such as affidavits, depositions of witnesses, marriage certificates, discharge papers, birth records, death certificates, pages from family bibles, and other record evidence. Even better, from the "finding women" perspective, it was fairly common for the widow of a veteran who had been receiving a pension to file for a pension in her own name. Pension files can run from a relatively few pages to well over 100 pages - needless to say, more usually is better from the researcher's view.

Pension records based on service in the U.S. Military or Federalized local militias from the American Revolution through about 1916 are held at the National Archives & Records Administration. If you can identify the war that your ancestor served in and the unit he served with, you have a good chance of locating any existing pension file. NARA has good information about obtaining these pension files on their website at: http://www.archives.gov/research/military/index.html .

Online, IArchives, in the form of their website Footnote.com, has a partnership arrangement with NARA to digitize original records and has made a good start at making digitized copies of Revolutionary War pension files and Union Civil War pension files available. And very recently, iArchives, Footnote's parent company (well, sort of, since Ancestry.com recently bought IArchives, they are the ultimate parent), and the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) have formed a project to collaborate on the digitization of 180,000 pension applications - an estimated 7.2 million pages of War of 1812 Pension and Bounty Land Warrant Application Files. Like the Revolutionary War and Civil War files, this collection is available on Footnote.com - the first records, only about 1% so far, can already be searched.  Ancestry.com also has some Revolutionary War Pension index cards online and is adding new military records at a considerable pace.

Often overlooked are Pensions from the Indian Wars and these have been some of my personal favorites - particularly, the Florida War, also known as the 2nd Seminole War. This war ran from 1835-1842 and, until Viet Nam, was  the longest and most expensive war in U.S. history.

Yeah, I can hear you whispering out there..."But my ancestor lived in Ohio and would never have served in any Florida War."  It sounds reasonable, but it may not be true at all. By the time that it was over, soldiers from every state in the Union (keeping in mind that there were on 24 states when the war began and 27 when it ended) served in the Florida War, and many a good Yankee boy qualified for a federal pension there.  If your ancestor was of an age to have served, it might be worth checking out.

Bounty Land Files:
If your ancestor served in the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, early Indian Wars, or the Mexican War, a search of bounty land warrant application files may be worthwhile.  For finding women, bounty land files can be a hit or miss proposition - I have never found the identity of one of my female ancestors in one of these files. While working on one of my professional projects, however, I did find one bounty land file that provided the wife's maiden name, where and when she was born, as well as where and when she married the Revolutionary War veteran - they are well worth looking for.

What Can You Find?
The short answer is...almost anything. As mentioned above, the files often include everything from personal letters to marriage records, etc. that were sent along as evidence to support the pension application. The pension file of my ancestor Sara Newton Alderman, widow of Revolutionary War veteran, Daniel Alderman, contained photocopies of a small leather-bound book in which her husband had

My most surprising personal find was in a Florida War pension file in an affidavit by my great great grandfather, Jacob T. Porter, stating that, after his wife had died, he had fathered three children out of wedlock with his housekeeper and that he freely acknowledged that he was their father - names and ages of the children were provided. GG Grandaddy was trying to qualify his late-life children as heirs so that they might claim his pension if he died before they came of age. He died before doing so, but his son kept trying until the children were too old to qualify - that file runs to 87 pages.

And then there is this item - two pages from a small, leather-bound notebook carried and scribbled in by my 4th Great Grandfather, Daniel Alderman (1748-1824), whose widow, Sarah Newton Alderman (1757-aft 1831), filed for a Widow's pension after his death. She sent the entire little book along as supporting evidence concerning her family - along with affidavits from several neighbors testifying that they had seen Daniel with the book and believed the notes therein to be his writing. These are 3 of about 14 pages:

Sarah Alderman, at the top of the right hand page is my ancestor.

Pensions and bounty land warrant files - check them out for finding your grandmother.