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History

September 5, 2009

Military records are a bonanza for family genealogy researchers

Finding an ancestor’s military record is a bonanza for a family researcher. Over the next three weeks this column will cover how to locate and then order Civil War pension and military records from the National Archives Records Administration. This information is drawn from a guide written by Cynthia Fox and Connie Potter of NARA.

1. Where are the indexes for the pension files located? There are two ways a researcher can access the Civil War pension indexes. One is by ordering the alphabetical name index from NARA. This is microfilm publication T288. On this microfilm reel are the pension cards that you need first to locate a name and then order the pensioner’s file. The second way to access these cards is on line through Ancestry.com. Ancestry has scanned the cards and they can be viewed by subscribers. Either way, the information you get will be identical. Another microfilm index, T289, is the organizational index for the military units. This can be cross-checked for information, especially if there is an error on a card.

2. Who is included on the name index? This index includes all Union soldiers or sailors and their widows, their minor children, or their dependent parents who applied for a pension under the soldier’s service record. Not included are Confederate soldiers or sailors.

3. How are the pension files organized? This is a bit complicated. When a veteran applied for a pension, his application was assigned a number. After his claim was reviewed and approved, he was assigned a different number and the entire file was then moved to the new number. The original number was null. If, after the pensioner died, his widow or another dependent applied to receive his pension, that application was given a number of it’s own, but the new dependent’s file was placed with the veteran’s original file and became a part of it. In the 20th century, this system was changed. New applications were given a permanent certificate “C” number and not moved around anymore. Old files that existed before the change were transferred (”X”) to the C pension series and were given an “XC” number to denote the transfer to the new system. Later pension certificates (that were approved after the numbering change) are designated “SC” for the soldier’s certificate or “WC” for the widow’s certificate. The XC, SC, or WC number is what will appear on the bottom of the index card. You will need this to order the file.

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