News From Terre Haute, Indiana

September 5, 2009

Military records are a bonanza for family genealogy researchers

By Tamie Dehler

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.

In addition to this, there are two groups of Civil War pension applications that were rejected (no pension was awarded). These are designated SO for soldier or survivor’s original and WO for widow’s original.

4. Are any of the files missing? Yes. About half of the SO and WO (rejected applications) were destroyed prior to 1934. In addition, any claim that was filed around 1928 or after would be in the custody of the Department of Veteran’s Affairs, not NARA. (Obviously, this would include very few claims because not many Civil War claimants were still living at that late date.)

5. What is the cost and what can be ordered? The size of the average Civil War pension file is 126 pages. The cost of a complete file, up to 100 pages, is $75, then 65 cents for each additional page. To save money, a group of specific documents from the file can be ordered for $25. These include: declaration for a pension or a widow’s pension, the Adjutant General’s office statement of service, applicant’s questionnaires, pension dropped cards, marriage certificates, death certificates, and discharge certificates. If you order a pension documents packet and certain documents are not present in the file, you will be sent other documents to replace them.