Monday, February 20, 2012

The Rewards of Military Pension Files and Bounty Land Warrants

Well, you have finally found a military pension file for one of your ancestors, now what do you do with it? In the past year I have utilized pension files from the Revolutionary War (all accessible at fold3), War of 1812, Mexican War, and Civil War, all of which may eventually be found at fold3. Fold3 is accessible at your local family history center or you may subscribe from home.

Originally I accessed the Revolutionary War Pension files at the NARA facility in Seattle, Washington, which is quite a drive from my home. This was a very tedious process, as one had to share the microfilm readers with others and then wait to make copies. That was a long time ago and I am sure the procedures have changed. With four different files for the Tidd brothers of Massachusetts, I was able to make copies of each of their files from fold3. The nice part is that they can be downloaded to a computer or flash drive, creating digital images for future use. These pension files tend to be smaller than the ones from later time periods. They are in black and white, or gray scale. For the surrendered bounty land warrants, they are ordered under a different format. The one for my ancestor is a beautiful keepsake.

The War of 1812 Pension files are in the process of being digitized and will be available at fold3. After inquiring how soon these might be available for the one I needed, I was referred to an onsite independent contractor who would photograph the pages in full color and send them to me in digitized format through internet accessible files. The charge for this is very comparable to the NARA charges and the file usually comes in a few days. This file contained 62 pages, in random order. These pages I printed, as I wanted to preserve a copy in the family records. With the expense of obtaining the file, I want to preserve it in several formats to protect my investment.

The Mexican War Pension file I am currently using is actually incorporated into a Civil War Pension file. The person went by a different name by the time of the Civil War and great effort was made to rectify the confusion this caused. He shows up in the United States Army enlistment index available on, listed as Owen McSweeney in 1847. By the description on the digitized page, this is clearly the same man. He states that he does not believe he received a bounty land warrant, but in the GLO records index he is listed under this name, receiving land based on a Military Land Warrant. Another land record based on a military service warrant in California provided the key piece of information in establishing the connection between a father and son.

The Civil War Pension files are in the process of being digitized. Originally I ordered my first file from NARA, and received 63 pages of poorly copied material. Recently I checked to see if it had been digitized and was thrilled to find it available through fold3. The images are not in color, but they are better than the ones that I received from NARA. This is a lot of material to absorb. Unfortunately for John McSweeney/aka Owen McSweeney, his file combined with that of his widow has not been digitized, so we ordered this from our onsite contractor. This is an enormous file containing 120 pages of random material. I have now transcribed or abstracted 60 pages. It is a very long process.

That process is what you must do once you receive one of these files. That is the only way you can ensure capturing all of the details for your research. The writing is often difficult to read, but once you get into the pattern of how they write it becomes easier. What I like to do is go through all of the pages, maintaining the order I received the file, listing the transcription or abstract material. Then I like to make another copy placing the material in order by the dates when it was created. From this process you can begin to piece together a timeline of the events that took place.

The most curious thing about the documents is the influence the attorneys had in the affidavits that were gathered. It becomes apparent how they wanted to influence the information gathered. Sometimes this is to the detriment of the applicant for the pension. That is why one widow was never granted a Civil War Widow's Pension, because they were basing the application on another soldier's record. Today the records for her husband are more readily available. Her file contains 62 pages and the color copies are wonderful. It contains vast family information that would be found nowhere else.

Military Pension files and land records are some of the most valuable genealogical records available. With the access to online records, even original digitized copies, our world of research opens a little more every day. Check out your ancestors and see if they left you some hidden treasures in these very valuable resources. Next week I will review what was found in the most recent Civil War Pension file.

1 comment:

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