Monday, November 7, 2011

Military Monday - Ordering Civil War Pension files through NARA eServices

I finally broke down and spent $75. On a pension file. Am I crazy?

I recently read on several other genealogy blogs that fellow researchers had ordered the Civil War pension files for their ancestors. I have many ancestors that fought in the Civil War but once I saw the steep price tag for complete pension files ($75 for the search at the NARA and up to 100 copies) I was leery. Was it really worth my money? What would I learn that I didn't already know? And most importantly, if I couldn't justify ordering a pension file for every ancestor, how would I narrow it down?

I have read that pension files are very rich with family information. It makes sense, because they were used to prove service and family relationships in order to delve out money. And we know the government is thorough when investigating how it will spend its money. The government paid pensions for the following reasons:
  1. The former soldier became disabled and was unable to support himself, or he became an invalid because of wounds or illness which occurred while he was in the Service.
  2. The soldier was a volunteer whose State unit saw Federal Service.
  3. A widow’s pension was awarded to a woman and children whose husband and father served in the war.
There are two types of pension file reproductions that you can order. The first, the Pension Documents Packet (NATF 85B), costs $25 and includes eight documents with the most genealogical rich information. The second option is the Federal Military Pension Application - Civil War and Later Complete File (NATF 85D), which includes all documentation in the pension file. The pension file could include marriage certificates, death certificates and discharge information, among other things.

Some of my ancestors inadvertently helped me to narrow down which pension files I would have to order by being Confederate soldiers. Those pension application files are kept at a state level which would require a request to each of the different state archives, a project for down the road. Other ancestors were Union soldiers, but did not see federal service. I am now narrowed down to the following ancestors:

Joseph M. Creed
Philip Kuhn

Both were Union Soldiers in my direct line and I have located pension index files for them. If I have to choose which to order I choose to not choose. That is a choice, right? But I will save ordering Philip Kuhn's file for later. I have already discovered Civil War letters written by Philip and I am very familiar with his service record. Joseph Creed is more of a mystery. He was a member of the Cass County Home Guards (Missouri) and the 9th Regiment, Kansas Calvary. I have no idea why his service crossed the state line and what happened that led him to see federal service. So the winner is Joseph M. Creed for $75. I hope it is well worth it!

So off I went to the NARA to place my order. I have found the easiest way to order reprodcutions from the National Archives is through their eServices site.
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Set up a user ID and password on the right-hand side of the screen. Once you have logged in click on the Order Reproductions button in the center of the screen or the tab at the top of the page. 
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Note the red circle. These are quick links to Military Service and Pension Records. Following this link brings you to a screen listing all of the military service and pension records available for order. I have circled the two Civil War files mentioned above:
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After choosing the type of file you would like to order, the site asks for all the pertinent information to conduct the search to include the veteran's name, unit, pension file application number (if known) and other information. The rest of the steps to order the file are similiar to ordering anything online. I have ordered many items through this site and my favorite part is the order history found in the My Account section. You are able to track all of your past orders and see where current orders are in the process. Note my most recent purchase is already being serviced!
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Note that there is no charge if the NARA is unable to locate your requested records, but their search can only be as good as the information you provide. I hope this tutorial drives others to order their ancestor's pension files. I hope that it is worth it for all of us!

For more information on Civil War Pension files at the NARA see here.


Jennifer said...

Not crazy at all, Heather! I was bummed out when they hiked the price years ago, and I am definitely more selective when it comes to ordering these records, but I always order them when possible. They are the records I most anticipate getting!

Almost every file I have received has been worth the price by providing a horde of info or a tantalizing clue that I wouldn't have found elsewhere. Even if you don't learn anything new directly, the witness statements provide lots of clues regarding your subject's FAN club.


Debi Austen said...

I ordered my first Pension file (for my 3rd great grandfather) last spring and was like you in that I couldn't believe I was spending $75. When I first received the file (after only about 5 weeks), I thought I had completely wasted my money. But lo and behold I ended up discovering that he ended up in Kansas instead of Illinois where I thought he lived out his life. Which led me to finding his burial site in Kansas. If it hadn't been for the pension record, I would have continued my search for him, in vain, in Illinois.

Good luck - I hope you get a boatload of information!

Jenny Jones said...

I think you'll find it's money well spent. My great-great grandfather's file included a delayed copy of his marriage certificate, a listing of all the children with their full birth dates, and the full explanation of why he served in the Civil War under an alias. A real treasure. I hope yours is as well.

Kathy, the Single-minded Offshoot said...

I like this post a lot, Heather - my experience with the Civil War pension records was amazing and a great help to a searcher on a collateral line who had hit a brick wall.

Jim S said...

Another alternative to ordering on-line from NARA is to contact a professional genealogist in the area where the NARA is located. I ordered 3 civil war pension and 3 service record files and paid a lot less than 50% of what NARA is currently charging. I also got the records much sooner than I would have from NARA.

See the blog at
Hidden Genealogy Nuggets

Regards, Jim