Monday, December 12, 2011

Civil War Pension File...Is it worth it? - Military Monday

Last week I received the full military pension file (NATF 85D) for Joseph M. Creed that I first mentioned here. The file came in less then a month. I received two CDs with PDF files and amazingly, there were still additional documents so I had to send another $16 to the NARA for the last of the copies. All told the file cost me $91. Was it worth it?

The long and the short is no, with a caveat. I must first point out that I have completed quite a bit of research on this particular ancestor over the years. I have been to the county where he lived the last half of his life, I have visited his grave. I have spoken to the local historian there, I have ordered land documents, I have every file available on Fold3 for Joseph Creed. I have even located photos through a distant cousin. So what was I hoping to learn from a pension file? I suppose I was hoping to learn a little more about his service. I know the units he was assigned to, but I was hoping that I would glean just a little more about his actual experience.

Alas, that was not to be. In fact, I must admit that I learned very little that I didn't already know. I now know that he had the measles during the war which he claimed caused the health problems he faced at the end of his life. I now know his brother-in-law's wife's maiden name. Obscure, but nice to know anyway.

So, is a full pension file the right option for you? It depends. Don't get me wrong, I'm always glad to add another piece of evidence to my pile so I'm happy I ordered the pension file. But I don't know that I would do it again, at least not for an ancestor I had few brick walls on. In my case, the pension file served to round out my information on this individual and add another source to my list. However, if you have a civil war ancestor that you know very little about the pension file is worth your money. The NARA does offer a Pension Documents Packet for $25 which provides the most genealogical rich documents of a Pension Application file. This is a more cost-efficient option, but would leave out quite a bit of the "meat" that may be found interesting. Here are just some of the genealogical items contained in the file (Note: File contents will vary).
  • Soldier's birth date and location
  • Soldier's physical description
  • Wife's maiden name
  • Affidavits indicating marriage date, place and names of individuals present
  • Affidavits of service-related injuries (in my case this included statements from the neighbors that noticed his frostbite!)
  • A full list of children with names and birth dates
  • Physical description
  • Military unit and time served
  • Places lived since military service
A list of Joseph M. Creed's children and their birth dates.
Overall the full pension file is full of fascinating information and is a must have for someone very interested in their ancestor's military history. If you are just looking for names and dates I recommend the Pensions Document Packet (NATF 85B).


Nancy said...

Thanks for posting about this, Heather. I can't tell for sure but it looks like this was filed (or maybe pension was granted) on April 4, 1915? Can that be possible? This is of interest to me because my gggrandfather was married 3 times and I descend through his first wife who died in 1878. If my gggrandather filed a for a pension later in life, there would probably be nothing about his first wife. I'm patiently waiting my file....

Heather Kuhn Roelker said...

I'm glad you liked the post. There may be mention of his first wife because there were several locations throughout my file where the individual had to swear to the number of wives they had. Mine only had one, but surely yours will have to mention his others. It will be interesting to see.

As for the date of the filing of the pension, you have brought up a good point and one that I will now have to blog about. Thanks!