Monday, April 15, 2013

Military Monday - Civil War pension file of Philip Kuhn

Isn't it so exciting to see this CD in your mailbox?
Ah, the joy of pension files. It has been many months since I received the Civil War pension file of my 3rd great grandfather, Philip Kuhn. I must admit that I was insanely excited to receive the results, but on my first read through of the 100 pages I didn't learn anything I didn't already know. So I set the packet aside and moved on to new adventures. Herein lies the rub of having done research for so long...I am seldom learning anything new.

But, I returned to this set of documents today to dig a little deeper. And low and behold there were little things that I missed.

The first thing I learned was that the health system for determining eligibility for a pension was broke (big surprise, right?). Philip visited two doctors in one year for examination. In April 1891 the doctor's measured him at 5'6". By July of that year he was 5' 9". By 1895 he was measured at 5' 5 3/4". This four inch variance in height is sketchy at best, but to me it outlines a bigger problem: If they couldn't measure his height properly, what else could they not detect?

At his first examination in 1891 the doctor found no issues with Philip, despite his complaints of issues that to my 21st century eyes clearly stem from more than a year in a prisoner of war camp.

Another thing I learned was the actual location of the Kuhn house in Baldwin, Kansas. When his wife, Bertha, applied for a widow's pension (which is another long, trying process) she had to show what property she had. The Kuhns had purchased lots 72 and 74 on Chapel St. They mortgaged the land and the house standing on the property. Sadly, when Philip died he owed more than $600. Bertha was forced to take in lodgers to stay a float. The house would have stood on the southeast corner of Chapel and 5th Streets. It is no longer standing.
Baldwin City plat map, 1902. The Kuhn house was on plots 72 & 74 on Chapel St.
To me, the biggest take away from these documents was that these ancestors, which I have often called my favorites, were not infallible  They had money problems, health problems and couldn't seem to catch a break from the government.

I think the lesson here is that you may not learn anything Earth shattering when you get a new packet of documents, but you will definitely find a new source for information you already knew and you may just learn something new that helps you realize that your ancestors were people just like you.


  • Geo. A. Ogle & Co., Standard Atlas of Douglas County, Kansas. Baldwin Plat Map, pgs. 54-55.  Kansas Memory, Kansas Historical Society. 1902


Nancy said...

I didn't get one of those beautiful CDs (because I chose the paper version) but it was no less exciting to receive. It felt like wading through mud to find the helpful information in the file I received, but it was worth it. Like you, I found some information I already knew, but other things I didn't.

Do you think we often idealize our ancestors, Heather? It's good to get information that shows us how human they were, susceptible to the same pitfalls as we are.

Heather Kuhn Roelker said...

Yes, Nancy, I do remember reading about your pension file adventures! I definitely think I idealized this particular ancestor. I only ever thought about his civil war service and his love for his wife and the success of his children. I never really contemplated financial issues or anything else difficult to cope with. I agree, being able to see some of their issues only makes them more real and, ultimately, more relatable.

T said...

HOw do you find the RIGHT John Smith to even find a pension record? I scroll through a thousand names not knowing if any of them are the right person. Would you mind saying how much a pension file costs?

Heather Kuhn Roelker said...

T, that is a great question. For the names that are very similar I suggest starting at their local county. If you can narrow it down by state and then by county that will help to determine which John Smith is yours. At the very least it will narrow it down to a few instead of a thousand. I paid $80 for the pension file and it was worth it to me. But that is why you have to make sure it is your John Smith before ordering it! Feel free to email me at the link on the upper right of my home page, I would be happy to help!