Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Tuesday's Tip - Military pension files...spend the dough early

Peace by John Rubens Smith. 
John Rubens Smith Collection, 
Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division
It's no surprise that ordering a pension file is pricey. The National Archives staff must pull your ancestor's record, delicately scan each and every page and finally ship the results to you. But the question is, is it worth it?

I have explored this question before and determined then that you should definitely spend the money for these files. Yesterday I was going through a new pension file that I had received and I made a new realization: spend the dough on the pension file BEFORE you do much else. Why? Because I would have saved years of stumbling upon records. Many of the facts about my ancestor were already in the pension file. When I received the file after having already completed years of research, I really didn't learn anything Earth shattering about my ancestor. Had I bought the pension file early in my research, the work would have been done for me.

Here are the facts pension file I received on Philip Kuhn gave me:
  • His birth date and place
  • His father's name
  • Physical information such as his height and coloring
  • The names of his children and wife and all of their birth dates
  • His migratory travel (with dates) through three states
  • The reason Philip traveled through three different states
  • The name and address of his brother
  • The name and address of his sister-in-law and her migratory patterns
  • The fact that his father-in-law traveled with him
  • The life issues his family faced after his death
  • How and when he died
  • A brief description of his military service and the fact that he was a prisoner of war
  • Descriptions of the type of man he was
Really, what other type of document gives that much information in one fell swoop, I ask you? Other than a personal journal or a stack of correspondence I can think of nothing else that is so helpful. Of course, not all pension files will include all of this, but by the nature of what they are and what they try to prove the must contain most of the list. The point is, if you know of a military veteran in your tree, but don't know much else, spend the dough on the pension file. It is well worth what you will save in looking for all of the above information from separate sources.


LindaRe said...

Spend the dough, I agree. If you have an African American ancestor who served in the Civil War, the pension file will help break down those 1870 brick walls in many cases.

Heather Kuhn Roelker said...

Great point, LindaRe. There could be a wealth of great information on African American ancestors that is probably not documented anywhere else. I would be interested to see how thorough one of these pension files is...especially for African Americans that started the war out as slaves and then joined the service.