Why is it worth obtaining your ancestor’s Civil War pension record?

If you had a male ancestor above the ages of sixteen to eighteen living in the United States in 1861 there is an extremely good chance that he may have been involved in The Civil War in some capacity. The total combined strength of The Union and Confederate forces was around 3,100,000 which was roughly 10% of the total population of The United States in 1860. If you do happen to know of a male ancestor, who lived during that time you may want to conduct some research to determine if he served during The Civil War. In my case, my father knew he had a great-grandfather, who served in The Civil War, his first name, and a variation of his last name. To make a long story short we discovered his last name through a marriage record and where he resided before mustering into service. This was all the information we needed to start researching my great-great-grandfather, Christopher McNanny’s, Civil War service. I could go on for hours and probably will be sharing my knowledge and stories of Christopher in future blog posts, but this blog is about the value of obtaining a pension record which generally is a treasure trove of information.

I received my copy of Christopher’s pension record a few years ago and I still from time-to-time go through the document page-by-page looking for that tidbit of information which may help answer an unanswered question. Christopher’s pension record is about 100 pages long since he lost his left leg below the knee during The Battle of Summit Point on August 21st, 1864. (Christopher of Madrid, New York served in Company G, 106th New York Volunteers) The amount of pages varies for each individual soldier and the length of the record depends if they were wounded during the war and/or if they or wife filed appeals throughout the years after the war. In Christopher’s case he was wounded and his wife Margaret applied and appealed after Christopher’s death.

In general Pension Records provide insight into the following, but not limited to:

  • Birthdate and birthplace.
  • Wife’s name and marriage date
  • Residence prior, during, and after the war.
  • In some instances, acquaintances were asked to provide testimony about the claimant and/or soldier.
  • Information on the death of the soldier.
  • Details about wound if wounded.
  • Names of parents of soldier and occasionally wife’s parents.

Each individual pension record will provide a different level of insight and information. I have also heard of some containing pictures as well, but this is rare. Occasionally you will discover shocking revelations that you were not expecting. For example, in Christopher’s pension record it was discovered that Margaret was not his first wife which certainly went against the information that was passed down from in my family.

According to the record Christopher was married to a Rosa Fagan while he was living in Burlington, Vermont. Not much is known about Rosa, but she died young at 26 in 1849.  According to Christopher’s mother-in law in her affidavit, Sarah White, Rosa died soon after childbirth. Sara White Affidavit 1909 I am not certain if there was a child born or the child also died during birth. I may never find out.

After Rosa’s death Christopher moved back to Waddington in Saint Lawrence County, New York. This information was provided by testimony from a James Duffy in 1909, who was an acquaintance of Christopher and Margaret. Essentially the U.S. Pension Office was trying to determine if Margaret was saying who she said she was which was being the wife of Christopher McNanny so she could further claim a pension after Christopher’s death.  James Duffy Affidavit 1909

As I said, each and every pension record will contain various amount of information and bits of knowledge. Some information you may already know and some may crack open that genealogical brick wall which you have been trying to break down for some time. Either way I would certainly invest in acquiring a copy of your ancestors Civil War Pension Record. I believe five years ago which I acquired Christopher’s the cost was $75, but I see now it is $80. Below I am including some information on how to go about getting a copy of a pension record. The good news is process is actually quite simple.

First you have to find the index number which corresponds to a specific pension record. Essentially once you obtain the index number you need to provide this number to The National Archives. From there The National Archives will handle finding the record and mailing a copy to you either hardcopy or CD. There are a couple of routes to take to obtain the index number. First make sure you have the first and last name of soldier as well as first and last name of wife. Residency would also be very helpful.

  1. If you have a paid subscription to ancestry.com you can search through their records: http://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=4654 2)
  2. If you do not have ancestry.com subscription then you will have to go through The National Archives Microfilm Roll T288: General Index to Pension and find the number manually. http://www.archives.gov/research/military/pension-genealogy/1861-1934.html

I would recommend taking the ancestry.com route because it is simple and you can find the index number instantly. You can actually go to your local library and use ancestry.com library edition for free to look up the index number. Once you have acquired the index number than you can start filling out an online form to order which is known as  Form NATF 85D. You may find the online ordering form here: Federal Military Pension Application NATF 85D

I also strongly recommend once you receive your copy of your ancestor’s pension record to back it up and may I say it again BACK IT UP! I personally received Christopher’s pension record in hard copy form and I made copies of that. I also digitized the document which is not only stored on my hard drive, but also on http://www.dropbox.com. It is very important to back up all your research and please take the time to do so.

So in closing, if you have an ancestor, who fought in The Civil War, I would strongly advise you to obtain a copy of his pension record because the valuable information you will obtain is priceless.

Happy Hunting!


About donnycr

Started intensely conducting research on my family history just while finishing my graduate degree in 2008. Since then I have discovered numerous amounts of lines which I didn't even know about until recently. I am strictly an amateur genealogist and conduct my research as a hobby. I am mainly self educated and constantly learning about genealogy tips and tricks. One day I hope to turn my passion for genealogy into a profession, but for now just building my expertise. I enjoy connecting with others to exchange information and knowledge. I actually have a team of researchers working with me. Well actually one researcher, my mother, who works with my on uncovering our family history. I guess my father and I have sports and my mother and I have genealogy. Family lines I focus on are: Reagan, McNanny, Johnson, Newman, Gillis, Matchett, Esty, Esson, Crotty, White, Leighton, Sherwood, Driscoll, Alyward, Bohan, Fraser, Lynch, Savage, Haggerty, Guy, and more to come. If any of these lines interest you, please let me know and will be happy to connect - connect with me @ dreagan15@gmail.com Thanks - Donny View all posts by donnycr

5 responses to “Why is it worth obtaining your ancestor’s Civil War pension record?

  • Dave Robison

    Great info and great advice. I’ve got Union and Confederate ancestors as well as a few casualties who never made it home. My 4th great grandfather died and is buried at Rock Island Illinois.

    Also, you might be interested in this. A friend of mine just published “What They Endured, What They Wrought”. I’ve got him coming to speak to our Western Massachusetts Genealogical Society next month and conduct a book signing.

    • donnycr

      Dave – pleasure to virtually meet and thanks for the feedback. Wow so you have ancestors on both sides of the conflict. I see through my research there are Confederate pension records, but never looked further since I only have one known ancestor on the Union side. Do you find it difficult to obtain certain Confederate records?

      I will Google your friend’s book and take a look. I also see you are apart of Western Mass Genealogical Society – I know the South Hadley area well since my girlfriend is from there and her family has deep Irish roots in the area.

      Take care,


  • Dave Robison

    Hi Donny,

    Truthfully, I do more work for friends, family and clients than I do for myself. I call myself the Cobbler With No Shoes! I’ve been able to get a few things from Fold3 and Ancestry but, again, I don’t spend enough time on my own family. I’m qualified to join the SAR and a few other legacy organizations but the app has been “on my desk” for a few years. And I have at least 5 or 6 direct patriot ancestors! Each is missing the documentation for one or two generations and someday, I’m going to focus on ME!!! Then there’s the War of 1812 (my 4th ggrandfather) and the Civil War both Confederate through my father and Union through my mother.

    Here’s a link to the Amazon page for Kerry’s book: http://amzn.to/19hcdYK. And thanks for taking a look. Let me know if it interests you…



  • How Obituaries can be a Tremendous Source of Family History. | An Amateur Genealogist's Musings

    […] in 2008 my first major breakthrough came while researching an obituary. You may recall a previous blog post regarding my great-great-grandfater, Christopher McNanny, and his pension record.  Before thoroughly researching Christopher I knew only  four things about […]

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