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.
- 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)
- 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.