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I have an ancestor who fought in the Civil War (or one of the other wars from the 1800s). I'd love more information about him. How do I go about this?
Contact us here and tell us what you know. We'll get back to you with a free estimate on what may be available about your ancestor in particular. Chances are, there's a lot there at the National Archives about him!
Why should I care about my ancestor’s pension file?
These are some of the best genealogical sources out there for your ancestors. The soldier (or his widow) would file, saying that he was in the war, and that he was married and had children. He then had to prove all of it. The proof that was submitted became part of the pension file. It’s not unusual to find death certificates, marriage certificates, pages from the family Bible, or other affidavits from family members affirming what the soldier was saying.
Where can I find a photo of my Civil War ancestor?
There is no one specific place to look for these. Soldiers were not required to have a picture taken of them, so the ones that did would have done it and paid for it on their own. Those pictures, if they exist, are most likely in the collections of the descendants or a local historical society. Many of them have been scanned onto online family trees on sites like Ancestry.com by the descendants of the soldier.
The pension files rarely have photos of the soldiers. In the hundreds of files that we've looked at, only two of them have had photos in them. They were submitted as part of the investigation process to verify information about the soldier.
Do the pension files tell who the parents were?
Sometimes. This was not required information for the soldier to submit, but sometimes it shows up in the pensions anyway. There may have been a death certificate submitted, which could give the names of the parents. If the soldier was a minor when he enlisted, his enlistment papers may have his father's signature on it (found in the compiled service records). Sometimes family members would give information about the soldier, and occasionally it was a father who did that.
What types of records are at the National Archives about Union soldiers?
There are four main record groups. Pension files (explained above), service records, carded medical records, and his company’s records of events. Read below for more details about what is in each of those.
What is a compiled military service record?
A compiled military service record, also known simply as “service records,” is a series of cards that were compiled about each soldier. You get information in there about whether he was transferred, promoted, hospitalized, deserted, captured, etc. You usually get a whole series of cards in there, showing from month to month where he was. His enlistment papers, if they still exist, are found in there too.
What are the carded medical records?
The carded medical records are similar to the service records for each soldier. They tell if the soldier was sick, injured or hospitalized. It should tell if he died or deserted. They’re a good addition to get the complete picture of your ancestor during the war. Some soldiers have one card in their file, some have ten or more.
What’s in the company’s records of events?
These rarely mention individual soldiers by name, but it tells month by month where the specific company was, what they were doing, and what battles they were engaged in. It’s great record to get a day-to-day glimpse into what your ancestor could have been doing.
What information do I need to get started?
Ideally, the easiest way to get started is to send a copy of his pension card. That’s usually all we need to find the information. The pension cards are indexed at Ancestry.com's military pension index. If you don’t have a pension card, or don’t know what’s available for your ancestor, contact us here to get started.
How do I order?
You can go directly to the order page here
What's the advantage of ordering from you compared to the National Archives?
The National Archives will charge you $80 for the first 100 pages of your pension file. After 100 pages, they charge extra per page. Not only that, but in many cases they take months to get your information back to you.
Our prices are lower than theirs. There is no extra charge if the file is very large. Our return time is much quicker, and we get full color digital images of each page (compared to the black and white paper copies that the National Archives will send you.)
Aren’t these online already?
There are a small number of the pension files that have been scanned and put on to Fold3. These make up less than 5% of all of the pension files though. They’re mostly ones related to soldiers who died early on during the war. If your ancestor survived the war, their pension file is probably not online.
How will the documents be delivered back to me?
We take full color digital images of the documents and deliver them electronically, either through DropBox or Google Drive. If you’d rather have the images mailed to you on a CD, we can do that for an extra $5. Just let us know when you order if that’s what you want. Note: ordering the records on CD will most likely delay your processing time.
How do I pay?
You’ll get an invoice after you order, and you can pay that directly online. If you’d prefer to mail a check or money order, that option is available too.
How much does this cost?
My rates are lower than what the National Archives charges. They charge $80 for the first 100 pages of a Civil War pension file, and then they charge per page after 100 pages. Our normal price for Civil War pensions is $60. We often run specials though, so keep watching for those.
What if I pay and there is nothing found?
We take steps to prevent this, but it does happen occasionally. If that happens, we’re happy to either refund your money or use it as a credit you can apply to another purchase. The only exception is the carded medical records for Civil War soldiers. Those are non-refundable, even if nothing is found.
What about Confederate pensions?
All of the Confederate pensions still exist, but they are kept at the state archives, not the National Archives (which makes sense when you realize that each individual state funded the Confederate pensions, so those states kept the records. The federal government funded the Union pensions, so they are kept by the archives at a federal level). We only have access to the Union soldier’s records at the National Archives in Washington DC. Check with the state in which the Confederate soldier was living at the time of applying for the pension. This link will tell you how to find Confederate pensions:
Can I get Revolutionary War or War of 1812 pensions too?
The Revolutionary War pensions have all been scanned and uploaded on to Fold3. They are no longer accessible to researchers in person since they’ve been digitized.
The 1812 pensions are currently being scanned. The first part of the alphabet (A-P) has been uploaded onto Fold3. The middle of the alphabet (Q-S) is currently being scanned and aren’t accessible. Soldiers alphabetically T-Z have not been digitized, so we can get those ones for you.
What about Indian Wars, Spanish-American War, or Mexican War pensions?
Yes, we can get those for you. The National Archives has all of those on site.
Can I get information about World War I, World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War soldiers?
The DC archives only has records of military soldiers up through 1917. So anyone who was involved in the more recent wars would have their paperwork held at the branch of the National Archives in St. Louis, not Washington DC. At this point, we don't have access to those records.
What else can I get there at the National Archives?
The list would be too long to include here. One main record group that could be of interest is the Bureau of Land Management records. These include homestead files, federal land purchases, and military bounty land. Check out this database. If you see your ancestor in this index, there will be more on file other than just what you’re seeing online.
Do you have any customer reviews?
Yes! Check out our Facebook page. Not only do we post a lot of images from other files that we've found, but you'll see reviews from other satisfied customers. While you're there, like us and you'll get our updates!
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