Thursday, October 16, 2008

Civil War Widows Pension Files at Footnote put out a Press Release today about their Civil War Widows' Pension Files collection - you can read the press release at Dick Eastman's blog here.

This collection is described, on the Footnote web pages, as:

" From the very beginning of the Civil War, widows of men who served and died in the Union Army during the war were entitled to apply for pension benefits. After the war, further legislation was approved to allow for widows and dependents of men who served, survived the war, and died afterward.

"Under the Dependent Pension Act, approved on June, 27, 1890, widows of soldiers serving in the Union Army could apply for a pension by proving the following:

* that the soldier served the Union for at least ninety days during the Civil War; * that he was honorably discharged;
* that the widow provide proof of death, but it need not have been the result of his army service;
* that the widow is without other means of support than her day labor;
* that she married the soldier prior to June 27, 1890, the date of the act."

The Document Types that might be found in these records include:

"The cover page to the file lists the name of the soldier; company, regiment, and state of service; the name of the widow, often with her maiden name; and the names of any dependent children. It also lists which papers will be found within the file, such as:

* Original application
Proof of soldier's service
* Proof of death
Proof of marriage - affadavits or certificates proved that the widow seeking the pension was, indeed married to the soldier.
* Proof of children
Dropped from rolls - this record will give a date of death or other circumstance which required the widow to be dropped from the rolls. In this particular example, note the odd phrasing: 'I have the honor to report that the name of the above-described pensioner who was last paid at $12, to Nov. 4, 1913, has this day been dropped from the roll because of death Nov. 23, 1913.' "

Using the records:

"Records are arranged by state of service, then branch of service. Next, by regiment, then company, and veteran's name. The widow's pension is found under her husband's name.

"If a widow's certificate number is printed on a Civil War soldier's pension index card (T289), available at Footnote - Pensions Index, Civil War to 1900 - search on that number to locate the widow's pension file.

"Because the images in these files are digitized from the original paper records, most of which are over a hundred years old, there may be instances where you will need to view side-by-side images to see the full page. The two images presented here are an example of this where a weight keeping a page flat covers part of the document. Another shot, after moving the weight, brings the rest of the page into view. "

Where did these records come from?

"These are paper records scanned from pension files archived at the National Archives in Washington, DC. They are part of Record Group 15, Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs, 1773-2001.

"According to a NARA press release, 'FamilySearch, in conjunction with, will eventually digitize and index all 1,280,000 Civil War and later widows’ files in the series. These records, of great interest to genealogists and others, are currently available only at the National Archives Building in Washington, DC. The widows’ pension application files, a rich source of information about ordinary American citizens of the time, include supporting documents such as affidavits, depositions of witnesses, marriage certificates, birth records, death certificates, and pages from family bibles.'"

The press release doesn't say how many Widows' Pension Files have been digitized and indexed - the page says that 5,284 images have been produced. That may be several thousand files, but it's a far cry from the 1.28 million files in the National Archives system. Many researchers will have to wait for awhile to see these records.

Hopefully, the Civil War Soldiers Pension Files will also be digitized and indexed in the future. There are over 2.8 million Civil War Pension Files. I can't tell if these 1.28 million widows files are included in the 2.8 million. At present, researchers have to order the Pension Files in paper format from the National Archives using Form NATF 85 for a fee (currently $75 for the first 100 pages, then $0.65 per page).

It will be worth the wait for those lucky persons that have an ancestor in these files. Besides having digital images of these files, and being able to access them at home or at a repository, the real genealogy benefit is that they are indexed. We will be able to find names in these documents even if the file is not for our ancestor. The name of a child, sibling, friend, neighbor or official may be indexed on these pages, and we may learn more about our own ancestor as a consequence.

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