Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Footnote.com - Finding a Specific RevWar Pension File

I've had a lot of trouble narrowing my searches in www.Footnote.com in past months, so I decided to try some alternate methods.

I knew that Isaac Johnson of Chatham, Connecticut had a Revolutionary War Pension File, and I knew that his wife's maiden name was Rebecca Cole.

Here is the Footnote.com new home page - it has a search box at the top just waiting for a name to be put in:

I resisted the urge to put the name in the box, since I knew that doing that would give me too many matches and I'd have to select the Revolutionary War Pension File collection anyway. Instead, I scrolled down a bit to the "Search by Historical Era" row and rolled my mouse over "Revolution - 1700s-1815" and the list of collections for that era were visible:

I clicked on Revolutionary War Pensions from the list, and this screen appeared:

I input [isaac johnson connecticut] in the Search box (see above) and clicked on "Search":

There were 428 matches found for my search criteria, which is too many to look at one at a time. I need to narrow my search. I tried inputting "Chatham" as a keyword and got zero matches. I backed up one screen, and decided to input "Cole" - Isaac's wife's maiden name, in the Keyword box, as shown below:

I was rewarded with only 8 matches (two screens below, they overlap a bit):

The second and third matches have Isaac Johnson and Rebecca (or Rebekah) Cole listed in an Isaac Johnson pension file, so I clicked on the "View Image" button and Page 18 of the Isaac Johnson pension file appeared:

The annotated and indexed names are shown with a yellow border around them when you run your mouse over them. At the bottom of the screen is the filmstrip of all of the pages in the file. You can click on the large left or right arrows to move forward or backwards in the file. There are 52 pages in the Isaac Johnson pension file, including pages that identify their daughter Anna Johnson as the wife of Benjamin Sherman.

On the right of the screen is the source citation information, including the NARA publication (microfilm series) number, the state, the veteran's name, the pensioner's name (in this case it was Rebekah Johnson), the pension file application number, etc.

The user can print any or all of the pages out, or save them to their computer hard drive. These actions have to be performed one page at a time. It took almost an hour to download this 52 page file.

The search process described above seemed very cumbersome to me. The Search process seems to take a really long time compared to other genealogy database search engines, even when you start from a specific database as I did in this case. If I didn't know to narrow the search using a state (included in my first search term) and then the wife's maiden name (it was lucky I knew that), then I would have taken several hours to try to find the right Isaac Johnson in the 428 matches resulting from the initial search.

I don't know what to suggest to www.Footnote.com about this - perhaps a list of the Veterans with their state, home town, military unit and pension application number? There are problems with that, though - they may not have applied in the home town that they served during the war. Also, the veteran might have served with more than one unit. Not everyone will know the pension application number before performing this search.

For many of these NARA databases, Footnote.com is the only online provider, so it behooves all of us to learn how to perform our searches efficiently and effectively.

Was there an easier way for me to perform this search? If so, please tell me in comments to this post, or send me an email at rjseaver@cox.net.


Becky Wiseman said...

Randy, if you know the state in which he served, why not "browse" the collection?

For example, I have two ancestors who served from Virginia, James Ball (wife Margaret) and John Bray (2nd wife Elizabeth).

Click on the "next" arrow so that Virginia displays, click on Virginia and an alphabetical list displays.

Click on "B" then click through on the arrow buttons until the name you are looking for comes up.

Lots of clicking, but you'll get there eventually... Of course, it means you first need to know where he served.

Charley "Apple" Grabowski said...

Randy - Putting in the wife's first name also works. Handy if you don't know her maiden name.

Becky - Thanks. I'd forgotten I could look this way.