Monday, January 4, 2010

Teachable Moments in "Doing a Reasonably Exhaustive Search"

I received this information via email from reader Richard Aurand Sherer (whom I met at the SCGS Genealogy Jamboree last year), and he encouraged me to share it with you:

"I ran across something interesting during my research today and thought that, of all the bloggers I read, you might be the best one to share it with. I was researching a William Folckemmer and found his Civil War pension record at both and I've combined the two images into a collage, so you can see what I saw:

"The record contains the pensioner's wife/widow's name and two file dates. The image does not show the widow's name, but does show the pensioner's death date at the bottom. Both were useful to me: I had early found the 1880 census record for William with his wife, Ann, so the record confirmed that this probably was the right William. But I didn't know William's death date, so the record was also extremely valuable.

"The take-away from this is that researchers shouldn't be satisfied with just one source but need to keep looking for confirming evidence. That's a point that's often made, but it might be helpful to have a clear illustration like this to drive it home."

Thank you, Richard, for the excellent lesson in "doing a reasonably exhaustive search." The actual Civil War pension file will have all of that information and more, and should be obtained if this is an ancestral family. Unfortunately, these Civil War pension files have not been microfilmed or digitized yet, although is working on a small number of them with a longer term goal of digitizing and indexing all of them.

I was curious about the two databases, so I went and looked at the database citations and descriptions:

* National Archives and Records Administration. Civil War Pension Index: General Index to Pension Files, 1861-1934 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2000. Original data: General Index to Pension Files, 1861-1934. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration. T288, 544 rolls.

Description: This database is an index to and images of pension cards of Civil War veterans in the United States. Each record includes the veteran's name and state in which he, or his dependents, filed the application. The digitized image of the index card itself, contains additional information on the individual, such as unit of service, date of filing, and application and certificate numbers for the pension case file housed at the National Archives and Records Administration in Washington D.C.

* Publication Number: T289. Publication Title: Organization Index to Pension Files of Veterans Who Served Between 1861 and 1900. Publisher: NARA

Short Description: NARA T289. Pension applications for service in the US Army between 1861 and 1917, grouped according to the units in which the veterans served.

So there are two different record collections of essentially the same persons but with somewhat different information. There are other teachable moments here - no genealogy database provider has every database in their collection, and not every NARA database has been microfilmed.

While I have only one Civil War veteran with a pension file in my ancestry (Isaac Seaver), I do quite a bit of database mining on my ongoing one-name studies (Seaver, Dill, Auble, Carringer, Vaux). This is an excellent tip for me!


Unknown said...

Excellent example and very useful information. I think an important clue in these two documents is the exact numbers on both records. The surname is rather difficult and could have been easily mispelt a number of times. But having the numbers exact match is reassuring. Although numbers do not always match----8s that get transcribed as 3s etc. I do have many pension papers to shift through but not only these documents but applications, court records, etc etc --- letters of testimony, all help clear up or in some cases fuzzy up the look into the past. Thanks for the example, mentor.

Sharon said...

The Ancestry record also give the place where the pension was filed. The second date on the Ancestry one is the date the widow applied for her pension which would be close to the date of the soldier's death. If only the ones on Ancestry were as clear as those on footnote

Miriam Robbins said...

Back in July 2007, I reported the difference between the Civil War Pension File Index cards at Ancestry and Footnote.

It made a huge difference in my research!

Sharon said...

Randy: Don't ignore this source just because you don't have any more Civil War ancestors. This index covers much later than Civil War. I have found Spanish American War vets here.

Linda Robbins said...

This is very helpful to me. I have always known that paid subscription and free genealogy databases can be useful but different from each other. I feel lucky so far that I have five full, not partial or piggyback, subscription databases to search in, as well as all the free ones I can find. This article really puts the icing on the cake as far as feeling competent in trying to find all the online backup I can for using information in an ancestor's record.

Jen said...

There are two different microfilm publications by NARA for pension files of the Civil War era:
T288: General Index to Pension Files, 1861–1934, is organized by the soldier/sailor's name. I believe this is the newer index, although it has the more difficult to read cards. It is at
T289: Organization Index to Pension Files of Veterans Who Served Between 1861 and 1900, is organized by unit (no Navy). It is at
Check both databases. I've found some veterans in the later who died before the former was created.

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Sandy said...

I found an index card for a Civil War pensioner on Footnote which did not appear on Ancestry. The difference appears to be that the actual pension file for this soldier is still located at the Veteran's Administration and has not been transferred to the National Archives. I now check both Ancestry and Footnote for Civil War pension index entries.

GeneaDiva said...

I've been using both ancestry and footnote pension records for this very reason. It definitely pays to look at what might appear to be the exact same record; never know what one might find.

The death date has been really helpful.