Friday, June 13, 2008

American Revolutionary War Pensions

With Americans on the move during the years following the American Revolutionary War, the pension records of those who served in the fledgling nation's army, Marine Corps, navy, militia and as minutemen, are a wealth of information on the individual and his entire family.

The U. S. Congress passed legislation allowing pensions and bounty land warrants for some veterans in 1818. Later, it was extended to include their widows. Not everyone was, however, eligible.

On the application, most soldiers provided their place of residence, age and birthplace, and the names and ages of family residing with him, including wives, children, and grandchildren.

Widows making application had to prove they were married to the soldiers for whose pension they were requesting. This meant giving the date and place of their marriage, as well as the date and place of the soldier's death. Women were also required to give details of remarriages after the death of the soldier. If the marriage to a pensioner couldn't be proven, the widow's application was rejected. In the early years of America, people did not always keep certificates of marriage, even if they were provided to the newlyweds. Furthermore, many families moved more than once, leaving "unneccesaries" behind to lighten the load.

Recognizing this, the Federal government would allow original pages from family Bibles, journals and ledgers as proof when submitted with the Widow's Application. The preserved records, together with the application, any affidavits, and other documents the government requested while reviewing the pension and land bounty warrants applications provide us with unique, detailed glimpses of our ancestors that are seldom found before the Federal Census of 1850.

If you would like an actual copy of your ancestor's Revolutionary War service record, view the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) microfilms. M860 is the "General Index to Compiled Military Service Records of Revolutionary War Soldiers." This will lead you to the actual record on the NARA's microfilm series M881, "Compiled Service Records of Soldiers who Served in the American Army During the Revolutionary War. You can also request a hard copy using NATF Form 86 for a fee. It will take several weeks, possibly as long as two months, to receive this. Be sure to write "All Records" on all pages, the name of the individual whose records you're requesting, date each page, and keep a complete set of copies for your records.

If you believe that your ancestor is part of the DAR or SAR patriot indices, you may write them for a copy of their lineage papers. They will charge a fee. At present, the DAR does free lookups. Both the SAR and DAR are committed to helping descendants of soldiers, sailors, minutemen, and patriots of the Revolution. Your local chapter may be instrumental in helping track down your elusive ancestor, regardless of whether you join. Furthermore, they regularly hold genealogical workshops that can help you on your general research quest. To learn more about their services, please visit the DAR and SAR web sites, where you'll also find local chapters.

Pension applications are a great source of personal detail. For example, Rev. Joseph Wheat describes his adventures during the war in his Affidavit of 1819 & 1820. It also states that some of his grandchildren reside in his household. Likewise, James Weston's Affidavit of 1819 specifically states the place of his marriage to Sally Witherell, one of only three known records of Sally's life. The affidavit also names his children, including their spouses and residences, even though they were not living with him.

Check your local library, local genealogical society, or LDS Family History Library for a copy of "Index of Revolutionary War Pension Applications in the National Archives." This will assist you in determining whether or not your ancestor filed a claim for pension. You can also find these in the NARA's "Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty Land Warrant Application Files, 1800-1906" found on the National Archive's microfilm series M804,2,670. You may also request the NARA print the record using NATF Form 85. Again, there is a fee and waiting time of several weeks or months. You can order just part of the file or the complete file. I personally recommend ordering the entire file to ensure you have all documentation. Search NARA for regional locations for viewing these records.

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