Again, I have gotten behind with blogs trying to get caught up with society & client work. I am sorry about that.
Today is 8 May 2023, marking the 78th Anniversary of Germany’s surrender to the Allied Forces, under the command of General of the Army and Supreme Allied Commander, Dwight D. Eisenhower. [i] Do you have ancestors of interest who served in the military? Whether a General Officer or Private, many records exist that can be helpful.
Over the past year, I have been asked by several people to put together a presentation on using military records. Recently, I listened to a presentation by Annette Burke Little to the Genealogical Speakers Guild and she said never develop a presentation until you are going to be paid for it. While that is an excellent rule of thumb, I was asked to do this for a small genealogical society I recently joined for Memorial Day. I will not get paid for this one but it will give me a chance to put together one I have been meaning to do for a while and see how it goes.
I have heard many boring presenters who take a long time telling you which National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) Record Group and Roll you need to use for each situation. I was always taught in the Army that it is more important to tell people where to go to get that information. NARA does have a great website to give us that information but how many will actually travel to a place list NARA Washington to get these records? NARA published a book, “Military Service Records,” a select catalog of National Archives Microfilm Publications in 1985. It may not still be in print but look at libraries or try to purchase from a reseller as I did.
So what do you need to know? First, decide whether your ancestor served in the U. S. Military at the Federal level or did they serve during a war. Then look at what types of service they may have served in, Army, Marines, Navy, etc. This will help you know where to look.
Fold3.com is still the main go-to site for research but it is not free. Many public libraries offer it for patrons, you need to check. That said, do not ask someone who has a paid membership to download anything for you as that violates their Terms of Service with Fold3. However, you can ask them to look to see if anything is there. Sometimes, the site has the entire pension packet if one was filed and this might give you the information you require.
I do have a paid subscription to Ancestry.com’s full suite of tools which includes Fold3. Therefore, I can download the documents and packets and I can put what these documents say in my report to the client, but I cannot give them the copies. I have found a Revolutionary War Pension Application which listed every child of the patriot and when they were born. Do not count on that working for you, I have never seen another like that one. Oftentimes, you see the pension card with the file numbers for the pensioner and possibly the widow.
So then what is your next step? You want to request that packet from NARA. But where?
The National Archives holds Federal military service records from the Revolutionary War to 1912 in the National Archives Building in Washington, D.C. Military records from WWI – present are held in the National Military Personnel Records Center (NPRC), in St. Louis, Missouri. The National Archives does not hold state militia records. For these records, you will need to contact the appropriate State Archives. [ii]
There are several ways to get these records. For free? Go there yourself. If that is not practical, then you need to request through a friend or a service. The service I have recently used and like is GopherRecords.com. They are a bit cheaper than another company I used but what I liked most is they stay in contact with you. I requested a Civil War pension and a widow’s pension for two men I believed to be brothers. One I knew was the son of an immigrant I am researching but the other one I was not so sure. Several family trees claim their person is that son and served then moved to Kentucky, Iowa, Minnesota, and other places. The packet I requested proved to be the correct one. How do I know, their father was a butcher in St Louis, MO and so were they. None of the other packets made this claim. These men served in the Civil War for the Union and their records were at NARA.
Even though the above direct quote came from NARA, the widow’s pension packet was in the STL branch, not Washington. That one took longer to obtain but the company stayed in contact with updates.
Where do you find Confederate Records? At the state Archives. All eleven of the Confederate States paid pensions as did Missouri. So look at their records for pension packets. So far, in all of the states I have actually looked for pensions for the CW, I have been able to download directly from that state for free.
What is the benefit of finding these records? It often will name names, places, and dates. Widows often had to give their maiden name, state when and where they were married, and provide proof in the form of a marriage license or sword affidavit. There can be other information provided such as statements made by locals claiming the application is a fraud. In the case of my scoundrel ancestor, it showed that even though he received a medical discharge during the CW and might be entitled to a pension, he also reenlisted and deserted meaning he was no longer entitled. On top of that, it showed he abandoned his first wife while she was pregnant with child #4, went to Toronto, Canada and married my 2nd great grandmother. That marriage was not legit. He then abandoned them in Toronto, went to Chicago, IL, and eventually made his way to Yakima, WA where he was never heard from again. The War Department (precursor to the Department of Defense) tried to locate him but was unsuccessful.
More in next week’s blog.