United States Military Pension Records

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Pension Records[edit | edit source]

The federal government and some state governments granted pensions or bounty land to officers, disabled veterans, needy veterans, widows or orphans of veterans, and veterans who served a certain length of time. Pension records usually contain more genealogical information than service records. However, not every veteran received or applied for bounty land or a pension. Veterans who did not qualify under the pension laws may have received benefits by special acts of Congress. The appropriate federal or state agency maintained a pension file for each applicant. These files contain the application papers and any further correspondence or documents.

In a person’s pension application papers you may find his name (and sometimes his wife’s maiden name); rank; military unit; period of service; residence; age; date and place of birth, marriage, and death; and the nature of his disability or proof of need. To prove that he served in the military, he may have included documents such as discharge papers or affidavits from those with whom he served. Widows or heirs had to prove their relationship to the veteran with marriage records and other documents, and the file may list the names of dependent children under the age of 16.

National Archives-Pension Records[edit | edit source]

The National Archives has pension applications and records of pension payments for veterans, their widows, and other heirs. The pension records are based on service in the armed forces of the United States between 1775 and 1916. Application files often contain supporting documents such as discharge papers, affidavits, depositions of witnesses, narratives of events during service, marriage certificates, birth records, death certificates, pages from family bibles, and other supporting papers. Pension files usually provide the most genealogical information for researchers.

Pension files for 1775 to 1916 are available at the National Archives in Record Group 15, Records of the Veterans Administration. Only those for the Revolutionary War have been microfilmed.

National Archives Catalog

Requesting Records[edit | edit source]

Copies of pension files are available from the National Archives. To request copies follow the instructions in the following link. Requesting Pre-WWI Service Records. Many Civil War pension records are being digitized and are available on through Fold3; an index of the pensions indexed is available through FamilySearch. If the file has already been digitized, the National Archives will not pull the original, they will refer you to the digitized record. It is important to check online resources first.

Ordering copies from the National Archives[edit | edit source]

Once you have determined that you have an ancestor who probably was a pensioner, obtaining a copy of the pension record is the next step. Union pension files are not microfilmed and must be copied from the files at the National Archives (NARA) if they are not available digitally. NARA has a copy service. It is $80 for the first 100 pages of a pension file. At this time, it can take as much as a year to receive the file. Often a professional genealogist in Washington D.C. can copy the file much more quickly and for lower cost. Pension files are loose papers literally kept in a file under your ancestor’s name. If your ancestor’s pension file is more than 100 pages and you pay $80 for the first 100 pages, there is no guaranteeing that you will get the same pages in the same order when you send for any additional pages. You may have a better chance of getting all the papers in your ancestor’s file by hiring a professional researcher to make copies, rather than using NARA’s online service.

If you choose to order online using NARA's online service click on the "Order Reproductions" tab and select "Military Service and Pension Records". From this page you can order service records for Union and Confederate soldiers (Compiled Military Service Files) and Union pension files (Federal Military Pension Applications). You must know your ancestor's military unit to order a service record or a pension record. If you are unsure about which record you should order, see Union Service Records, Union Pension Records, or Confederate Service Records. Please make note that NARA does not house Confederate pension files. For information on ordering Confederate pension files from other archives see Confederate Pension Records.

If a compiled service record notes a Bookmark File number, this refers to a separate set of records that must be asked for specifically when requesting copies. The records are found in Record Group 94, Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, 1780s–1917.

Hiring a professional[edit | edit source]

If you choose to hire a professional researcher, look at the lists provided at the NARA site. Choose a researcher who lists military records as a specialty area. It may speed your research to hire a professional who lives in the Washington D.C. area.

Understanding a pension file[edit | edit source]

How to Make Sense Out of a Civil War Pension File...With Some Online Help!  -  a blog post from the National Archives Records & Administration that provides details on how to understand the various parts of a pension file. Links to a 1915 book on the Internet Archive - Orders, Instructions, and Regulations Governing the Pension Bureau.

Categories of pension/bounty land files available using NATF Form 85:

  • A complete Civil War and later pension application file (up to 100 pages), based on Federal (not State or Confederate) military service during the Civil War or later (includes the Pension Documents Packet.)
  • A complete Federal pre-Civil War military pension application based on Federal military service before 1861 (includes the Pension Documents Packet.)
  • A pension document packet that contains reproductions of eight documents containing genealogical information about the pension applicant, to the extent these documents are present in the file.
  • A complete military bounty land application file based on service 1775-1855 (includes only rejected Revolutionary War applications).

Note: Confederate pensions are not at the National Archives. Pensions based on military service for the Confederate States of America were granted by the states of Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia. To search these records, contact the state where the veteran lived after the war. Descriptions of state pension laws and addresses and telephone numbers of state archives that hold these records are available here.

Pension Records by Conflict[edit | edit source]

Other Sources[edit | edit source]

The following pension material may also be helpful:

  • Index to Pension Application Files of Remarried Widows Based on Service in the War of 1812, Indian Wars, Mexican War, and Regular Army Before 1861. National Archives Microfilm Publication M1784.
  • Record of Invalid Pension Payments to Veterans of the Revolutionary War and Regular Army and Navy, March 1801–Sept. 1815. National Archives Microfilm Publication M1786.
  • Index to Pension Application Files of Remarried Widows Based on Service in the Civil War and Later Wars in the Regular Army after the Civil War. National Archives Microfilm Publication. M1785.
  • Index to General Correspondence of the Record and Pension Office, 1889–1904. National Archives Microfilm Publication M686. (FHL films 1527667–8051.) Cards arranged alphabetically with name of soldier, organization in which he served, and name of person who made inquiry.
  • John P. Deeben. Veterans and Private Claims. Finding Pension Information in Congressional Records. 32 #4 (October-December 2006): 33-37.

See also[edit | edit source]

Wiki articles describing online collections are found at: