US Military Pension Records

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United States  >  Military Records  >  Types of Military Records  >  Pension Records

Pension Records

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

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.

Copies of military pension application files based on Federal (not State or Confederate) service between 1775 and 1903 (before World War I) can now be ordered online, as well as through NATF Form 85.

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 miltary bounty land application file based on service 1775-1855 (includes only rejected Revolutionary War applications).

Please 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.

Other Sources

Lists of federal and state military pensioners have been published for the years 1792 to 1795, 1813, 1817, 1818, 1820, 1823, 1828, 1831, 1835, 1840, 1849, 1857, 1883, and 1899. Most of these lists are found in the U.S. Congressional Serial Set, available at federal repository libraries and major university libraries. The lists can provide the soldier’s name and his heirs, age, death date, and service information. Some have been reprinted including:

  • The Pension Roll of 1835. 4 vols. 1835. Reprint, Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing, 1968, 1992. (FHL 973 M24ua; fiche 6046995.) Entries contain name, rank, annual allowance, sum received, description of service, when placed on the pension roll, commencement of pension, age, and so on. Includes many death dates.
  • List of Pensioners on the Roll, January 1, 1883. . . . 5 vols. 1883. Reprint, Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing, 1970. (FHL book 973 M2LD.) (FHL CD no. 58.) Entries list name of pensioner, cause for which pensioned, post office address, and rate of pension per month.

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.

United States, Veterans Administration Pension Payment Cards (FamilySearch Historical Records)