The United States military has always made a lot of records. The most useful records for genealogists is military pension files. These files name spouses, children, and occasionally siblings and parents of the soldier. Genealogists can reconstruct families with this information.
For many Pennsylvania researchers, the military pensions files prior to World War 1 are the most sought after. These files are mostly at the National Archives in Washington D.C. and some are online. Here’s the pension records listed from largest to smallest for PA ancestors and where to find them:
Union Army Pension Files
These pension files are hundreds of pages long and
NARA has no plans to complete the scanning of these files into images. Some files of soldiers who died in 1861 and 1862 were microfilmed years ago and those images are on Fold3. The only way to view the original paper files for the foreseeable future is to make a trip to the National Archives.
Here’s a peak at one kind of document you’ll find inside:
This letter is one of the many non-standard forms you might find in a pension file. A child named Fannie Bloom filed an application on an already closed and awarded pension for soldier Cortez Bloom. The pension was already filed and awarded to Leah Bloom, Cortez's wife, who never mentioned a child, Fannie. Since Fannie needs to prove her relationship to Cortez, this pension file is full of affidavits of family members, neighbors, and community members - all very valuable genealogical information.
Revolutionary War Pension Files
Thanks to Americans ongoing passion for the Revolutionary War, the federal pension files of the soldiers who served were microfilmed and digitized over a decade ago. And you can view the complete collection on Fold3. That's the good news.
The bad news is that Congress didn't award the first federal pensions until 1818, 36 years after the war's end. Its a real loss for genealogists today if soldiers and their families died before they could apply.
Many of the Pennsylvania Germans included fraktur with their pension files as proof of marriage and children. I wrote about fraktur how to find it in All About Pennsylvanian German Fraktur.
War of 1812 Pension Files
Before covid these were being digitized from the original paper, meaning we would have full-color images of the files to view at home. Ancestry got as far as the "S" surnames and then stopped. If your ancestor's surname is before that, you are in luck. The completed pensions are free to view on Fold3 . If you need a surname that begins with ’T’ through ‘Z’, you'll need to visit the National Archives or request a copy from them.
Military pension files are worth the time and energy to research. Family historians can confirm or discover their ancestors and their story within major American events.