The U.S. Civil War was fought from 1861-1865 and Pennsylvania enlisted 360,000 men in the Union Army. Every family had at least one member involved in the war. If you had ancestors in PA during this time period, these files are something you want to dig into.
The pension files of those who served have documents that provide evidence of births, marriages, deaths, and family ties.
Here's a peak at some of the documents in Union Army pension file and what it can prove to build out a family tree. In Part 1, I'm showing some of the more typical papers you'll find.
Soldiers who were awarded an invalid pension for a disability received in service, have one of these discharge certificates in their file. These documents detail the soldier's birthplace, age, height, hail color, eye color, skin color, and occupation - all details we love to know about our ancestors. There is also details on the injury incurred and service unit and enrollment information.
Widows and guardians of children under age 16 applied for pension benefits when the soldier died as a result of their military service. This application by George W. Rex, age 51, is on behalf three children Ida, Mary, and Alforetta. George gives the service details of the soldier, Edmund Curry, and his death date of December 7, 1872. George also provides the detail that Edmund's wife was Anna M. Rex and she died May 20, 1877. There are more details of a fourth child the couple had who died, and that Anna remarried after Edmund's death.
All these details are very hard to find in this time period in Pennsylvania. Marriage licenses didn't begin until 1885, and birth and death registrations in counties began in 1893, with state certificates to follow in 1906. This statement of details sworn before the county Prothonotary is as good as a church record or Bible record.
Union Army pension files are full of affidavits. An affidavit is a sworn statement to facts, and notarized by the county Prothonotary. In the days before photo identification and government certificates and licenses, this is how people proved who they were and their relationships to family.
This affidavit from a minister gives the marriage date of October 30, 1851 of George W. Curry and Esther W. Holly, and verifies it was a first marriage for both. Knowing the minister's name also makes it possible to determine which religious faith the couple were - one of the hardest things to figure out sometimes. For a researcher, this can lead to other church records to find additional family members.
In Part 2, I'll show some unusual finds in Union Army pension files.
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