But did you know that you don’t have to travel to Washington, D.C. to see your ancestor’s Civil War pension file? You can order a copy of your ancestor’s complete pension application file from the National Archives and have it mailed to you.
Before you order a Civil War pension or military file from NARA (the National Archives), you need to do some research on your soldier. NARA says:
"NARA cannot do substantive research for you. Reading several files to see if any of the match meager identification is substantive research. If you request a specific file, we can search for that file and provide you with copies. Our success is based entirely on the work that you do before you send the request to us. If there are too many soldiers in a unit with the same name, we will return the request to you for additional information. Using the Civil War Pension Index is one way to ensure that the file you want is the file that you get."First, you must determine if you have an ancestor who fought in the Civil War. Like any genealogy project, to find out if you have a Civil War ancestor, start with what you know and take your research back generation by generation. Start your FREE family tree online to enter what you already know about yourself, your parents, your grandparents, and as far back as you know. Find your family in the 1930 census and continue to trace your family back through the earlier census.
There are two US Census years that show if a family member was a Civil War veteran:
- 1910 Census lists if a person was a veteran and a survivor of the Union or Confederate Army or Navy. If your ancestor was a Confederate soldier, order his pension file from the state repository.
- 1890 Special Veterans’ Census lists the veteran's name or widow's name, rank, year of enlistment, and year of discharge.
If you have found you have an ancestor who fought as a Union soldier in the Civil War, you can check the Civil War Pension Index to see if he filed an application for a pension. Not every Civil War soldier did. But all soldiers should have a service file. Check the:
- Civil War Pension Index
The index from Ancestry.com is used to order Civil War Pension records from NARA. The index also can provide clues such as wife’s name, to help narrow down the correct soldier. It also lists the regiment which you can verify against the 1890 Special Veterans’ Census
- Civil War Pension Index
The index from Fold3 (formerly Footnote.com) often includes soldier's death date and place. This can also help narrow down the correct soldier;i.e. if the index file states that the soldier died in 1902 but the soldier you are looking for was alive and listed in the 1910 census, you know you have the wrong soldier.
If you want the pension file for a Union soldier ancestor, make a copy of the Civil War Pension Index card to send with your request to NARA. NARA wants as much info as possible so they can pull the correct file to copy.
Order the Civil War pension file online from the National Archives (NARA) and include the name, state, regiment, and especially the application number and the certificate number from the index card. Click on Order Reproductions, then click Military Service and Pension Records, then Federal Military Pension Application - Civil War and Later Complete File (NATF 85D). There is a fee which includes up to 100 copied pages. The amount of genealogy information generally included in a pension file is pretty amazing – an incredible amount of genealogy info. They typically have birth dates, addresses of next of kin, medical information, proof of marriage, proof of children's births, a summary of military service, neighbor interviews, and sometimes death certificates. I personally have never found a tintype or a photo.
If you live anywhere near D.C., take the time for a visit the National Archives to see the files in person. It’s a special experience.
Fold3 (formerly Footnote.com) has started to digitize the actual pension files, not just the index cards. It is a monumental task, and they have completed about 3% of the Civil War Widows' Pensions files. It is worth it to check to see if your ancestor is included in the completed online files.
Confederate soldiers pensions are ordered from the state repository. They are held in the state where the soldier lived at the time of the pension, not the state where he served.
Some of the Confederate states pension records are online:
- Alabama Confederate Pension and Service Records, 1862-1947
- Arkansas Confederate Pension Records, 1891-1935
- Florida Confederate Pension Applications
- Georgia Confederate Pension Application Supplements, 1879-1960
- Georgia Pension Application Records
- Missouri Provost Marshal Database
- Oklahoma Confederate Pension Records Index
- South Carolina Confederate Veterans 1909 - 1973
- Tennessee Confederate Pension Applications Index
- Tennessee Confederate Soldiers and Widows Pension Applications Index
- Tennessee Confederate Soldiers Home Applications Index
- Texas Confederate Pensions, 1884-1958
- Texas Confederate Pension Applications, 1899-1975
- Virginia Confederate Pensions, 1884-1958 (Choose VA in the drop down box)
- Virginia Confederate Pension Rolls (Veterans and Widows) Database