The War of 1812 Begins

200 years ago today, on 18 Jun 1812, what we now call “The War of 1812” began when the United States declared war on Great Britain. Explore the document that started it all at The National Archives Experience website.

Declaration of War (1812)

2 Stat. 755 (1812)  An Act declaring War between the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and the dependencies thereof, and the United States of America and their territories.

The War of 1812 has been referred to by historians as “The Forgotten War”. Now that the bicentennial is upon us, I doubt we’ll continue to use that phrase. There are some very interesting projects underway to chronicle the events of the war as they happened 200 years ago.

Follow the war online at 1812now or the Blog of 1812. Alternately, you can follow several different Twitter feeds where the war is being “live tweeted” or otherwise covered:



















Find original documents about the War of 1812 online at The collection is free to use in June 2012, and available via subscription thereafter.

Fold3 200th Anniversary: War of 1812


[Updated 04 Jul 2012 to include additional twitter resources.]

Civil War Widows’ Pensions on Fold3

If you, like me, are interested in history and technology, you’ll find this short video on digitizing the Civil War Widow’s Pensions fascinating.

Until now, Civil War pension files existed only in textual format at the National Archives. When you visit the Archives in Washington, D.C., you can request a file be pulled, and then you may view that file in person in the reading room on the 2nd floor. And while nothing quite compares to handling the documents yourself, touching the same page as your family member once touched, having this series of records available online will be a tremendous resource for genealogists and historians alike.

From the video, we learn that there are 1.28 million approved case files of widows and dependents that will ultimately be digitized and made available online. 25,000 – 30,000 case files are processed by volunteers each year, working since about 2007. The first digital images became available online on what is now in the fall of 2008. As of today’s date, 4% of the collection has been digitized and posted, representing roughly 75,000 pension files. In April 2012, Fold3 indicated on their site that the highest WC (Widow’s Certificate) number posted is WC95971.

Civil War Widows' Pensions Online

Note the emphasis on the word approved in the above description. Rejected application files will apparently not be filmed or otherwise placed online. For those files, you will still need to order the file online from the National Archives, visit in person, or hire a researcher to copy the file for you.

Who will you look for on Fold3?

Three Civil War Pension Files

If you’ve reached an impasse when researching your direct-line ancestors, you’ll need to cast a wider net. Whether called “collateral research”, “whole family research”, “cluster research” or similar variants, the concept remains the same: to break down our proverbial “brick walls” we need to broaden the scope of our research to include members of our target ancestor’s extended family and larger social circle. We may need to research the lives of friends, neighbors, colleagues, comrades and the like. The more difficult the problem to be solved, the further afield we may need to go to track down records relevant to our research problem.

It is with this idea in mind that I recently ordered three United States Civil War pension files, all for the brothers or brothers-in-law of several of my direct ancestors, each of whom served in the Union Army. To order their files, I needed information from the pension index cards. There are two readily available indexes online: T288, available at, and T289, available at (To see the card images, you either need to be a subscriber, or go to an institution that has a subscription to one of the databases.) Both indexes were created and microfilmed by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) from the original index cards.

I’ve uploaded the pension index cards from T289 for each of the soldiers whose file I’ve ordered. Each card shown illustrates a different scenario with respect to Civil War pension research.

Soldier: David M. Bingaman of Companies C, D and E of the 20th Indiana Infantry, brother of my 2nd great-grandfather, Josephus Bingaman who also served in the Civil War.

Civil War Pension Card for David M. Bingaman

“Organization Index to Pension Files of Veterans Who Served Between 1861 and 1900,” digital images, ( : accessed 09 May 2012); David M. Bingaman (Cos. C, D & E, 20th Indiana Inf.) index card; imaged from Organization Index to Pension Files of Veterans Who Served Between 1861 and 1900, T289 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives), roll 91.

In the image above, note that David Bingaman (the “invalid”) applied for a pension 13 Aug 1892, application no. 1,125,866, certificate no. 890,449. Following his death, his widow also applied for a widow’s pension, application no. 645,202, certificate no. 464,995. The fact that the card references a certificate number beside each pension type means that both David and his widow received pensions.

Soldier: George Carson, alias George Cassner, of Company F 38th New Jersey Infantry, brother of my 3rd great-grandmother, Caroline Carson.

Civil War Pension Card George Carson

“Organization Index to Pension Files of Veterans Who Served Between 1861 and 1900,” digital images, ( : accessed 09 May 2012); George Carson, alias George Cassner (Co. F, 38th New Jersey Inf.) index card; imaged from Organization Index to Pension Files of Veterans Who Served Between 1861 and 1900, T289 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives), roll. 307.

George Carson applied for a pension 14 Apr 1902 less than a year before his death. His application was no. 1,283,970. His widow also applied for a widow’s pension, application no. 781,136. Applications for both George and his wife were apparently rejected, as there is no certificate number recorded for either of them in the column on the right. Perhaps there was a problem establishing his identity, especially since George seems to have also used the last name of Cassner.

Should I allow the fact that it appears that the applications were rejected to deter me from following up and ordering his pension file? Most definitely not! Even if a pension was rejected, the file will still contain, at a minimum, the application. Indeed, rejected applicants often tried multiple times to prove their claim, offering additional details and advancing more witnesses to vouch for them. On occasion, a Special Examiner was appointed to investigate the merits of the claim, in which case the file may yield a great deal of information.

Soldier: Jackson Wells of Co. D, 128th Ohio Infantry, brother-in-law of my 2nd great-grandfather, Washington R. Wallace.

Civil War Pension Card Jackson Wells

“Organization Index to Pension Files of Veterans Who Served Between 1861 and 1900,” digital images, ( : accessed 09 May 2012); Jackson Wells (Co. D 128th Ohio Inf.) index card; imaged from Organization Index to Pension Files of Veterans Who Served Between 1861 and 1900, T289 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives), roll 429.

In this last example, the soldier himself did not apply for a pension. Instead, his widow applied under application no. 462,465. She received a pension under certificate no. 508,610.

Widows’ applications typically provide more family information than a soldier’s application as a widow had to prove:

1. that she was married to the soldier, and the date of the marriage
2. that she remained a widow (she lost the pension if she remarried)
3. divorce or death of any previous wife or wives
4. that the soldier was deceased (if he died outside of actual service)
5. birth information for soldier’s minor children under 16

(See the full text of the pension Act of July 14, 1862 as published in the New York Times, 12 Aug 1862).

Although acquiring a Civil War Pension file isn’t cheap ($75.00 for the first 100 pages from NARA), oftentimes a pension file can contain the key to solving a brick wall problem. You can spend literally years searching for proof of a relationship only to discover the answer plainly stated within the file.

How to order a Civil War pension file
Civil War pension files are still, for the most part, textual (i.e. paper) records. They have never been microfilmed, and are only now being digitized. With the large number of pension files available, it will be years before they’re online. To access a pension file, you’ll need to do one of three things:

1. Visit the National Archives in Washington D.C. yourself
2. Order the pension file from the National Archives directly
3. Hire a private researcher to examine and copy the record for you

To order a pension file from the National Archives, go to:

Order Military Records OnlineThe second item is the link to order the complete file (form NATF 85D).

NATF 85D online formTechnically, to order a pension file using NATF 85 you only need the following information, marked with an asterisk (*) in the above screenshot:

Veteran’s first and last name
Branch of service (Army, Navy, Marine Corps)
Kind of service (Regular, Volunteer)
War in which he served
State from which he served

However, I have found that having the pension application number and name of widow or other claimant will ensure you are getting the correct file.

Whenever possible, I recommend acquiring a complete military pension file early on in your research. If you don’t look, you won’t know what nuggets of family information may be included. I have heard tales of family bible pages and photographs being found within a pension file, although I myself haven’t been that lucky.

Stay tuned as I reveal the goldmine of family information discovered in just one of these pension files!