Web Sightings: New Jersey Civil War Gravestones

This is the first post in what I intend to be a continuing series I am calling “Web Sightings“, highlighting websites I use in my own research.

New Jersey Civil War Gravestones [link] is an online database of headstone images of Civil War veterans and related service and biographical information aimed primarily at genealogists and family historians. Their mission “is to capture digital images of gravestones of our ancestors who served in the Civil War and are buried throughout New Jersey“.

This website is one of the many independent sites now utilizing software originally developed for the Gravestone Photo Project (GPP) in 2003 to house and display cemetery images as part of the larger Iowa GenWeb project.

More than one million gravestone images have been uploaded to GPP websites as a whole, and more than 12,000 of those images are part of the New Jersey Civil War Gravestones site. Soldiers from both sides of the conflict are included in this New Jersey database, as long as they were buried within the state. Since this is an archive of grave markers, there will be no entry in the database if there is no corresponding headstone image. This is one of the main differences between New Jersey Civil War Gravestones site and the better known cemetery website called Find A Grave.

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The site has a Quick Search function, which allows one to input a first and last name, and limit the search to a particular county within the state of New Jersey. This is the default search type, accessible on the site’s home page, or by clicking on Search on the menu bar. There is also an advanced search feature, accessible by clicking Search on the menu bar, then Advanced Search. Advanced search reveals additional parameters including search by record ID, cemetery, submitter information or upload date.

Searching for the grave marker of a service member is straightforward: simply input a name in the search box. I am searching for the surname Carson, so that is the name I used in the example below. If searching for a very common surname, you may want to include a first name and/or county in your search. As a general rule, I always do a very broad search at the outset, and then narrow the search only if I get too many results.

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I quickly received a list of eleven Civil War soldiers with the Carson surname buried in the state of New Jersey with gravestone photos contributed to the website.

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I recognized all five of the Mercer County names; three of these men were brothers, and are part of my extended Carson family from that area. Their information from the New Jersey Civil War Gravestones site appears below.

james-carson-nj-civil-war-gravestonesJames T. CARSON (1836-1910) Co. E, 21st New Jersey Infantry [1]. (Click on his name to go to the featured website.)

perrine carson nj civil war gravestonesPerrine CARSON (1821-1866) Co. I, 38th New Jersey Infantry [2]. Birth and death dates are from my own research, and are not part of his database entry. See my blog post regarding the provisioning of his headstone, part of the Office of Quartermaster General records (RG 92) at the National Archives here. A more legible image of his headstone is on the aforementioned Find A Grave site here.

george carson alias cassner nj civil war gravestonesGeorge H. CARSON, alias CASSNER (1834-1903) Co. F, 38th New Jersey Infantry [3]. Middle initial of H (for Henry) and his birth date is from my own research. I included an image of one of his pension cards (from T289) as part of a 2012 blog post here. The pension bureau confused the service of two New Jersey Civil War veterans named George Carson, and have papers incorrectly interfiled in their pension files as agents attempted to establish their separate identities.

The fifth man from Mercer County, John Wesley Carson, is not the same man as I have blogged about here previously, even though they share a name. Our John Wesley Carson moved about following the Civil War and died in Oregon.

There are several things to be aware of when using the New Jersey Civil War Gravestones site.

It is not all-inclusive. Not all Civil War veterans buried in New Jersey are included in this database. This is a volunteer-driven site and requires that a recent photo of the headstone be submitted, along with information about the veteran’s military service. The site owner will then verify the service before actually posting the photograph. If the soldier had no headstone, or service cannot be verified, then the submission will not be accepted.

All headstone photographs submitted to the site must be original images taken by the contributor. Images from other websites or taken by others may not be uploaded without their express permission. The photographer retains all rights to the image, but gives permission for the project coordinator to edit the image if necessary to meet certain specifications and to store and display the images “permanently for free public access“.

Getting permission to utilize the photographs may prove to be difficult. I have submitted two separate requests via the website’s contact form (12/2012 and 6/2014) and never received a response to either request.

Overall, this is a fantastic resource for those with Civil War soldiers buried in New Jersey. Kudos to the site coordinator for undertaking this worthy project. I wish I could name those responsible, but I have not been able to glean that information from the website, nor from a WHOIS search. And, a BIG thank you to those who have contributed their time and images. Should you have images you wish to contribute, please visit this link.

Finally, here is a link to other Gravestone Photo Project sites.

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Sources:

[1] New Jersey Civil War Gravestones, database and images  (http://newjerseycivilwargravestones.org : accessed 29 Jul 2014), entry no. 10384 for James T. Carson (1836-1910), citing Groveville Cemetery, Groveville, Mercer County, New Jersey; image contributed 24 Aug 2012 by “fredsays”.

[2] New Jersey Civil War Gravestones, database and images  (http://newjerseycivilwargravestones.org : accessed 29 Jul 2014), entry no. 6857 for Perrine Carson (no dates), citing Presbyterian Churchyard, Hamilton Square, Mercer County, New Jersey; image contributed 16 Sep 2010 by “fredsays”.

[3] New Jersey Civil War Gravestones, database and images  (http://newjerseycivilwargravestones.org : accessed 29 Jul 2014), entry no. 6853 for George Carson (d. 1903), citing Riverview Cemetery, Trenton, Mercer County, New Jersey; image contributed 15 Sep 2010 by “fredsays”.

Disclaimer: The author regrets the inability to obtain explicit permission to showcase images from this website and makes no claim to ownership of any image shown here. Clearly, all screenshots on this Web Sightings post were taken from the New Jersey Civil War Gravestones site, and every attempt has been made to make that obvious.

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 Fold3.com 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

Civil War Widows' Pensions on Fold3.com as of 02 Jun 2012

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 Ancestry.com, and T289, available at Fold3.com. (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, Fold3.com (http://www.fold3.com : 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, Fold3.com (http://www.fold3.com : 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, Fold3.com (http://www.fold3.com : 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: https://eservices.archives.gov/orderonline/start.swe#SWEApplet1

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!