Since at least 2004, the United States National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) has held free public programs on a wide variety of topics about their holdings at the Washington, D.C. and College Park, Maryland facilities. Some of these recorded programs of particular interest to genealogists began making their way online in 2012 as part of the “Know Your Records” series. Twenty such videos are now available for viewing on the National Archives YouTube channel.
Three short introductory videos concerning military records are online, featuring Archives Specialist and resident military expert, John P. Deeben. I have embedded the videos below for convenience:
Military Research at the National Archives: Volunteer Service
This video tells us about military service records compiled for Volunteer soldiers who served in wartime from the Revolutionary War to the Philippine Insurrection, with specific examples of the CMSR for a Revolutionary War soldier.
Military Research at the National Archives: Regular Service
Registers of Enlistments for professional soldiers in the United States Army (1798-1914) available on M233 give information relative to the registration of soldiers and their discharge or separation from service.
Deeben also discusses the equivalent records for the United States Navy, called “Rendezvous Reports”. These reports (indexed as T1098 and T1099) cover the time frame between the Mexican War to about 1891. The records themselves are part of M1953.
Military Research at the National Archives: Pension Records
In this final video, Deeben introduces military pension files for service members (or their widows) stored at Archives 1, covering the period between 1775-1916. He shows examples of the records and information gleaned from them of interest to military historians and genealogists. He also reminds us that pension files for service in the Confederate military forces during the American Civil War are not held at the National Archives and must be sought at the state level.
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 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.