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Military Records Provide Surprising Information

Often both family and professional genealogists forget the wealth of information that can be found in military service records and pension files.


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Type: Article
Resource: GenWeekly
Prepared by: Karan Pittman
Word Count: 698 (approx.)
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Often both family and professional genealogists forget the wealth of information that can be found in military service records and pension files. These records may provide some fascinating glimpses into your ancestor's life, especially after the war in question.

Often people do not understand what wars may have affected what region of the country. People usually think of the Revolutionary War, but they often do not consider the War of 1812. The War of 1812 was not as far reaching in terms of recruits, but if your ancestor is in one of the areas, then information can be found. Various wars with the Native Americans are also documented. Many of these early wars, especially in the 1700's are not well documented by military documents, but many letters and correspondence can be found. An exception to this is the Creek Indian War of 1836. The war itself did not last for a long period of time, but pensions were provided in the late 1800's. A wealth of information about the men who fought in this war is contained in the pension applications. When searching a pension application, I found out the color of my great-great-great grandfather's hair and eyes, his height, and the fact that my great-great-great grandmother had been married before, and her previous husband had been killed when he was kicked in the head by a horse. These pension applications for the Creek Indian War are quite amazing because it is true that the earlier the war, a less amount of records will usually be found.

It is necessary to look at the history of the area where your ancestors and family members lived in order to get a better idea of possible wars in which they may have fought. Usually local militia units are not as well documented. Any units formed by the United States government or the states themselves are easier to find.

Military records are not located in one place. This is another discouraging factor to many family history researchers. Military service records may be located in one archive while the pension applications or files are located in another. It is extremely important to study the records that are available and to find out when they were created. For instance, Civil War pension applications were not offered or filed until many years after the Civil War.

Another important consideration is that in the early days of the United States, land was often given for military service. Many settlers moved from the middle states of Maryland and Virginia down to Georgia because of the granting of bounties for military service. Once again, it is necessary to know where your ancestor and family lived and in what time period in order to use these records effectively.

Military records comprise more than just a few lines of application. Military records can help to fill in the gaps between the censuses. They can also be used to fill in gaps before the first 1790 United States census.

Some military records include payroll records and pay stubs; duty assignments; medical records; muster rolls; enlistment forms and related documents; pension files (the denied files are also available) and pension applications. The pension files may contain a variety of information including testimony and affidavits regarding your ancestor's place of habitat, marriage(s) and work life.

Not every person will be fortunate to find all of these records on an ancestor's service. Some researchers may be lucky to find documentation of service. If more records can be located, then a fuller picture of your ancestor's life will be given.

In the United States, most military records will be held by the National Archives and Records Administration ( or by the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, Missouri. Some may be found in state archives. The best way to find separate state archives is to go to a general website such as and look under the individual states.

Thousands of military records have been indexed. Muster rolls abound in separate volumes and county histories. Many historical societies publish volumes concerning certain wars. It is necessary to look in the separate states and counties to find all the information that may be obtained. Your effort may be well rewarded.

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2006.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

*Effective May 2010, GenWeekly articles that are more than five years old no longer require a subscription for full access.

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