Following the Colonial period in North America and the Revolutionary War, conflicts continued on the frontiers sparked by an ever-expanding population of Europeans. Those sparks were often fanned into flames by the British Empire which still considered the American populace more like wayward teenagers than independent "adults." When British warships began conscripting whole crews of American merchant ships, the resulting flames turned into a bonfire called the War of 1812.
Conscription was the British term for their version of the draft. In the 20th Century, the same acts would be called kidnapping. If the British needed more sailors in their navy, they merely attacked an American merchant ship, gathered up the main body of the crew and told them they were now members of the British Navy. The newly emerging American nation did not take kindly to these actions. If you remember your history lessons, it was during the War of 1812 that John Paul Jones, standing on a ship that was slowly sinking into the sea said, "We have just begun to fight."
While the War of 1812 was fought mainly on the sea, frontier battles with Indians who sought to save their original homelands from colonists turned "pioneers." Following the creation of the Republic of Texas and its acceptance into the union, the Mexican War erupted and battles were fought to define the southern border of the United States. If your ancestor was between ages of 14 to 60 during 1812 to 1858, there may be military records on file for him in the offices of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). If your ancestors were Indian or Mormon, you'll find that special units and battalions were formed from these groups who fought in the Mexican War. Each of these units compiled their own records.
At this point, I can "hear" some of you telling yourself that you've already found a reference to your ancestor's military duty on a transcribed list on the internet. That's nice; but, it is no substitute for looking at the original records which should not only tell you the exact dates of service, but the capacity in which your ancestor served. You may find out how tall he was or even the color of his eyes. These military indexes can also help you track down pension records filed by your ancestor or his widow. You may hear of wounds your ancestor received or even that he deserted. There's many a slip twixt enlistment and discharge.
As noted in a prior article, NARA records are no longer available on interlibrary loan, but they will send you a copy for a fee, and a rough 6 to 8-week wait. Or --- for convenience and to save time and money --- you can utilize your nearest Family History Center (FHC), operated by the Church of Latter Day Saints. Of course, knowing the NARA microfilm numbers you need to look at will help narrow down your search.
Service Record Indexes, 1812 - 1848
1. Index to Compiled Records of Volunteer Soldiers Who Served During the War of 1812: NARA microfilm number M602 (234 rolls). There are also records for Louisiana, NARA microfilm number M229, (3 rolls); Mississippi, NARA microfilm number M678 (22 rolls); North Carolina, M250 (3 rolls); and South Carolina, M652, (7 rolls).
2. Index to Compiled Service Records of Volunteer Soldiers Who Served during the Indian Wars and Disturbances, 1815-58. All of the following are indexes, except Florida which is a compilation of 63 services records:
Alabama, Creek War, 1836-37, NARA microfilm number M244
Alabama, Cherokee removal, 1838, M243
Alabama, Florida War, 1836-38, M245
Florida, Florida War, 1836-56, M1086
Georgia, Cherokee disturbances and removal, 1836-38, M907
Louisiana, Florida War, 1836-38, M239
Louisiana, War of 1837-38, M241
Michigan, Patriot War, 1836-38, M630
New York, Patriot War, 1838, M631
North Carolina, Cherokee disturbances and removal, 1836-38, M256
Tennessee, Cherokee disturbances and removal, 1836-38, M908
3. Index to Compiled Records of Volunteer Soldiers Who Served During the Mexican War, 1846-48: Mississippi, M863; Pennsylvania, M1028; Tennessee, M638; Texas, M278; and the Mormon Battalion, M351.
There is a series of records called the Old War Series Pension Records. They cover pension applicants who were killed or disabled during any war following the Revolutionary War and prior to the Civil War, except the War of 1812. These can be viewed at NARA or at your local FHC. Otherwise, there are Pension record indexes for the time period, including people who served for as little as 14 days. in the War of 1812. These were published in 1989 by the National Historical Publishing Co., compiler Virgil D. White. It is a three-volume index called Index to War of 1812 Pension Files.
Other pension files include those for the Indian Wars. They are classified as Indian Survivors, Indian Survivor Certificates, Indian Widows' Certificates, etc. By the time (1887) Congress got around to awarding pensions for those who served in the Mexican War, restrictions became a little tighter. People had to have served for at least 60 days, and the minimum age for application was 62. These particular records are important because the widow, if filing, had to provide her maiden name, names of former wives (whether divorced or deceased), and the names and dates of birth of living children. The applications were accepted between 1887 and 1926 and are indexed in NARA publication T317. That makes the Mexican War pension files a gold mine for genealogists.
There are other military records available for the time period covered by this article; but, if we added them all it would be a book. Check with NARA or an FHC for prisoner-of-war records, burial records, veterans homes and military census records. Printed volumes are too numerous to mention.
Other Articles in the Series:
- Military Records: American Revolution
- Military Records: The Civil War, 1861-1865
- Military Records: Focus on Confederate Forces in the Civil War
- Military Records: Focus on Union Forces in the Civil War
- Military Records: Spanish American War 1898-1901
- Military Records: 1900s including WWI and WWII
- Military Records: Bounty Lands, Part 1
- Military Records: Bounty Lands, Part 2
- Military Records: Bounty Lands, Part 3
- Military Records: Loyalist Lands