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Finding That Long-Lost Revolutionary War Soldier

Military records of more recent wars are much more complete, but many of those of the American Revolution have suffered irreparable damage.


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Finding a long-lost relative that served in the Revolutionary War can be a challenge to many genealogists. Military records of more recent wars are much more complete, but many of those of the American Revolution have suffered irreparable damage.

If a relative served in the Revolutionary War, his records may be in two separate repositories. If he served in the Continental Army, Navy, or Marine units of the provisional government, his records may be in the National Archives. If he served in any one of the state militias rather than in the Continental service, his record may be in that state's archives, at the National Archives, or both. However, many Revolutionary War records were destroyed by fire. The compiled records that do exist are based on substantial but incomplete collections of papers and records related to the Revolutionary War, which government employees, state historical societies and the like gathered over the years after the fires.

The Continental Government of the United States granted two kinds of veterans benefits– pensions and bounty land. It granted pensions in expanding categories to invalid or disabled veterans, widows and orphans of men who died in service, aged veterans, and aged widows. Thus, researchers will find death or disability pensions and service pensions in these compiled records. These pensions resulted from a series of acts of Congress from 1789 through the

mid-1800s. Although the Federal Government assumed many early pensions that had been granted by certain states, most of the early federal records were destroyed by fires in Washington, D.C., in November, 1800 and August,1814. Therefore, few Revolutionary pension applications in existence date before 1800.

Meanwhile, the Continental Government promised free land as an inducement to men to serve or to continue to serve in the Revolutionary War, because there was insufficient money to pay them. The Continental Congress began this practice with a resolution dated September 16, 1776, which promised free land to those who would serve in the war and to dependents–widows or children–of those who were killed by the enemy. The provisions eventually stipulated that 100 acres would be granted to each enlisted man, and 200 to each lieutenant, and increased by rank

to 1,100 acres to a major general. Congress authorized land warrants, or rights to land, on July 9, 1788, and granted time extensions for perfecting claims in later years. On March 3, 1855, Congress approved the extension of bounty-land warrant benefits, increased the acreage allowance to 160 acres, or a quarter-section, and reduced the minimum service period to 14 days or service in any battle.

It rewarded Naval service in a similar way on May14,1856. Many applications resulted from this expanded eligibility and increased acreage. Mostly descendants of the veterans filed these claims. Prior to these mid-century acts, the U.S. Government converted most warrants for tracts of land in two specific areas: The United States Military District of Ohio, or for federally recognized Virginia warrants in the Virginia Military District of Ohio. Warrant owners were authorized later to exchange these earlier warrants for scrip and to obtain land in other areas of the public domain.

The Index of Revolutionary War Pension Applications, published by the National Genealogical Society facilitates the use of these records when researchers want to obtain copies of pages from pension or bounty-land warrant applications. The entire collection is available on microfilm in some major libraries.

Source Information: Everyday Genealogy, 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.

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