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Family Tree Friday: War of 1812 Pension Files Online

by on July 6, 2012


June 18, 2012–the anniversary of the U.S. declaration of war against Great Britain–marked the official start of the bicentennial of the War of 1812.  To help celebrate that anniversary and bring attention to one of America’s lesser known conflicts, let’s take a look at some of the records of that war, starting with an essential and perennial favorite: the War of 1812 pension application files.

Everyone generally knows by now that pension files offer some of the most fruitful information available for genealogy, and the 1812 files are no exception.  Applications files by veterans of the war often contain details about their military service, sometimes even minute tidbits that don’t show up in their compiled service records.  Something I discovered in the pension for my own 1812 ancestor, Daniel Heilman, who served in the 71st Regiment of Pennsylvania Militia, was that he claimed to have been “drafted” into the service–I suspect he probably meant “enlisted” since there was no formal military draft in the U.S. until the Civil War–and that he marched down to Marcus Hook below Philadelphia in the fall of 1814 to help repel a suspected landing of British troops.  None of that is mentioned in his service record, but Daniel’s pension has it in his own words!

The applications for widows and dependents often prove to be even more valuable, because they had to prove their relationship to the deceased veteran.  In those cases, personal family documents, such as marriage certificates, baptismal records, and even pages taken from family Bibles were sent in as evidence and became part of the official record.  The applicants had no idea they would never get those precious family records back, and so the pension files often provide the only available source to locate such missing records.

The 1812 pension files are formally part of Record Group 15, Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs, in the series “War of 1812 Pension and Bounty-Land Warrant Application Files” (RG 15, Entry 22; ARC 564415), and include over 180,000 case files relating to claims based on service between 1812 and 1815.  Until recently, the only way to research these records was to visit the National Archives in person or request a copy of the file through the mail.  A massive digitization project is now underway, sponsored jointly by the National Archives, the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS), and Ancestry.com, to put color scans of these files on Fold3.com.  About 3% of the files (over 250,000 documents) have been scanned so far, and you can follow the progress and view the posted images on Fold3.  Digitization offers an invaluable way to improve access to important historical resources, so please check back often on the 1812 pensions, browse the files, and learn the wonderful stories they hold about America’s “Second War of Independence”!


Comments

Vicky July 7, 2012 at 10:15 am

This is great news. So glad to hear this valuable resource is becoming more accessible.

Anon July 10, 2012 at 3:21 pm

Fold3.com, formerly footnote.com, was bought out by Ancestry.com several months ago, hence the name change.

Judy Luis-Watson July 13, 2012 at 9:47 am

Great collaborative access project! I’m curious–where is this digitization taking place, and who is doing the actual work?

Rebecca July 16, 2012 at 8:40 am

We should also mention that the National Archives is receiving a free copy of these files and we are posting them in the Archival Research Catalog.

Dave July 29, 2012 at 7:18 pm

I am ready to order one not digitized yet. Are these only at NARA DC, or might a NARA branch have them too? Just looking for the fastest way to get this one.

Thanks!

Dave July 29, 2012 at 7:29 pm

I have information about a military warrant 70862 for 160 acres in Michigan issued to the widow under the 1855 Scripwarrant Act. Should there be an application for this that would have genealogical info?

Thanks.

John July 30, 2012 at 1:37 pm

Hi Dave,

In reply to both of your comments: the original War of 1812 pension files are only located at the main National Archives Building in downtown Washington, DC. Since you are sending in a reproduction request, it will go directly to the reference staff in DC and processed there, which typically takes 6-8 weeks. Regarding the bounty land warrant, there will be an application from the widow, which is usually very similar to pension applications. Since it was made by the widow, it should include relevant genealogical data because she would have had to prove her relationship to the deceased soldier.

Good luck with your research!

John

Mary C February 23, 2013 at 11:41 am

Looking for info on James PSnow, 1st Ga militia Harris regiment. Died 1-27-1914 at Fort Defiance in Alabama and his widow Hannah Arrant Snow in Lincoln Co Georgia

Tom May 31, 2013 at 7:59 pm

The complete 1812 pension files seem to be appearing on Fold3 in alphabetical order, yet I’ve seen a number of files listed in the index on Ancestry that are not showing up on Fold3, though others of the same surnames (and state) have. Can anyone explain this?

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