Researching the Civil War Pension Index on FindMyPast


Civil War battle with title Explore the Civil War pension Index on Findmypast

Could your ancestor be in one of the 1 million-plus records that Findmypast has in the Civil War Pension Records?


As you explore the United States Civil War Pension Files Index, 1861-1934, you discover veterans and their beneficiaries' names. You can then use these index records to later order and view the full case files.


Don't let the title of the record fool you. This collection on Findmypast has veterans from conflicts, including the Indian Wars, the Spanish-American War, the Philippine Insurrection, and World War I. However, most pension records document millions of Americans who enlisted into the Union Army during the Civil War.



A Brief History of Pensions in the United States


Congress established plans from the early days of the United States to compensate veterans who served in the military but did not qualify for a retirement pension.


In 1792, Congress established a pension for disabled veterans following the Revolutionary War. In 1818, surviving veterans began receiving a pension without regard to disability.


The American Civil War took a heavy toll on citizens, with over 275,000 Union Army Soldiers were wounded in action. On 14 July 1862, Congress passed the Act to Grant Pensions, which created the formal pension system for veterans who had sustained war-related disabilities. Their compensation depended upon their rank and their injuries.


Widows, children under the age of sixteen, and dependent relatives of soldiers who died in military service also qualified for federal compensation.


If you have African American soldiers who fought in the Union Army, you certainly want to check this collection to determine if they received a pension as they did qualify for assistance.


A helpful website to determine if your ancestor served in the Union Army is the Soldiers and Sailors Database from the National Parks Service.


It's important to note that the federal pensions did not compensate Confederate Soldiers, only Union Volunteers. To find Confederate pensions, you'll contact the relevant state archives listed here.


How much was a Civil War pension?


Initially, a “totally disabled” private received just $8 per month in compensation. This could equate to about $160 in 2019 with a purchasing power of about $1,000.


In 1879, approved pensioners received an initial lump sum to compensate them for the time they left the service due to their disability and the time their application was approved. Then the pensioner received compensation until their death, and their dependents received a monthly income until the widow died and the children reached the age of majority.


In 1890, Congress extended pensions to all Union veterans based on their age and length of service.



How do I find the Pension Index?


You can use Findmypast Card Catalog to navigate to the collection by following these steps:

  • Click Search in the top menu bar.

  • Click All Record Sets.

  • Type "Civil War Pension" in the search box.


Or you can use this direct link: the United States Civil War Pension Files Index 1861-1934.



Watch this video about the Findmypast Civil War Pension File.





What Can You Find on Pension File Index Cards?


While the amount of information varies, each card in the Findmypast index collection contains:

  • date of application

  • the applicant’s name

  • military unit

  • the state he (or his beneficiaries) lived in at the time he applied for the pension, names

  • residence

  • names of any beneficiaries - including widow and children

  • pension application number

  • name of his attorney.


Be advised that the digitized images may be difficult to read. However, Findmypast attempted to interpret the handwriting where possible.


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How Do I Find the Pension Case File?


After you have a pension application number, you should then proceed to find the full case file. These files typically include a host of correspondence, applications, and affidavits that provide insight into your ancestor's service and life after the war. Such items found in pension files include:


  • Petition by the veteran

  • Statement of service from the War Department or the Navy Department

  • Personal history questionnaire,

  • Family questionnaire

  • Affidavits by unit officers and service members attesting to their service and/or injuries.

  • Affidavits from relatives and neighbors attesting to the validity of the claimant's declarations.

  • Where applicable, medical reports describing illness and injuries from attending physicians during and after the war.

  • Proof of marriage - sometimes including certificates and bible pages.

You can order the files directly from the National Archive (NARA). In my experience, you may often obtain these records faster and cheaper if you hire a genealogist to do a look-up. Try my friends at Legacy Tree Genealogists or search for someone at the Association of Professional Genealogists.


If you need help obtaining more records about your Civil War Ancestor, check out our friends over at Legacy Tree Genealogists. Tell them Devon Noel Lee referred you.




More Resources Available on Online


Findmypast has a wealth of genealogy records at your fingertips. Be sure to check out the other conflict-specific collections by searching All Records Sets with only the phrase "Civil War."


To learn more, check out the following posts:


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