Civil War pension records: a treasure trove

Civil War Pension Records are a treasure trove of informationAfter hearing an excellent talk at the NGS conference on what can be found in Civil War pension records stored at the National Archives, I placed an order for the records of three of my four Civil War veteran ancestors. (The fourth fought for the Confederacy, so his pension records would be with his state.) The fee was $80 per ancestor for the complete file and the application process was fairly straightforward. At the end, I was warned to expect it to take 45 to 120 days before I received any information.

Imagine my surprise (and delight) to receive a thick envelope from the National Archives in Washington D.C. today! It contained the pension records for my great great great grandfather, Richard Anderson Jeffries (1823-1914) who served in the Missouri infantry, Company D, 18th Regiment from 1861 to 1864.

I haven’t had a chance to go through the packet yet, but a glance shows me  that there are multiple applications for pensions as well as physicians’ affidavits.

I’m anxious to pore over it and unravel the story these documents tell. Luckily for me, Certified Genealogist Julie Miller, in her excellent talk, Anatomy of a Military Pension, gave step-by-step instructions on how to properly process the information found in these files. So I have my work cut out for me and I can’t wait!

If you have Civil War ancestors who fought for the Union and you have at least $80 to spend, I encourage you to hop over to the National Archives website (that link takes you directly to the application form starting point). If you have information on your ancestor’s military service (I found mine through Ancestry and Fold3), it’s easy to apply to receive a copy of the pension file. Those files have not been digitized, so the only way to look at them is to go to the National Archives or send away for them like I did.

Making migration more visible

A map, cork board, foam core and frame make a great way for me to map my ancestors!I love looking at my genealogy map, which hangs on the wall in my office. Using color-coded pins with little label flags, I pin my ancestors’ birth and death places.

As much as I enjoy adding pins to the map, I probably let a year lapse between pinning sessions. But just the other day I took a little time (as part as my weekly genealogy research commitment) and added ten ancestors to the map. It was a fun exercise — and it was educational too.

Focusing on ancestors’ birth and death places helps me think about migration. Looking at the map makes that migration feel more real.

I added a generation in my latest pinning session, so I now have five generations pinned on my map. I was born in Washington state; as I go back in generations, I go farther east with the pins. (Not a big surprise, I know.)

In this past pinning session, I reached an eastern seaboard state, Georgia. A glance at the map showed me that the distance from Georgia, where my great great grandmother, Margaret Elizabeth Dye, was born, to Alabama, where she died, wasn’t as far as I’d thought. Margaret was born in 1844 in Henry County, Georgia and was married in 1865 in Shelby County, Alabama. Her husband, Laban Taylor Rasco, was born in Alabama and did fight in the Civil War in Georgia, so maybe she was a war bride? (I’m thinking not because there were many Dyes in the cemetery where she is buried in Cullman, Alabama.) These are the kinds of stories I hope to suss out as I look to go deeper, rather than higher, in my family tree.

The map helps bring questions to light, making migration patterns more visible. I know that there are higher-tech ways to do this. But my old-school map and pins make me happy.

It’s not about climbing the tree

It's not about climbing your family treeOne of my takeaways from RootsTech last week was how much one can learn about one’s ancestors by digging deep into the records. I learned techniques for how to use historical maps, military records and tax records to learn more about my ancestors. I can’t wait to dig in.

And that got me thinking: Do I want to learn more about my ancestors or learn about more ancestors? It’s a bit of a quandary. I find myself really excited every time I break into another generation on my tree. I’m anxious to try to verify my initial findings (using unverified sources), for example, that I descend from the Mayflower. I can’t do that if I’m still working in the 19th century.

But I realize that I want to know more about my ancestors than their dates of birth, marriage and death. I’d like to know how they lived, why they migrated, what their military experiences were like, among other things. And that’s going to require locating multiple sources about each ancestor and resisting the temptation to just climb the family tree.

I’m a big fan of spreadsheets and checklists, so I think I’m going to create a checklist of categories of sources to try to find on each ancestor before moving to another. This will also help me when I come back to an ancestor.

I can’t wait to see what I learn!

Photo by Juanjo+Willow via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons License.

Rededicating myself to collateral lines

reunionchildrenWhen I rebooted my genealogy research a few years ago and started my family tree from scratch, adding only those people for whom I had verified source information, I focused on my direct-line ancestors. That approach felt less overwhelming, less tedious, and it allowed me to move up my family tree more quickly, which felt rewarding.

In August 2013, I pondered whether I should be adding collateral lines (the siblings of my direct ancestors) and concluded it would be a good idea. I started adding children I found on censuses, properly sourcing them, of course. It did prove to be a bit tedious and it sort of dropped off my radar.

Then I took an Ancestry DNA test and transferred my DNA results to Family Tree DNA. Since then I’ve been contacted by a number of distant cousins. While I’m still trying to figure out how to use the DNA results to further my research, one thing has become very apparent: Having those siblings in my family tree would help me, as well as these cousins, figure out our relationships.

I’d like at the very least to have their name and approximate birth dates, easily obtainable from my ancestors’ census records. More information would be great, and maybe I’ll do more research on these siblings eventually, but right now I’m setting my sights on names and birth dates and states.

So I’m going for it. I’ve moved the goal of adding collateral lines to each family to the top of my list of things to accomplish when I’m focusing on a certain line. I’d added a sheet called Siblings Entered to my progress tracker. (I was glad to see that I’ve already entered the siblings of eleven ancestors; it’s a start.) The clues these collateral lines will give me should make them less tedious to enter. At last, I’m really seeing the value of the effort.

I look forward to having a more robust family tree!