As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I received my 3d great grandfather’s Civil War pension files from the National Archives in record time. I’d been prepared to wait 45 to 120 days and it arrived the week after I submitted the request online.
I dug right in and started processing the information. I was so grateful that I had attended the class Anatomy of a Military Pension, presented by Certified Genealogist Julie Miller at the National Genealogical Society’s annual conference that month. She provided step-by-step instructions of what to do with a military pension.
So the day after I received that 65-page pension file, I did what Julie suggested. I put the documents in chronological order and I assigned a number to each. Then I figured out a citation for the overall file and a citation for each of the numbered documents.
Coming up with a proper citation was a bit of a challenge and I emailed Julie, who was kind enough to share the citation she uses for these files. (She had given us that info in the talk, but I hadn’t written it down.)
Here’s the citation I’m using for the overall pension file for my ggggrandfather, Richard Anderson Jeffries:
 Jeffries, Richard Anderson (1st Sgt., Company D, 13th Regiment, Missouri Volunteer Infantry, Civil War), application no. 567612, certificate no. 529585, Case Files of Approved Pension Applications, 1861-1934; Civil War and Later Pension Files; Department of Veteran Affairs, Record Group 15; National Archives, Washington, D.C.
278 was the next number in my source list in Reunion, my family tree software. Each of the individual documents is numbered, starting with 1, and has its own citation. My intention is that when I enter a fact into Reunion, I’ll use Source 278, but I’ll include in the memo field which of the 26 individual documents that particular fact came from.
I created citation labels for each of the documents and affixed them to the appropriate pages. (That’s the citation for document 16 above.) Then I scanned the whole document into a pdf. I elected to have one pdf, rather than 26 individual ones–time will tell whether that was a good choice. (Edited to add a year later: Yes! That was a great choice.)
The next step, according to Julie is to transcribe the documents. Yes, I’m going to type word for word exactly what is on the documents. Julie urged us not to skip that step because when we transcribe, we learn things we would not otherwise learn.
After I transcribe, I will abstract the documents, so I can tell at a glance what they are and what info is contained within each.
Then I’ll analyze the documents and enter the new-found facts into my software.
That’s a lot of work, but I’m delighted to have learned how to be thorough with it. And I know I’ll learn so much about my ancestor.
I am so grateful to have this structure, because just a few days after receiving Richard Anderson Jeffries’s file, I received the pension file for my gggrandfather, George Washington Adams. That file is over 100 pages; I had to request and pay for the rest of the file (another 80 pages) to be copied–I’m still waiting for part two. That same week I received the third and final pension file, for another gggrandfather, Benjamin Franklin Igleheart. All three pension files, probably 250 pages, came within two weeks of my request.
If I did not have the structure Julie provided in that talk to thoroughly process the information, I know I would feel overwhelmed. I would probably skim the documents, pluck out a few easy-to-find facts, and put them away intending to get to them later. And I don’t know when later would be.
I have skimmed the most recently received pension files to get a preview what I’m going to learn. (G.W. Adams had a big dispute about the amount of his pension–an adversary in the Soldier’s Home turned him in for saying he was more disabled than he was!) But I’m not going to analyze them until I’m finished with Richard Anderson Jeffries. So that will be motivation to go through the process.
I think these pension files are going to be a great learning experience not just about my ancestors, but also about doing proper genealogical research. This feels great!