Processing Civil War pension files

Processing civil war pension filesAs 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:

[278] 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.)

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!



Document everything

Document everything in your genealogy researchReason number 33,662 that you should document everything in your genealogy research: You can’t rely on your memory.

Today, I was trying to verify which ancestor of mine had fought in the Civil War as a substitute. I remember finding his records on and seeing the document that designated him as a substitute for an individual of means who could afford to pay my ancestor to fight in his place. I thought it was Benjamin Franklin Igleheart, my great-great grandfather. But when I looked at his record in my software, I found no notation whatsoever about that.

At least I remembered having found a substitute soldier, even if I couldn’t remember who it was. So I looked through the records in Reunion of all my male ancestors who were born at a time where they might have served. Nothing. I tried searching on Reunion but got nowhere. So I finally walked across the room and pulled out B.F. Igleheart’s paper file. There it was: all the info that I had printed out, but not otherwise documented. Bad researcher!

If I had finished going through the paper files of the Adams ancestors, I would have found this info and documented it. But that process probably won’t be finished for quite some time.

I’m so glad I have committed to documenting everything by entering information into my software, with source citation, and creating electronic files of the digital images of the documents. I am conforming to my file naming convention and I’m tagging the digital files so I don’t have to have my papers file to find something.

I used to believe that I would never forget certain facts I’ve learned through my genealogy research. As those facts add up (and my research grows), I know that’s just simply the case. Now all I have to remember is to enter everything into my Reunion software and tag and properly file all my electronic files.

Pin the tail on the family tree

igleheart1900Today I had a little time to do some genealogy research, but I couldn’t decide what to work on. So I opened my family tree in my Reunion software, looking for inspiration. I noted the right sidebar had a listing of people on my tree, sorted alphabetically by last name.

I closed my eyes, scrolled up and down a few times on the sidebar and then clicked. The person I landed on was Martha Jane Ellis (1845-1919), my great great grandmother. I set to work looking at her record, looking for missing information. I pulled out the file folder for Martha and her husband, Benjamin Franklin Igelheart (1845-1913) and continuing the process of marrying my paper and electronic files. I also started adding information on siblings into Reunion, something I didn’t do in my first recording of data.

Randomizing my selection feels like a nice piece of serendipity. I sometimes prefer that to a systematic approach. It feels more fun to me and this is all about fun, right?

Finding Civil War ancestors

If you have male ancestors born between about 1820 and 1850 and who lived in the U.S., I encourage you to look into their military records! I have been able to find large packets of information on two Civil War ancestors through These are images of forms filled out by hand–Civil War Muster Roll, Pension Files and other documents. is a membership site. I paid only $40 for a year’s membership, though I think I got in on some kind of special. In just finding documents for two ancestors (there are probably more!), I feel I got my money’s worth.

A month or two ago, I found information on Benjamin Franklin Igleheart, my great great grandfather, on my father’s side. As I read his  Compiled Service Record, which consists of 15 pages of printed forms, filled in by hand, a story unfolded. I learned that he entered the war as a substitute. In other words, he was paid to serve for someone else (a man named Jacob Gish) who was drafted. He was only 18 and I guess had managed not get drafted himself. Thankfully, he survived that experience. I found the concept of a paid substitute an eye opener.

This weekend, I researched my great great great grandfather (on my mother’s side), Richard Anderson Jeffries. I was able to find his Compiled Service Record (29 pages!) and watched his story unfold as I read backward through time. I learned that on October 1, 1864, his rank was reduced from First Sergeant to Private. And on October 4, 1864, he was hospitalized in Atlanta, Georgia (with no indication why), where he appeared to reside until his discharge, due to the expiration of his term of service, on November 14, 1864. That’s mysterious. I’d love to find out why he was demoted. I also learned, that he went missing in action during the Battle of Shiloh on April 6, 1862 and was compensated upon his return for seven months as a prisoner of war. Wow. Now I want to learn more about that battle and about what conditions he might have endured as a prisoner.

To find this information, I needed to know the military unit my ancestors fought with. A good starting place to find that information is the Civil War Soldiers and Sailors Database from the National Park Service. Searching for Richard Jeffries turned up two possibilities in Missouri, where I knew my Richard lived at the time. There was one record for a Richard Jeffries in the Home Guard in Putnam County (his county) and another for serving in 18th Regiment, Missouri Infantry. I took that info to Fold3 and found his records. I was able to verify that the 18th Regiment, Missouri Infantry was him, since his death date was on the included pension form. (This was also the regiment listed in the genealogy compilation book I’d found online a couple of weeks ago, which gave me confidence.) I’m not certain if he’s also the Richard Jeffries in the Putnam County Home Guard. That will take a little more digging.

Both these ancestors fought on the Union side, so I only have experience with Union records. Your experience may be different if you’re researching ancestors who fought for the confederacy.

If you haven’t yet researched your Civil War ancestors, I think you’re in for a treat. I was amazed at how easily I found really exciting information that I was able to verify. Fold3 has been a goldmine for me, well worth the investment.