Family Tree Friday: More Unexpected Finds in Military Pensions

Last week John showed you an example of an unusual find in a pension record – a Fraktur which was used by a widow or other dependent to prove their relationship to a deceased soldier – and asked if anyone had found anything else unusual or revealing.  Even more “typical” documents can reveal a lot of information about the daily life of a pensioner or his family,  something you might not otherwise find. 

William Graham was 64 years old when he submitted this document in support of his Revolutionary War pension application in 1820.  The pension laws in effect then required him to prove not only his service, but also his need for monetary support.  The inventory seen here lists his personal property. 

He owned very little, including two hogs valued at $5.00, and a broken kettle worth 18 cents.  The total value of his property was $10.53½.  In a letter that follows the inventory, he writes that he and his wife are too old and ill to work, and that he also needs to support an unmarried daughter who lives with them.

You can see the rest of William Graham’s pension application on, to learn more about his wife, Mary, and their children as well as his military service from 1777 to 1783. Similar records for other Revolutionary War veterans can be found in NARA’s series “Case Files of Pension and Bounty-Land Warrant Applications Based on Revolutionary War Service,” ARC ID 300022.

What else have you found in a pension record that reveals information about the daily life of your ancestor?

9 thoughts on “Family Tree Friday: More Unexpected Finds in Military Pensions

  1. My ancestor Obediah Underwood served in the Civil War (Co K, 43rd Ohio vol Infantry) and was wounded at Salkehatchie River South Carolina in February 1865. His left arm was amputated at the shoulder and his pension file includes a photo of Obediah, bare chested, as evidence of his disability. I have a jpg of this photo but am not sure how to attach it, if you’re interested.

    1. Hi Merleen, It sounds like you found a great record for your ancestor. I always get excited when I find unexpected photos in the records. They may be the only photos of your ancestor, and you won’t know they are there until you open the file.

  2. My friend and I were recently talking about how we as a society are so hooked onto electronics. Reading this post makes me think back to that debate we had, and just how inseparable from electronics we have all become.

    I don’t mean this in a bad way, of course! Ethical concerns aside… I just hope that as technology further advances, the possibility of transferring our brains onto a digital medium becomes a true reality. It’s a fantasy that I daydream about every once in a while.

    (Posted on Nintendo DS running R4i SDHC DS SPPost)

  3. I want to see the Revolutionary War pension file of John JOHNSON, Matross in Lamb’s Artillery, imprisoned for a time following the Battle of Quebec, resident of Dover, Dutchess County, NY.

    That the man received a pension is clear: pension payment records, NYS Historian records, US Federal Census Pension Schedule, etc. Although there are a lot of service records for the man, I could not a pension file for him on FootNote. There are other NYS John Johnsons, but as far as I can make out, this the only Matross in the whole RW named John Johnson. Are the pension records on FootNote exhaustive? Where can I look next for JJ’s records?

    Thank you.

    1. Hi Julia,

      I found a reference to John Johnson’s record on the microfilm. He received a Bounty Land warrant due to his service in Lamb’s Artillery. Unfortunately, there is only a single card. The rest of the documentation was presumed to have been destroyed during a fire at the War Department in November 1800. The card indicates that the warrant number was 7318, and was issued to a John Watkins (assignee) on September 1, 1791.

      As for why this card didn’t appear on – it should have, and I don’t know why it didn’t. I’m going to poke around a little more and see if it was just misindexed, or if it really isn’t there at all. In either case, I’ll let know about the problem.

      – Katherine

  4. I’m sorry not to have mentioned it, but yes, the bounty land card DID appear on FootNote, as well as service records. I also obtained company rosters and payment records through ancestry.

    What I’d been hoping to get is the actual pension application file with its possible background & family info, summary of his military experience, and legal affidavits of friends and family.

    I didn’t know about this 1880 fire. No doubt, that’s bad news for many people. An historian I know recently told me that there’s an microfilmed index of all RW pensions, but if John Johnson’s was destroyed in a fire, I guess it won’t be there, either.

    He’s back to MAYBE being my G5GF!

    Thanks for looking into this for me.

  5. Hmmm – You didn’t say “1880” fire, you said “1800” fire. Presumably, the pension application file would have been created AFTER 1800. Yes or am I hopelessly confused?

    1. Hi Julia,

      The fire was in 1800, and a large number of the earliest pension and bounty land files were destroyed. Since John Johnson’s bounty land warrant was assigned in 1791, his file is among those destroyed. It’s possible that there was more to John Johnson’s file than just the bounty land (i.e. the normal things you expect in a pension file), but if there was anything else it would have been destroyed as well. That’s because the pension and bounty land records are interfiled.

      The Revolutionary War pension and bounty land records are on microfilm, and there is a printed index that was made from the microfilm. When I looked into this a couple of weeks ago, I checked both. The microfilm is where I found the index card that mentions the fire. It’s the same card that you saw on Footnote (which I somehow missed!), as they digitized our microfilm.

      Since the federal records didn’t survive, you might want to try the New York State Archives. It’s possible that there are state level records which document John Johnson’s pension. See their website.

      – Katherine

  6. How about some photos and information on Sioux Medicineman Sitting Bull, world renowned. How about anything on Buffalo Bill Cody’s world-famous Wild West Show, that performed before millions of people. More on Cody Himself, picture of Wild Bill Hickok wouldn’t hurt. Thank you. Author Donald L. Gilmore

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