C and XC Pension Files for the Civil War

UPDATE: The custodial information presented in this post may be out of date. Please visit the Civil War Military Records Research page on archives.gov for information on how to order Civil War Pension Files.

The following is a guest blog from Diane Dimkoff, director of the Customer Services Division.

Detail of Authorization of Pension Petition, August 8, 1893
Detail of Authorization of Pension Petition, August 8, 1893

Most Union Army soldiers, their widows, or minor children applied for a pension. In rare cases, a dependent father or mother applied for a pension. The pension application file will often contain a statement of service prepared by the Adjutant General’s Office and it may contain medical information if the soldier lived for a number of years after the war. To obtain a widow’s pension, the widow had to provide proof of marriage, such as a copy of the record kept by county or local officials, or by affidavit from the minister or some other person. Applications on behalf of the soldier’s minor children had to supply both proof of the soldier’s marriage and proof of the children’s birth. Researchers can order copies of Civil War and later pension applications by using the form NATF 85, “Order for copies of Federal Pension or Bounty Land Warrant Applications.”

There are several indexes to the Civil War and Later pensions. The most important and frequently used is the name index. It is available as a NARA microfilm publication (T288, General Index to Pension Files). It was scanned by Ancestry.com and is available for free at all NARA facilities and to subscribers at: www.ancestry.com

The online pension index is a digitized copy of the index used by the National Archives to retrieve pension files for copying. Not all of the index cards are reproduced on Ancestry.com.  Cards that were too dark to read were not included on Ancestry.com.  The majority of the dark cards relate to Navy pensions.  The index cards include information that can be used to identify a particular soldier. The cards may include the unit(s) in which the soldier served, a widow or other dependant’s name (if they applied), and the state where the application originated.

There are actually five separate series of Civil War and later pension files. There are two series of applications that were rejected and never converted to certificates of pension. These series are the soldier’s or survivor’s original (SO) application and the widow’s original (WO). These files tend to be thinner but that is not always the case. Sometimes a soldier or a widow kept reapplying each time the laws became liberalized, and the files are very rich. There are three series of certificate files: soldier’s certificates (SC); widow’s certificates (WC), which include minor child and indigent parents; and certificates (C or XC).

The pension case file is filed under the last certificate number. If a soldier applied for a pension based on wounds or illness suffered while in the service, his application file got a number (SO) in the soldier original series. Once the pension office had reviewed the application and decided that the soldier was an invalid and deserved a pension, they gave him a certificate number and moved the entire application file into the soldiers’ certificate file series (SC) soldier certificate files under the new SC number. The original application number (SO) became void. When the soldier died if his widow applied to have the benefits continued her application was given a new number (WO) widow’s original. Once the claim for continued benefits was approved, the entire file was given a new number as a widow’s certificate (WC). Minor children and invalid parents’ claims were processed in the same way as a widow’s claim. This system continued until the beginning of the 20th century. The pension office decided to stop moving files around and to create a single pension series of certificate (“C”) files. Old numbers of active files were given either an XC or a C number. Active files of soldiers were given new C file numbers and active files for widows and dependants were give XC file numbers. These new file numbers (C & XC) appear at the bottom of the Pension Index Cards.  Pension files (C and XC files) are filed together in sequence.

In some cases, we know that we don’t have files for a soldier in the index. The files usually have a C or XC pension claim number and were still active files after circa 1928. The C or XC pension file number should appear at the bottom of the index card. There are a lot of C and XC files that we do not have. If there was anyone still alive who had a claim against the pension in roughly 1928, then NARA probably won’t have the file. It was still an active record and therefore is still in the legal custody of what is now the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA).

Originally, we told researchers to contact their local VA office with the C or XC pension number and provide any other identifying information on the soldier. Today, we would advise them not to include the name of the war. We advised them to write: “I am requesting that you conduct a Beneficiary Identification and Records Locator System (BIRLS) search for the file and retrieve it for my use from the Federal Records Center where it is currently housed. Procedures for recall of records from Federal Records Centers are found in VA Handbook 6300.1, Chapter six, Part five.”   The VA will retrieve the file and either 1. Make the researcher a copy or, 2. Invite the researcher to their office to review the file. The request should be made under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to Department of Veterans Affairs, Veterans Benefits Administration (20M33), 810 Vermont Avenue, NW, Washington, DC, 20420.

The historic C and XC files (Civil War, Spanish American War, etc.) are filed in the same series as World War I and World War II era pension files in VA custody in the record centers. So one box may contain files from the Civil War, Spanish American War, Philippine War, World War I and World War II.  They are bar coded with the number. There is no way to isolate the Civil War claims from World War I and World War II without the number. Once researchers send a FOIA request to VA, the VA conducts a BIRLS search, locates the file, sends the file to VA Headquarters, copies the file, sends the copy to the researcher, and then eventually sends the file to NARA. We (NWCT1) receive the files in batches every year or two when a couple thousand C and XC files are legally transferred to us.

Currently, the National Archives is in the process of reappraising as permanent the XC files that have closed since 1928 and are currently in the custody of the VA. When completed, this project will allow the accessioning of XC files 60 years after their transfer to Federal Records Centers. This will bring a large number of pension and other claims records into the National Archives and should simplify the search process for those records by eliminating the FOIA request to the VA. We do not currently have a timetable for the completion of the reappraisal project, but we have verbal concurrence from the VA that it will occur.

56 thoughts on “C and XC Pension Files for the Civil War

  1. Thank you for posting this information. I have had difficulty in obtaining two pension files for Civil War veterans and their widows who lived well into the mid-20th century. Personnel at the state VA have not been forthcoming with copies of the record or information helping me to obtain copies. The information contained in this blog may hold the key to finally obtaining copies of the files.

    1. Debra – I’m glad to hear that the information in the post was helpful. Good luck with your search for the pension files!

      – Rebecca

  2. Hi Rebecca,

    Thank you for the informative article. I’ve seen a pension card from Footnote’s “Civil War and Later Veterans Pension Index” for Charles R. Robinson of New Jersey, Widow’s App #494204, date of filing 22 Jul 1890. In the bottom left hand corner it says “HAE” and also has a crossed out “JM” in the same box. Can you tell me what kind of file that would be and if I would still use NATF 85 to order it?

    Thank you.

    1. Joanne – I am not familiar with that notation. I’ll check with our reference staff and let you know what I find out.

      – Rebecca

    2. Joanne – Katherine, one of our bloggers and a member of the Customer Services Staff, tells me that the marks you asked about are initials of the clerk who filled out the card. We don’t know why the other initials are crossed out. Perhaps another clerk had pre-initialed a bunch of cards and a different clerk used one of them. You would use form NATF 85 if you want to order this pension file.

      – Rebecca

  3. Thanks for the information. If I have an XC pension application number, I’m still confused as to whether to write to my regional VA office with the text you suggest, or to the Washington DC office. Thanks!

    1. Mary – Whether you should write to the VA or to the National Archives will depend on when the pension claim was last active. If there was anyone still alive who had a claim against the pension in roughly 1928 or later, then the pension file is most likely still in the legal custody of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA).

      – Rebecca

  4. I guess I was really curious whether I would have better luck with my local VA office or the VA office in Washington DC. I appreciate your replies and your great blog entry!

    1. Mary – Sorry about that. I misinterpreted your earlier question. Your request to the VA should be made under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to Department of Veterans Affairs, Veterans Benefits Administration (20M33), 810 Vermont Avenue, NW, Washington, DC, 20420. As we mentioned in the post on NARAtions, we suggest you include the following statement in your request: “I am requesting that you conduct a Beneficiary Identification and Records Locator System (BIRLS) search for the file and retrieve it for my use from the Federal Records Center where it is currently housed. Procedures for recall of records from Federal Records Centers are found in VA Handbook 6300.1, Chapter six, Part five.”

      – Rebecca

  5. Thank you so much for this information. I now have hope to find the records I so desire. Since my relative lived until 1946 and did receive a pension none of the information on her could be found and I was lost trying to find out what had happened to the records. I do have one question for you. Did the widow have to reapply to continue receiving the benefit from her husband’s service? If so how often and where? Would these records be recorded at the county and State level like the RW records are or not?

    1. Hi Susan,

      Thanks very much for your response! We’re glad you found the pension information helpful. As far as widow’s pensions are concerned, the widow needed to apply after the death of her husband in order to continue receiving benefits under his military service. Whenever the pension laws changed (which occurred frequently) , she would have needed to reapply to receive any change in benefits (particularly increases in payments). The good thing is, all those records would still be consolidated into the same pension file (so there’s no need to track down multiple files), and they would have been sent via local pension offices to the VA in Washington. I’m not aware there was ever any requirement to record pension applications at the county or state level, but nothing is ever 100% certain! So, if you think your county court house might have kept a docket book of local pensioners, by all means check with the county recorder’s office.

  6. my mother in law was a pensioneerfor ex asc soldier india after retirement he joined govmnt press faridabad jindia then he died in 1991 tell me she is eligible for two pensions. thanks

  7. I’ve read through this a few times because I still wonder about a man I’ve been researching off and on for a few years. He was dead by 1916 (probably around 1908, but that’s really just a guess). When Footnote.com opened up the Civil War files for free, I searched for him again and didn’t find him. I did obtain his service record, but no pension file. Do you suppose he’s just on one of those darned illegible entry cards?

    1. Jude – It is possible that the index card for the man for whom you are searching is one that was not digitized. It is also possible that he never applied for or received a pension for his Civil War service. You may wish to check the microfilmed versions of the index cards. The microfilms may be viewed at the National Archives in Washington, DC and some of our Regional Archives. They may also be available at local Family History Centers. If you haven’t done so already, you may also wish to submit a request for the pension file. More information about requesting pension files can be found on our web site.

      Best of luck with your research.


  8. Thank you for posting this information. I have had difficulty in obtaining two pension files for Civil War veterans and their widows who lived well into the mid-20th century. Personnel at the state VA have not been forthcoming with copies of the record or information helping me to obtain copies. The information contained in this blog may hold the key to finally obtaining copies of the files.
    Dinar Iraqi

  9. I have copies of pension documents for my GG Grandfather that my grandmother obtained. Is there any way to tell if these represent the complete file? The pension index card has two application/certificate #’s, one for an invalid pension (1896) and another for the widows pension (1915). I know some of the documents are for the widows pension. If I don’t have all the documents I’d like to order the complete file, but don’t want to spend the money to order one only to find out I already have all there is.


    1. Hi Brian,

      There’s really no way to tell if you have the full file or not. However, if there aren’t a lot of pages, that could be a clue – people can request a “pension document packet” from us. This is a subset of the full file, and should contain things like the soldier’s (and widow’s) declaration of pension, statements of service, and questionnaires completed by the applicants. The pension document packet usually consists of 8 pages from the file. We’ve offered this partial file for a long time, although it’s gone by different names. Depending on when your grandmother ordered the record, it may have been the only option on the form. If you only have 8 or so pages, I would assume that you only have the pension documents packet.

      We can’t check the record before you request it, but you can always hire a private researcher. While they will charge you, you should be able to find someone who can check the record and make copies if necessary for a fair fee.

      – Katherine

  10. If the records are held at NARA in DC, can one request to see the original packet of information? And if it contains valuable info, will NARA copy it while you visit?

    1. Hi Joel,

      If NARA holds the file, you can view the original Civil War pension in DC. There are some exceptions (for example, most of the Navy pensions are on microfiche), but you should be able to view most of the records. You will be able to make copies on self-serve photocopiers – so you can copy the entire file or just a few pages. For preservation purposes, staff in the research room will need to check the pages before you copy them.

      – Katherine

  11. Ol’ Myrt here had the pleasure of visiting with family history missionaries at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building (in Salt Lake City, Utah) and those connecting via the Internet for my virtual presentation NARA: Union Civil War Pension Files. The class was designed for those who had not had experience with this record group. Fortunate for me as a researcher, this hotly contested widow’s application included numerous affidavits and depositions from siblings of both the soldier and his wife, providing considerable evidence about extended family members.Because she chose to live with a series of other men while her veteran husband was confined to the National Military Home in Leavenworth, Kansas, the widow and her youngest child were denied benefits. Another individual was appointed to administer the benefits to the older minor children.

  12. Hi,

    I found the index card for my Civil War ancestor’s son’s request for Pension and all it shows is the son’s address and a 5 digit number preceded by “R”. With this scant information would I still be able to request the pension file? Thanks, Drew

    1. Hi Drew,

      What you actually have here is a civilian rather than a military pension (they were designated with an R number). Your ancestor’s son probably performed some type of service in a civilian capacity for the federal government during the Civil War (civilian teamsters, for example, were commonly employed by the military). You can still request the pension file with the information you have, but the process is a bit different since these pension files are kept in offsite storage in Boyers, Pennsylvania; they are not filed with the other Civil War military pensions held at the National Archives Building in Washington, DC. There is no standard form to request these pensions, so you just need to send a letter requesting a copy of the file, including the name of the pensioner and the file number you found on the index card, to Iron Mountain, PO Box 45, Boyers, PA 16017. Good luck!

      – John

  13. I found my gg-grandfather’s Pension Card on Footnote. I don’t know which form (85 or 86) to fill out to get his Pension File and/ or Widows Pension file. He died in 1924 and was a Civil war Vet. I have been told that there is more info on the Widows’ Pension file. If this is true, then what form do I need to fill out and what number (application number or Certificate number) do i include when I fill out for these records from the National Archives. He was on the Union side. Thanks! Deborah

    1. Hi Deborah,

      To request your gg-grandfather’s Civil War pension, use Form 85, and include all the pertinent certificate numbers. If the veteran and his widow both had pensions, their records will be consolidated into one file.

      – John

  14. Thank you for your informative article! I just received a copy of my gggrandfather’s complete pension file; however, some of the documents I was hoping to receive are not in the file. (I know the documents are missing because I have a cousin who shared several scanned pages from her complete pension file copy of our gggrandfather. I wanted my own copy.) I did order the complete pension file and am wondering why I did not receive copies of the documents that my cousin received. Does the completeness of the file depend on the researcher at the National Archives? Frustrating.


    1. Hi Christina,

      A typical pension reproduction request should include the complete file, so we can certainly look into this for you. If you could please send an email to inquire@nara.gov with the pension file information you requested and identify the pages you believe are missing, our reference staff will be able to check the file for you.

      Thank you!
      Meredith (admin)

  15. I am trying to order two pension files, one for World War I, the other for World War II. Both are for my and my wife’s ancestors. I received claim numbers for the files from the V.A. They told me they do not have access to the records anymore, that NARA does and that the files are at the NPRC at Valmeyer, IL, known as Location 061. Could I contact Valmeyer directly for copies?


  16. 11 months ago I requested a Civil War Pension file from the VA. I have received 2 letters and 2 post cards containing a FOIAX number from the Baltimore, MD office. I have heard nothing since July 2011. How long does one of these requests take? The phone number 1-800-827-1000 they provided has no options for my kind of request. I can not get a human being to answer.

    Thank you for your help.

  17. Judy, I’m having the same experience you are. I sent my request in August 2011 and was told the NARA did not have it (they did say the should and someday may aquire it) so it was sent to the VA. They sent it to a different VA office and they sent it to the Baltimore office. I have heard nothing sense. I’ve just written a letter asking about the status and will mail it tomorrow. Hopefully I’ll get some kind of response.

    1. Daniel and Judy,

      Although we can’t speak for the VA, we’re generally aware that it takes months to process a request relating to “retired” Civil War pension files. So please hang in there and by all means you should follow up on the status of your order. Also, please be certain that your original request was sent as a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request; the VA requires a written FOIA request in order to initiate a search for a Civil War file. Good luck with your research!


  18. Looking for a widow and minor child pension file for the Civil War. The soldier was in the KY Confederate army, serving from the 1861-1865. However the pension was filed for June 12, 1894 in Missouri. My question is do I order the pension files from the National Archives or do I visit the Kentucky Department of Libraries and Archives to see the pension files? I read the notice about Confederate Solider Pensions being in the Kentucky Library files, but since it wasn’t filed with the years of 1861-1865 I got a little confused on where I would locate the file. Are all KY Confederate Soldier pension files at the KY Dept. of Libraries & Archives regardless of when they were filed? or are they in the National Archives since pension was filed for in 1893? Thanks in advance for any help!

    1. Hi Jatana,

      Here’s the general rule of thumb regarding Confederate pensions: the National Archives does not have them since they were issued by the states rather than the Federal Government. So, all Confederate pension files are located in the respective state archives, but it depends on where the Confederate veteran was living at the time that he filed, NOT the state that he served during the war. So in your case, the pension filed in Missouri on June 12, 1894 should be at the Missouri State Archives, even though the soldier served from Kentucky. The contact info for the Missouri State Archives is 600 W. Main, P.O. Box 1747, Jefferson City, MO 65102; phone: 573-751-3280; e-mail: archref@sosmail.state.mo.us.

      Good luck with your research!


  19. I’ve had my ggrandfather’s Civil War records since the early 80’s before everything went live. My question is relative to his wife who did receive a widow’s pension. She was declared non compos mentis and her pension was sent to the State hospital where she was housed. While I requested a copy of her pension file and received some papers, I would seriously like to have court documents that were provided (relative to the pension) to the government in support.
    Additionally, and relative to a previous query, I was at NARA/Pacific Region/Perris and decided I would look at my great grandfather’s records even though I had obtained them so many years earlier. I am so glad that I did, because I found a record relative to him being a prisoner of war. I had not been sent a copy of that document and Washington sent me to separate packets of documents. Thanks for your blog, the very interesting questions and the great responses.

    1. Hi Ann,

      If the pension file itself did not include copies of the court papers relating to the widow’s mental status, then it might be hard to say where to locate them if we don’t know the specifc court that ruled on her competancy. It most likely would have been a local court, but again I’m not sure what type of court would have had jurisdiction over such matters. I’m also not certain if the War Department required copies of those documents to prove her eligibility for the pension (since those rights were based on the husband’s military service, she would have been entitled to it regardless of her mental status). Pension lawyers working on her behalf, or for whoever had power of attorney over her, probably arranged for the payments to be made directly to the State hospital. I think the best place to look for such court documents would be at the local county courthouse.

      Regarding your great grandfather’s status as a prisoner of war, we do have POW records from the Civil War, but we would need to have more specific information to search further. Check to see if the document in your possession has any references to specific registers or other types of records for a particular prison. If those records still exist, there may be addition information about your ancestor.

      Good luck with your research!


  20. After a 25-year quest (following the VA guidelines), I have still not been able to obtain my great-grandfather’s XC Civil War pension file. Any new advice?

  21. Looking for Civil War Widow’s pension file. Is it possible to request civil war widow’s pension file if her husband’s name is unknown? Widow’s name has been added to 1890 Veterans Schedule (Tennessee) and shows her name, then “Widow of Soldier (U.S.)”, then her location. Is there any possibility of obtaining her file with just this information. Thank you. Lorraine

    1. Hi Lorraine,
      We checked in with John, one of NARAtions’ resident genealogy experts, for an answer to your question. He says that it can be difficult to ensure the correct widow is identified without the husband’s name and unit. That said, the widow’s name should appear on the pension index card, especially if she applied for the pension, so if you search for her name on Ancestry.com you might be able to find additional information. I know it’s not much, but I hope that helps. Good luck with your research!


  22. I was wondering whether it might be permissable to reproduce the blog post “C and XC Pension Files for the Civil War” in my genealogical society’s quarterly, of which I am editor. I think our membership would find it very useful. If so, any help with the proper source citation would be appreciated.

  23. I found an index card for a Spanish American/Philippine War soldier. The widow filed for her pension in 1930, he was on an invalid pension before that. Is this a file that the VA should have, and should be able to locate using the XC number at the bottom?

    1. Hi Ann,

      Based on the fact that the widow filed for the pension in 1930, I’d say it’s pretty likely that the file is still at the VA. We typically have the files that were inactive before 1928. However, if she didn’t surive her husband for very long, it’s possible that we have it here. If you’re not sure when she died, I’d try requesting it through us first – we don’t charge if we don’t have the record, so it’s worth a shot. If we don’t have it, then you can always contact the VA to start a search through their records.

      Good luck with your research!

      – Katherine

  24. Great Info…But still need help. Grandfather served Phillipine Insurretion, 1900-1901, Infantry, under given name. D/C’d with a Cert of disability. In 1912 he changed his full name and moved to Chgo. in 1929 he applied for disability, it was denied, AG stated, D/C’d without honor. He died 1930. In 1938, grandmother applied for widow’s pension, denied. 1950 Atty’s to Wash DC, 1952 pension approved. She died 1976. Got service record from NARA, but despite 6 years of FOI’s and apps to NARA, NO one has these files. He had no service # or SS#, She rcvd an XC # . Record not in Chgo, not in Wash DC, not in St. Louis, although all info says rec should be in NPRC 176, St. Louis. When I requested BIRL#, was told there were 2 with both names, so they wouldn’t give me either. Could it be that there are 2 files, one under his given name (NARA) and one under his other name or her name and SS#, they certainly wern’t compiled. HELP, what now?

    1. Hi Linnea,
      Sorry to hear that you’re having so much trouble finding your grandfather’s records! I think your best bet would be to email the reference archivists at inquire@nara.gov explaining your efforts so far. They should be able to suggest next steps or other specialists to contact.

      Good luck in your research,

  25. I have tracked down the physical location of the civil war pension file I want. The file is physically housed at the repository at Lee’s Summit, MO. I have the file’s assession number and even Lee’s Summit’s internal number that identifies its physical location in the repository. I have requested the file through the VA through the FOIA but the agent dismissed my information regarding the file’s location. Of course, I never received anything. Any thoughts on how to proceed?

  26. I am trying to locate an R pension file which from reading blog posts here from 2010 found out it is a civilian file. I contacted the Office of Personnel Management, PO Box 45, Boyers, PA 16017. They have no idea what I am talking about and referred me back to NARA National Personnel Records Center
    Civilian Personnel Records
    1411 Boulder Blvd
    Valmeyer, IL 62235

    Is this accurate?


  27. Hi Martin,

    I asked the same question in an earlier post and came across the same issue with OPM not knowing what I was requesting. I am going to see if I can make some calls/e-mails next week and will post here if I find any new info…

    take care,

    1. Hi Martin and Drew,

      We checked in on the procedures for requesting these files and nothing has changed regarding the Civilian R Pension files – they are still kept in offsite storage in Boyers, PA. They should be there, although there is no standard form to request these files. Please send a letter requesting a copy of the file, including the name of the pensioner and the file number to: Iron Mountain, PO Box 45, Boyers, PA 16017.

      Thank you,

  28. Hi Meredith,

    Thank you for the message.

    I did send a letter back in 2010 requesting a copy of the R file with all pertinent information (name of pensioner and name of his father who worked for the government) including a copy of the Index card referencing the R file from ancestry.com. I received a letter back stating “…unfortunately, it does not give us enough information to respond effectively.” They included a 1-page form to fill out asking for a current address, date of birth, social security number and list of federal agencies where my ancestor worked. All I have is the copy of the R index card and R number, so I do not have anything else to provide and therefore did not respond.

    How do I proceed from here? Is there a specific person I can speak with at Iron Mountain who may be able to assist?

    Thank you,

  29. Hi Meredith,

    Thank you for the response. I did send a request for info to the provided address back in 2010, including as much information as I had: name of ancestor, name of ancestor requesting pension, and copy of the index card showing the R file number. I received a letter back from the Office of Personnel Mgmt stating that my request did not give them “enough information to respond effectively.” They included a form to fill out which asked for my ancestor’s current address (he is deceased), date of birth, social security number (this had not yet been instituted), Retirement claim number (I assume this is the R number which I had already included?), and list of agency(ies) where he worked. I did not have any further information to provide so did not respond.

    Is there a specific person or e-mail address I can reach out to? Please, if possible, let me know how to proceed.

    Thank you,

  30. I’ve been trying to get an XC pension file for a Civil War soldier who died in 1922. I looked at NARA first but learned that it was not there and that the file number pointed me to the VA. However, after filing a request with the VA, it took them nearly 2 years to finally tell me they couldn’t find it. I got the BIRLS number and storage location from their records but they claim it’s not there. Is there a chance that between my failed effort to find it at NARA in 2013 and the VA’s failure to find it in March 2015 that NARA somehow got it back?

  31. On the Pension Card in the Remark section it says ” WO 788.861 William H. Blue I 56 ILL INF” The card itself is a Widow’s application for Samuel M. Blue and a minors application with no certificates for either of them. I have seen this several times where they list another person’s name and regiment information. When I go and look at his card it will say to see the original card’s person such as Samuel M. Blue. There seems to be a relationship between the two pension of the soldiers. Any explanation will be appreciated.

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