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Civil War Widows’ Pensions

Those researchers with ancestral veterans who served during the American Civil War will want to find as many additional sources of primary information as possible. One good location is the pension applications and case files completed by the widows and dependent children of veterans.

The United States government granted pensions to widows of men who died in service to the Union Army beginning in 1861. Benefits were extended due to the passing of the Pension Dependent Act in 1890 for widows of any honorably discharged veterans, again serving with the Union Army for at least ninety days between 1861 and 1865. Being a widow, the lady had to prove the veteran’s death, plus have no other means of support. She also had to prove she had been married to the soldier before June 17, 1890 to receive any benefits.

These applications held quite a bit of information such as the soldier’s full name, his rank, the company he served with, any commissions, the veteran’s death date and the cause of death. The widow’s full name would be included along with marriage date and many times written documentation of a person who had been a witness to the marriage. How wonderful would that be to find a written statement to a witness of an ancestor’s wedding (I have such a statement for my gr gr grandparents’ wedding in 1851 – from the widow’s pension application).

The digital collection of index pension records and case files can be viewed on the site. Included are the files for widows of sailors who served between 1910 and 1934.

To search place a surname and given name for a veteran, a widow or a dependent child. A reminder, names may be spelled different, so try different variations. You could also try a widow’s maiden name in a search. Select from any choices that appear and view the basic index information such as names, military unit and state to see if you have the right one. There are scanned images using the site to view additional details.

If there are some major finds, do send to the National Archives for copies of the complete pension files (which could number quite a few pages). They can contain a great of details filled out by the widow, a dependent child (older than 16) or other relatives.

Photo:  General David Gregg and his officers.

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Talisson 28/12/12

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