If an ancestor served, even for a short time, there maybe a military record kept by the Federal government. Unfortunately, a massive fire swept through on July 12, 1973 the storage building in St. Louis, Missouri where the military records were kept. The building which housed 17 million military records was destroyed and with it most of the military personnel records.
Army veterans who were discharged between November 1, 1912 to January 1, 1960 about 80% of those records were lost. The Air Force personal discharged between September 25, 1947 to January 1, 1964 whose surnames ran from the letters “Hub” to “Z” were nearly 75% destroyed. Back in 1973 there were no microfilmed copies, backup documents or indexes to help rebuilt the vast repository. The National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) in St. Louis, Missouri has attempted to reconstruct from other sources at least basic information on the service personnel.
Instead, a researcher might want to check the military pension files. Monetary pensions came years later after a person’s service. This second source might prove to be far more valuable for the data it provides.
At the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) in Washington, D.C. are where the military pension application and records for a military veteran and their widow and heirs is housed. The actual pension application filled out by the service personnel who served in the U. S. Armed Forces between 1775 and June 1917 will be at the Archives. Included are volunteers, regular army, and southern Confederate veterans. Most applications can consist of pages of supporting documents provided by the veteran.
Some of the information in pension files include: full name, birth date and location, date of entrance into military service, the regiment name and date and location of discharge. Also, a listing of a veteran’s occupations before and after military service, along with a physical description of the veteran are part of the file. There will be a detailed summary of the veteran’s military service; with the battles, location, dates and officers he served with to help support his pension claim. For the family history collection a nice addition is information on a wife or wives, along with children with their names and birth dates. In the pension files can be proof of the veteran’s marriage, with verified affidavits from witnesses or relatives, a marriage license or the names and dates from the family Bible.
A widow of a veteran could apply for his pension if her husband died before applying himself. Such a file would also have the necessary documents about marriage, children, military service, etc. Not every veteran or widow applied for the military pension. In such cases no pension records would have been completed.
Military pension records can be ordered from the NARA. The NATE Form 85A for service before 1861 or NATE Form 85D for service from 1861 to 1916 would be completed and mailed to National Archives and Records Administration, 700 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, D. C. 20408-0001. The required fee for pension records before 1861 is $50.00. For pension records after 1861 (which can be up to 100 pages in length) the fee charged is $75.00.
For veterans having served over the last 50 years the U. S. Department of Veteran Affairs does have some records and pension files for researchers.