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The pension law governing claims based on death or disability from military service was passed on 14 July 1862. Later pension laws were based on length of service and disability not necessarily incurred in the service. Beginning in 1892 women who were employed as nurses by the government were also eligible for pensions.
Civil War Pension Index Cards
An Index to Pension Applications of veterans who served in the US Army between 1861-1917 is available on FamilySearch. These Civil War Pension Index Cards are also known as the "Organization Index". Each card gives the soldier’s name, application and certificate numbers, state of enlistment, and might include rank and death information. The majority of the records are of Civil War veterans, but the collection also includes records for veterans of the Spanish-American War, the Philippine Insurrection, the Indian Wars, and World War I.
Images of the actual index cards are available at Footnote.com ($) In the future, these records will be made available at no charge through the National Archives web site. These records are also available free at National Archives research rooms and any library providing free access to Footnote.com.
Civil War ‘Widows’ Pensions
The actual pension records that the "Organization Index" and "General Index" refer to are currently only available through the National Archives. Footnote.com is in the process of digitizing records of approved pension applications for the years 1861-1910, the "Civil War "Widows' Pensions". You can check their progress at Footnote.com. For information on how to order pension records from the National Archives see requesting copies of Civil War service and pension records.
Other Union Pension Collections
- General Index to Pension Files, 1861–1934. National Archives Microfilm Publication T288. (FHL films 0540757–1300.) The index is arranged by the veteran’s or widow’s name and his unit, rank, date and application number, certificate number if accepted, and state of filing. The pension files have not been filmed and are only available at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. You can order copies from the National Archives. The archives staff will copy only selected documents unless you request copies of all the documents in a file.
- Veterans Administration Pension Payment Cards, 1907–1933. National Archives Microfilm Publication M850. (FHL films 1634036–6574.) This index is useful for veterans who were on the pension rolls between 1907 and 1933, except World War I pensioners. About two million cards record payment to veterans and widows. The veteran’s name, unit or branch of service, certificate number, law under which pensioned, rate of pension, pension date, date of certificate, place of residence, death date, former roll number, and widow’s name may be included on the cards.
- Organization index to pension files of veterans who served between 1861 and 1900 (actually covers the years 1861 to 1917). National Archives Microfilm Publication T289. (FHL 765 films.) This index is similar in content to the general index and the pension payment cards, but it may provide death information. The index is alphabetical by state, branch of service, regiment, company, and name of the veteran. This is the same index mentioned above. It is also called "Civil War Pension Index Cards" on FamilySearch.
- Military Records: Pre-WWI Pension Applications (16 minute online video) FamilySearch Research Classes Online, 2010.
Additional Union records are available at state archives and historical societies.