Requesting Copies of Civil War Service and Pension Records
Copies of Union and Confederate service files and Union pension files are available from the National Archives. To determine which record may help you in your research see Union Service Records, Confederate Service Records, Union Pension Records.
- Union service files and Confederate service files can be ordered from the National Archives. They are also available on microfilm which can be borrowed from Family History Centers or they can be found online at Fold3 ($).
- Pension files for Union veterans have never been microfilmed and are being digitized directly from the original documents. Until these records are digitized, they are only available from the National Archives.
- Pension files for Confederates are not available from the National Archives. They are located in various archives of the states where they applied for their pension. See Confederate Pension Records for more information.
An index, Civil War Pension Index Cards, to help locate an individual in Union pension files is available on FamilySearch.
Ordering copies from the National Archives
Once you have determined that you have an ancestor who probably was a Union pensioner, obtaining a copy of his pension record is the next step. Union pension files are not microfilmed and must be copied from the files at the National Archives (NARA). NARA has a copy service. It is $75 for the first 100 pages of a pension file. At this time, it can take as much as a year to receive the file. Often a professional genealogist in Washington D.C. can copy the file much more quickly and for lower cost. Pension files are loose papers literally kept in a file under your ancestor’s name. If your ancestor’s pension file is more than 100 pages and you pay $75 for the first 100 pages, there is no guaranteeing that you will get the same pages in the same order when you send for any additional pages. You may have a better chance of getting all the papers in your ancestor’s file by Hiring a professional researcher to make copies, rather than using NARA’s online service.
If you choose to use order online using NARA's online service click on the "Order Reproductions" tab and select "Military Service and Pension Records". From this page you can order service records for Union and Confederate soldiers (Compiled Military Service Files) and Union pension files (Federal Military Pension Applications). A service record file costs $25. You must know your ancestor's military unit to order a service record or a pension record. If you are unsure about which record you should order, see Union Service Records, Union Pension Records, or Confederate Service Records. Please make note that NARA does not house Confederate pension files. For information on ordering Confederate pension files from other archives see Confederate Pension Records.
If a compiled service record notes a Bookmark File number, this refers to a separate set of records that must be asked for specifically when requesting copies. The records are found in Record Group 94, Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, 1780s–1917.
Hiring a professional
If you choose to hire a professional researcher, look at the lists provided at the NARA site. Choose a researcher who lists military records as a specialty area. It may speed your research to hire a professional who lives in the Washington D.C. area.
Understanding a pension file
How to Make Sense Out of a Civil War Pension File...With Some Online Help! - a blog post from the National Archives Records & Administration that provides details on how to understand the various parts of a pension file. Links to a 1915 book on the Internet Archive - Orders, Instructions, and Regulations Governing the Pension Bureau.