US Military Pension Records
The federal government and some state governments granted pensions or bounty land to officers, disabled veterans, needy veterans, widows or orphans of veterans, and veterans who served a certain length of time. Pension records usually contain more genealogical information than service records. However, not every veteran received or applied for bounty land or a pension. Veterans who did not qualify under the pension laws may have received benefits by special acts of Congress. The appropriate federal or state agency maintained a pension file for each applicant. These files contain the application papers and any further correspondence or documents.
In a person’s pension application papers you may find his name (and sometimes his wife’s maiden name); rank; military unit; period of service; residence; age; date and place of birth, marriage, and death; and the nature of his disability or proof of need. To prove that he served in the military, he may have included documents such as discharge papers or affidavits from those with whom he served. Widows or heirs had to prove their relationship to the veteran with marriage records and other documents, and the file may list the names of dependent children under the age of 16.
National Archives, Pension Records
The National Archives has pension applications and records of pension payments for veterans, their widows, and other heirs. The pension records are based on service in the armed forces of the United States between 1775 and 1916. Application files often contain supporting documents such as discharge papers, affidavits, depositions of witnesses, narratives of events during service, marriage certificates, birth records, death certificates, pages from family bibles, and other supporting papers. Pension files usually provide the most genealogical information for researchers.
Pension files for 1775 to 1916 are available at the National Archives in Record Group 15, Records of the Veterans Administration. Only those for the Revolutionary War have been microfilmed.
Copies of military pension application files based on Federal (not State or Confederate) service between 1775 and 1903 (before World War I) can now be ordered online, as well as through NATF Form 85. See the links to the individual wars below for more information on locating pension records.
Categories of pension/bounty land files available using NATF Form 85:
- A complete Civil War and later pension application file (up to 100 pages), based on Federal (not State or Confederate) military service during the Civil War or later (includes the Pension Documents Packet.)
- A complete Federal pre-Civil War military pension application based on Federal military service before 1861 (includes the Pension Documents Packet.)
- A pension document packet that contains reproductions of eight documents containing genealogical information about the pension applicant, to the extent these documents are present in the file.
- A complete miltary bounty land application file based on service 1775-1855 (includes only rejected Revolutionary War applications).
Note: Confederate pensions are not at the National Archives. Pensions based on military service for the Confederate States of America were granted by the states of Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia. To search these records, contact the state where the veteran lived after the war. Descriptions of state pension laws and addresses and telephone numbers of state archives that hold these records are available here.
Lists of federal and state military pensioners have been published for the years 1792 to 1795, 1813, 1817, 1818, 1820, 1823, 1828, 1831, 1835, 1840, 1849, 1857, 1883, and 1899. Most of these lists are found in the U.S. Congressional Serial Set, available at federal repository libraries and major university libraries. See Angela McComas, Congress and My Family History (12 minute online video)FamilySearch Research Classes Online, and Mid-Continent Public Library Midwest Genealogy Center, 2010. The lists can provide the soldier’s name and his heirs, age, death date, and service information. See the links to the individual wars below for more information these pension lists and other pension records.
Pension Records by Conflict
- Colonial Wars, 1607 to 1763
- Revolutionary War, 1775 to 1783
- War of 1812, 1812 to 1815
- Mexican War, 1846 to 1848
- Civil War, 1861 to 1865
- Indian Wars, 1780's-1890's
- Spanish-American War, 1898
- Philippine Insurrection, 1899 to 1902
- World War I, 1917 to 1918
- World War II, 1941 to 1945
The following pension material may also be helpful:
- Index to Pension Application Files of Remarried Widows Based on Service in the War of 1812, Indian Wars, Mexican War, and Regular Army Before 1861. National Archives Microfilm Publication M1784.
- Record of Invalid Pension Payments to Veterans of the Revolutionary War and Regular Army and Navy, March 1801–Sept. 1815. National Archives Microfilm Publication M1786.
- Index to Pension Application Files of Remarried Widows Based on Service in the Civil War and Later Wars in the Regular Army after the Civil War. National Archives Microfilm Publication. M1785.
- Index to General Correspondence of the Record and Pension Office, 1889–1904. National Archives Microfilm Publication M686. (FHL films 1527667–8051.) Cards arranged alphabetically with name of soldier, organization in which he served, and name of person who made inquiry.
Wiki articles describing online collections are found at:
- United States Index to General Correspondence of the Record and Pension Office (FamilySearch Historical Records)
- United States, Index to War of 1812 Pension Application Files (FamilySearch Historical Records)
- United States Navy Widows' Certificates (FamilySearch Historical Records)
- United States, Remarried Widows Index to Pension Applications, (FamillySearch Historical Records)
- United States, Veterans Administration Pension Payment Cards (FamilySearch Historical Records)