Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Civil War Pension File: First View

It was exciting to receive my first Civil War pension file in the mail from the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). I didn't know what to expect: one doesn't know how many pages there will be until it arrives.

The file came in a 10" x 15" tyvek envelope. The original documents had been photocopied onto legal sized 8 1/2" x 14" paper. Enclosed with the papers were my original order form (printed by NARA from my internet order request) and a disclaimer stating that the copies were the best available and that it was a complete file. There were 79 pages.

The file arrived in December but I was only able to take the briefest look at it then. Now I'm ready to sort, organize, transcribe, and evaluate what I find. (Sort and organize are key words here!)

My initial observations:
  • Some of the original documents were double-sided as evidenced by bleed-through on the copies. The photocopies are single-sided. (You can see bleed-through on the image below.)
  • Some of the original documents appear to have been long sheets folded into fourths.
  • There were no paper clips on the papers to tell me which pages belong together. Bleed-through sometimes helps to indicate the front and back of one document; otherwise, it's hard to tell which pages go together.
  • Not all pages are numbered or dated.
  • The file may have been copied with the first page at the back or the first page at the front. I can only hope that the copies of individual documents are together.
  • Documents are not in chronological order.

All of that being said, this first overview gives me new information about Ellis:
  • His birthdate (not just the year of his birth)! April 11, 1840.
  • A physical description: he was 6' tall, had blue eyes, a fair complexion, and brown hair (when younger)
  • Addresses include 102 Grandview Avenue, McKeesport, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania; West Austintown, Ohio; and Scottsdale, Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania.

It's clear that Ellis was not granted a pension at his first request. It is also clear that his widow, Lucy, had to be diligent to continue receiving the pension after Ellis' death.

Ellis's signature. Interestingly, on official papers throughout his lifetime Ellis spelled his last name Biggerstaff. His death certificate gives the spelling Bickerstaff. Among his ancestors and descendants, Bickerstaff is the most common spelling.

There's more to come about Ellis Bickerstaff's Civil War Pension File. I'll post as I sort, organize, and scan. Maybe there are others of you who wonder what you might find if you order your own ancestor's pension file.


  1. I am close to ordering a copy of my own, so I'm anxiously awaiting what you find in your pension file!

  2. Nancy-

    So exciting! I wonder what is behind the change in name spelling? I just received the second batch of documents from my pension file today (yes, it was large!) Anyway, this second batch contained a listing of my ancestor's homes for twenty years. I was very pleased! Good luck sorting through your file!

  3. Debbie, I just wrote another post about the CW pension file. I'll continue posting. Come back to read!

    Heather, was the list of homes all on one sheet? That would be very exciting to get that information. I hope you'll share what you find, too. If you do, I'll either write a post or mention your posts when I write mine. Obviously not all pension files have the same information and readers might like to see the difference in files.

    About the name change. When I first saw it as Biggerstaff I just assumed it was written that way because it sounded that way. There wasn't standardized spelling a hundred years ago. So, I don't know.

    Thank you both for visiting and leaving comments. I appreciate it.

  4. HI Nancy, I took a break from mine to come stalk yours :)

    I haven't found family yet in the civil war. There's supposedly a great great great Uncle, but the name is a common german name, in an area settled by boatloads of Germans (literally. lol) and I can't find any birthdate info on CW records to set my ancestor apart from others. I also find it amazing with the zealousness our German Immigrants reproduced with, having families of 13+ kids regulary, that ONE out of all the different lines in that time participated in the civil war. In my mind, I imagined all the stories of a mother's 5 sons or what not going off to fight, and that everyone joined. :/ Not so much I guess.
    Your post is fascinating! I love old pictures and documents. They are the tangible links to the past, something both you and your ancestor both laid eyes on. I'm totally coveting those 79 pages!! :) I enjoy reading about what you've found in these documents!


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