Saturday, December 3, 2011

Ordering a Civil War Pension File

I assumed Ellis Bickerstaff, my great-great-grandfather, did not file for a Civil War pension. But after receiving and posting his Civil War Compiled Military Service Records, another blogger encouraged me to check.

I went to FamilySearch's Civil War site which offers various records including Civil War Pension Index Cards. Clicking on the link took me directly to "United States, Civil War and Later Pension Files, 1861-1917" where I was able to type in my great-great-grandfather's name.

I learned that Ellis does, indeed, have a Civil War pension file, or at least he filed an application for a pension. I decided to order the file.

I went to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) site for pre-World War II Veterans' Service Records and moved down to the section "Military Pension/Bounty Land Warrant Applications." I learned that I could order online or download a form and order by mail.

There are several categories of files available. The two that pertained to Ellis were either
1) 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.) NARA calls this file NATF 85D.
2) A pension document packet that contains reproductions of eight documents containing genealogical information about the pension applicant, to the extent those documents are present in the file. NARA calls this file NATF 85B.

Which did I want? If I were solely interested in the genealogical information I would probably have chosen the Pension Documents Packet. But since I'm also interested in learning about Ellis' experiences in the war -- and I understand that experiences and injuries are sometimes described in the letters the veteran and his family wrote when filing for a pension -- I decided to order a complete pension application file.

If you are interested in viewing the files available to order along with descriptions, you can find those here. From that site I chose the file I wanted to order, clicked on the link and was taken to a screen that looks like the one at right. (That screen offered the option to view sample images of several kinds of files, including a pension file.)

From there I chose whether to order a paper copy or a CD. It tells me that the order will ship in 42 to 120 days. When I clicked the "Add to Cart" button, I was taken to the User Login Screen. If you've ordered from NARA before, you'll already have a User name and ID; if not, you can create one.

The next screen asked for the information I found at FamilySearch on Ellis' pension index card and some other vital information. NARA has fields for more information than is required. The required information fields are:
» Veteran's First Name
» Veteran's Last Name
» Branch of Service in Which he Served
» Kind of Service (Not Sure, Volunteer, Regular)
» War in Which He Served
» State from Which he Served

If you find that you don't have all the required information when you get to this screen you will be able to save the request and return later to continue the process without having to start from the beginning.

With all the boxes completed it was easy to click and pay (though not easy on my pocketbook!). And now the waiting begins. December's too busy a month for me to count the days but by the middle of January I'll start anticipating the arrival of Ellis Bickerstaff's Civil War pension file. I hope it will be a large file with plenty of information.

I happened upon this NARA video that describes the process of finding, copying, and mailing requests for military records. Considering how many records The National Archives has I will be patient while waiting for Ellis's pension file.


  1. I love your step-by step directions in these posts, especially when websites I've used in the past have changed things up a bit.

  2. Nancy, I recently ordered a full pension file, too. I ordered it on 11/1 and it came on 12/1. Hopefully yours arrives just as quickly!

  3. Heather, that is encouraging news. I'll begin watching my mailbox a little earlier than I thought. Thanks for the good news.

  4. Hello,

    The pension files can have a great deal amount of information about your ancestors as mine did. However, they can be very expensive at $75 a pop for each pension file. However, you could contact a genealogist in the NARA area to have them copy the records for you. I was able to do this for three pension files I needed. It cost me less than 1/2 the cost it would have if I ordered it from the NARA. I also recieved the records much sooner.

    For details, check out my blog:
    Hidden Genealogy Nuggets

    Regards, Jim

  5. Jim, thanks so much for the comment and the link. It never occurred to me to hire someone to go to NARA! It's too late for Ellis' file since I ordered and received it in December. Thanks for the link to your blog. I'll go take a look.


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