Were your ancestor’s war heroes’ Believe it or not, vital clues to your family’s history just might be hiding away in military archives — and finding them can be easier than you think. Even if you’re not sure whether or not any of your ancestors ever served in the military, it can pay to do some digging. The payoff can be huge.
First some background about what you’re looking for and why. Fires in 1800 and 1814 destroyed the records of the American Army and Navy servicemen that were held at the War Department. In 1894, an effort was made to restore these records from many different sources via abstracts, and individual packets of records were created for each serviceman.
This packet of records was known as a Compiled Service Record, and it contained information including rank, military unit, date of admission into service, discharge, or death. It also may contain other information, such as age, place of birth, and place of residence on enlistment.
Indices to Compiled Military Service Records
In the U.S., the indexed Compiled Military Service Records to many wars are available at the National Archives. They include the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, various Indian wars, and the Civil War. Most of the indices have been microfilmed. If you do find your ancestor’s Compiled Service Record, it can mean that you gain access to a lot of other information!
For example, if you learn that your ancestor served in the Revolutionary War, the pension file indices will show whether he or his heirs have a pension file. If they did, you’ll have access to a lot of information about the family. Here’s a link to a site that documents the Lybarger and Ball families of Bedford and Erie counties, Pennsylvania, and mentions other families as well: http://www.heritagepathways.com/pension/pension.htm.
As you can see, if you’re lucky enough to find your ancestors’ pension files, you’ll gain an accurate picture of what happened to them during their years of service, so these are definitely files worth seeking.
But don’t stop there ‘ go ahead and try to access the complete pension files. Why’ Because when war veterans and their widows applied for pensions after various wars, including the Revolutionary War and the Civil War, they had to prove the births, marriages and deaths of their immediate family so they could receive the funds. Often, the only proof they had of these events were pages from family Bibles. So the pages were ripped out and submitted. These pages will still be in the files! Talk about uncovering a piece of your family’s history!