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Union Pension Records

Regular and Volunteer Army
Navy and Marine
Guides & Resources

The National Archives has pension records for Union soldiers and sailors, their widows, and their dependents.  Pension records are often a treasure trove of genealogical information.  Veterans’ applications usually included his age, or date of birth, his place of residence, his rank and his period of service.  Widows’ applications have the same information, along with her age, residence, maiden name, date and place of marriages, and the details of her husband’s death.  Both sets of records generally 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.

Note:  The Pension Bureau created a file when an application was filed, even if it was not approved.

Regular and Volunteer Army Pensions

Pension Indexes
The records are arranged numerically by application, certificate, or file number and you must have the numbers in order to request the pension files.  There are microfilmed pension indexes to help you obtain the numbers you need too request the files.

Note:  If you are requesting the files yourself, be sure to include any “C” or “XC” number you find on the pension index.  It is possible that files with these numbers are still in the custody of the Veterans Affairs, but many are available.  You won’t know for sure until you submit your request.

T288 - General Index to Pension Files, 1861-1934 
The index cards in this collection are arranged alphabetically by soldier’s surname. They include the individual's unit(s), the date of application, and often the state where the pension was filed.  They will also list the name of veteran’s widow, if the widow applied for the pension.  Once you find the application number or pension certificate number, researchers can request to view the pension file.

T289 - Organization Index to Pension Files of Veterans Who Served Between 1861 and 1900
This helpful card index is arranged by regiment and company, and then alphabetically by surname.  If a researcher has problems locating a record in the alphabetical index, they should always consult the organizational index if they know the soldier’s regiment and company.  I have often found records here that I could not find in the alphabetical index. 

Remarried Widows
Some widows received pensions from the service of two soldiers.  The pension application for both men is usually filed together, under the surname of the second husband.  This information is often noted in the pension index of both men, but there is another pension index which may be helpful.

M1785 - Index to Pension Application Files of Remarried Widows Based on Volunteer Service in the Civil War and Later Wars and in the Regular Army After the Civil War
The cards are arranged alphabetically by surname.

Although the pension indexes have been microfilmed, the pension files have not.  Researchers should check the indexes, fill out the appropriate forms, and submit then them to the archives staff.  The original pension record will be available in the research room on the second floor for review and copy.

Pension Payment Cards
M850 – Veteran’s Administration Pension Payment, 1907-1933
This series contains Pension Officer award cards that record payments to pensioners from 1907 to 1933.  Arranged alphabetically by surname.

Pension Office Correspondence
M686 – Index to General Correspondence of the Record and Pension Office, 1889-1904
This collection of correspondence records may also contain information regarding a pension file.  The index is arranged alphabetically by soldier’s surname.  Names are placed in a phonetic system – those with similar sounding last names are filed together, i.e. Smith, Smithe, and Smyth.

Related Records
Additional records relating to pension records may be found in Record Group 15, Records of the Veterans Administration, Record Group 48, Records of the Office of the Secretary of the Interior, and Record Group 217, Records of the Accounting Officers of the Department of the Treasury.  Check with the staff in the consultant’s office for assistance with these records.

“Missing” Pension Files
It is not uncommon for a pension file request to be returned. An attached slip should explain the reason for the return.  If a check of both indexes shows that the numbers are in fact correct, researchers should resubmit their request.  I’ve often obtained pension files on a second or third attempt.  If you resubmit the file without success, you can take your request to the consultant’s office and have them check to see if they can locate the file.

Some files that were active in the early 1900s may still be in the custody of the Veterans Administration.  A “C” or “XC” number on the bottom of the pension index card is a good indicator that this may be true.  If you submit the request, and it is returned with a slip stating that the file is in the custody of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, you can use this letter, provided by the National Archives, to request copies of the pension file. 

Note:  The bad news:  It may take anywhere from a couple of months to a year or longer to receive the copies from the VA.  The good news:  There is usually no cost for the copies or mailing expenses.

Ordering information - Pension Files

National Archives
You can now order military service records and pension files online from the National Archives.  The only drawback is that it can take weeks for the copies to arrive.  Click Here for more information.

Professional Researchers
In a hurry? Professional researchers can also provide fast service at reasonable prices. Click here for a list of independent researchers at the DC branch of the National Archives.

Navy and Marine Pension Records

Index cards for Navy and Marine pension files can be found in the same index as regular army pension files, T288.  However, the cards for the Navy and Marine records are very dark and often impossible to read, which is why I recommend beginning with the searchable database.

Database Index
The National Archives compiled and created a searchable database for Navy and Marine pensions for service during the Civil War.  The database is on CD and available in the National Archives Building Research Center.  It is not available on their in-house computer terminals, and must be requested from the staff.  The database will provide you with the microfiche numbers needed to pull and review the pension files. 

Most of the Navy and Marine pension records are on microfiche.  However, if they are not in the database, they are probably not on microfiche, and must be requested in the same way as army pension files.  A pension request form should be submitted with “not on database” written across the slip.

Pension Files
Pension files for Navy and Marine service during the Civil War through 1910 are available on the following microfiche.  They can be reviewed in the National Archives Microfilm Research Room.

NOTE:  Although all of the following microfiche collections indicate only Navy, they contain pension records for Navy and Marine veterans.

M1274 – Case files of Disapproved Pension Applications of Widows & other Dependents of Civil War & Later Navy Veterans, 1861-1910
Arranged by pension application number. 

M1279 – Case files of Approved Pension Applications of Widows & other Dependents of Civil War & Later Navy Veterans, 1861-1910 
Arranged by pension certificate number.

M1408 – Case files of Disapproved Pension Applications of Navy Seaman Who Served During the Civil War and Later 
Arranged by pension certificate number.

M1469 – Case files of Approved Pension Applications of Navy Seaman Who Served During the Civil War and Later
Arranged by pension certificate number.

Ordering Information

National Archives
You can now order military service records and pension files online from the National Archives.  The only drawback is that it can take weeks for the copies to arrive. Click here for ordering information.

Professional Researcher
In a hurry?  Professional researchers can also provide fast service at reasonable prices.  Click here for a list of independent researchers at the DC branch of the National Archives.

Guides and Resources

NARA Publications

Munden, Kenneth W.; Beers, Henry Putney. Guide to Federal Archives Relating to the Civil War. Washington, D.C.: GSA, National Archives & Records Service, 1962.

National Archives' Microfilm Resources for Research: A Comprehensive Catalog
Guide to Genealogical Research in the National Archives

Other Resources

Veterans Administration. List of Pensioners on the Roll, January 1, 1883, 6 vols. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1883
This publication gives the name of each pensioner, the reason the pension was granted, the pensioner’s post-office address, the rate of the pension per month, and the date of original allowance.  It is arranged alphabetically by state, and then by county and town.

You can find this publication in many large reference or university libraries.

Want your own copy?  Try AbeBooks.com

Discover Your Ancestor in the General Pension Index (Ancestry.com)


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