Tracing Women in Military Records

Remember, unless your ancestor was exempt, he served in the military: age 16-60 in time of war, and age 18-45 in peacetime. Most colonial militias required muster of all able-bodied men ages 16-60+ depending upon the level of Indian activity in that area. And these same men were also to show up with weapons and horse when summoned. Military service of any kind entitled the soldier and his dependents (wife and children and sometimes, even parents or unmarried siblings) to a claim for help from the government, while the soldier was gone.

There was a number of women, themselves, who served as soldiers in the early wars and more than 350,000 who volunteered to serve in World War II. Women are very much a part of our military today.  So it stands to reason that military records would be a rich source for tracing the ladies on your pedigree.

And following major wars, as soon as pensions and other benefits became available by law, attorneys actively solicited business from those who might qualify for these bounties. So even if your ladies were not inclined to place a claim, they were often pestered into doing so.

Military pension records, earned by the men in their lives, have the potential to identify your women accurately:

__proof of marriage: sworn affidavits, marriage certificates, eyewitness accounts of the marriage, acceptance of the marriage relationship by government officials, lists of children with ages and birthdates

__birth and death dates and places: sworn affidavits, family Bible pages, other personal documents

__personal statements of migration: residences c1750-1832 and later, place of marriage, place of application for pension, and place of death for soldier and for widow

__fill in gaps when other government records do not survive: majority of military pension claims and their supporting documents are not kept in the courthouse. And when a fire occurred, as it did in 1833, the government re-constructed the pension list so that it could continue to honor its obligation to pay

__may include 2-8 generations of pedigree ancestors with personal statements of relationship

__maiden surnames, other marriages and married surnames: personal statements of soldier, widow, sworn affidavits of eyewitnesses and relatives–this is about as close to real as you can hope to get because this first-hand information is sworn to be correct

Study Bibliography:

__Eakle, Arlene H. “Women’s Work in Time of War,” Family History Magazine (Jan-Feb 2002): 21-29. Includes examples from Civil War and later wars pension files with locations of sources.

__­Crackel, Theodore J. “Longitudinal Migration in America, 1780-1840: A Study of Revolutionary War Pension Records,” Historical Methods 14 (Summer 1981): 133-37. 39,000 widows, or 40% of the total, submitted claims for pensions.

__Grundset, Eric G.  America’s Women in the Revolutionary Era:  A History Through Bibliography, 1769-1790.  3 Vols.  Washington DC:  Daughters of the American Revolution, 2011.  An extensive list of records and sources.

__Hatcher, Patricia Law. “Revolutionary War Pension Files–A Fresh Look at the Resources Available,” Genealogy Bulletin (American Genealogical Lending Library Newsletter #27 (May-June 1995): 1-9. Especially valuable article on how to use the many different pension lists that have been published as well as a demonstration of the importance of seeking the whole file on National Archives microfilm publication M804.

__Schulz, Constance B. “Daughters of Liberty: The History of Women in the Revolutionary War Pension Records,” Prologue 16 (Fall 1984): 139-53. Beautifully illustrated from the actual files as well as thought-provoking insights to keep you searching until you find your correct lady.

You will want to add these titles to your winter reading list—they include other search tips and record descriptions.  Your favorite genealogist, Arlene Eakle

PS  Be sure to attend my presentation on Why Revolutionary War Records are Important at the St George Family History Expo, this weekend 22-23 Feb 2013 at the Dixie Center.  You will find this presentation extraordinary–for tracing both men and ladies in military records.

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