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Overheard in GenForum: Edward Hughes - MA 4th Cavalry
by Rhonda R. McClure

Each week Rhonda answers a question from the GenForum message boards and gives her expert answer here. We'd love to hear anything you have to add. Go ahead and leave your comments on GenForum with the original message.

August 03, 2000
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Q: Looking for information on Edward C. Hughes. He was a bugler for the Fourth Regiment MA Cavalry, mustering on January 27, 1864 and mustering out on November 14, 1865. The log said he was 21 and lived in Southbridge MA, but he was a cousin of James Conlon of Boston. Any info would be greatly appreciated. -- Eileen

A: There are a variety of military records that genealogists need to research. Each has a different purpose and therefore often includes different information.

For those who fought during the Civil War, there is not only the service records, but also often pension records. Some researchers are not aware of the index to pension records that is available.

Civil War records include both service records and pension records.

Service Records

Based on the information you shared, it appears that you may have his service records already. This is the first thing that most people think to try and get, though these records generally contain less when it comes to information about the life of the individual.

The service records give you information about muster rolls and payments. They sometimes tell you when and where the individual joined up. They may detail his birth date and place or at least his age at the time he joined up. This is perhaps how you know that he was of Southbridge, Massachusetts and was 21 years old.

The Next Step

I think most people aim for the service records because they have a much better chance of finding them without having a lot of information. However, the pension records are often the ones that include information about the marriage of the soldier and list any children that he may have had. You will sometimes find out when and where the soldier died and other family facts.

However, finding the necessary information to locate the pension can seem intimidating. I suspect this is because many researchers do not realize there is an index to the pension records for the Civil War for those who fought on the Union side. If an ancestor fought on the Confederate side, it is necessary to turn to the states themselves. The federal government did not give pensions until the 1930s to those who were Confederate soldiers or families of Confederates.

From Index to File

The index is available on microfilm through the Family History Library and therefore to its Family History Centers. You should also check your local genealogy library or public library if they have a large genealogy department. Finally, if you are near to a National Archives branch, you might have access through them as well. Once you have located your ancestor in the index, you will have all the needed information to request a copy of their pension file.

Requesting the pension file is done through the National Archives. They require that you fill out a NATF-80 form. While the form isn't available online, you can submit a request that the forms be sent to you.

Once the pension forms arrive, you will then need to fill it out supplying the soldier's name, military service and application number. And if your Edward Hughes was married there may also be a widow's pension. This will be indicated on the pension index card as well.

In Conclusion

Military records can be a wealth of information about the life led by an ancestor. We can learn about marriages, divorces, death, and the illness and disabilities of our ancestor through the pension records.

See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Rhonda R. McClure is a professional genealogist specializing in celebrity trees and computerized genealogy. She has been involved in online genealogy for fifteen years. She is the author of the award-winning The Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Genealogy, now in its second edition. She is the author of four how-to guides on Family Tree Maker. In late 2001, she wrote The Genealogist's Computer Companion. She is a contributing editor to Biography Magazine with her "Celebrity Roots" column and a contributing writer to The History Channel Magazine. Her latest book is Finding Your Famous and Infamous Ancestors. She may be contacted at

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