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Overheard in GenForum: Revolutionary War Pension Procedures
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 19, 1999
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Q: I've found that an ancestor was married twice, 1st to a Doctor and 2nd to another man. The Doctor was in the Revolutionary War. I don't know about 2nd husband, but the wife filed for a pension under the 1st husband's name. Was it possible to apply for pensions from both husbands or can I assume the 2nd husband was not in service. Does anyone know the procedures followed during this time period? -- Molly

A: Requests for pensions after the Revolutionary War took on dramatic changes over the years. Initially the only claims accepted were from those who were invalid or suffered some major disability. The first congressional legislation in regards to pensions for Revolutionary War service was dated 26 Aug 1776. However, while it was over two hundred years ago, the government appears to not have moved any more quickly then. It was not until 28 July 1789 that the government began to make such pension payments.

When Congress changed the requirements for filing a pension application in 1832, it opened the pension process to any veterans of the American Revolutionary War. This was when the bulk of pensions were submitted.

Fires in 1800 and 1814 destroyed some of the Revolutionary War pension application files.

What Might the Pension File Include

We have all heard of the gold mines found in pensions records. Of course, it is likely that your ancestors are like mine. They just did their job and then kept quiet about it having only to submit the required documents, with no interviews from family members and such. Or worse yet, that your ancestors were the ones who went up in flames in 1800 or 1814, when valuable pension records were destroyed.

For those readers who may be new to requesting Revolutionary War pensions, let's first look at the information you are likely to find included based on who was making the application.

Veteran: His pension application file would include information on his name, his rank, military unit, period of service, residences, birthplace and date of birth. If he were applying for an invalid pension then his application would state the nature of his disability.

Widow: In addition to all of the information above about the veteran, the widow also included information on her name, her age, her place of residence, her maiden name, the date and place of marriage and the date and place of her husband's death.

Children of heirs: In addition to the information on the veteran, they would also need to include the information on the deceased mother as well including her date and place of death. They also had to include their date and place of birth and their residence.

In addition to the required elements, which we may expect to just have spelled out, much as we see it today, there may also be corroborating documents. There were times when fellow soldiers were questioned. Or there may be additional documents such as narratives, interviews, the discharge papers and more. This was generally more prevalent in the Widow's or Children's pension records.

Changing Acts Affect Eligibility

As was mentioned earlier when first passed, the pension legislation applied to only those with disability or who were invalid from their service in the War. However, over the years the changes to the various pension acts made it easier to get a pension. By 1832, Congress opened up the pension application process to anyone that fought in the Revolutionary War.

What this means in regards to our ancestors is that they often re-filed their request for a pension. Where they may not have qualified under the earlier pension act, they may have discovered that they did under the new one. It was not uncommon for a soldier to reapply if he was turned down for an earlier pension. It is also important to note that pension applications were turned down for many different reasons, including lack of corroborating documents or fellow solders that could support the claims being made.

If the wife of the doctor who applied for a widow's pension from her first marriage was turned down, then it is very likely that she applied again under the second husband if he was involved in the Revolutionary War.

Other Research Avenues

While you are encouraged to search under the second husband's name, you will also want to investigate the final payment vouchers. The final payment voucher was a record of the payment made to the widow or heirs of a soldier who had been receiving a pension. It was necessary to make a request for this payment.

These cards have not been microfilmed. You will need to contact the National Archives directly and request a search of the index cards and the vouchers. Requests must be in person or in writing.

A useful register of payments that you may not be aware exists is the Ledgers of Payments, 1818-1858, From Records of the Office of the Third Auditor of the Treasury which is micropublication T718 and is found on 23 rolls of microfilm. This includes 3x5 cards with the names of every Revolutionary War veteran that was paid under one of the pension acts. Notations have been made on these cards when a final payment was made.

Finally the states were also beginning to enact laws that granted pensions to Revolutionary War soldiers. It is possible that this is how the soldier, his widow or his heirs received their money.

In Conclusion

If the Doctor's widow applied for a pension, which she received, then she may not have applied for another one. However, she or the second husband himself may have applied for a pension, especially if they were living after 1832 when the act loosened the requirements for receiving a pension. And don't overlook the possibility of them applying to the state in which they lived or served.

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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