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Overheard in GenForum: How do I know where to send for papers?
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.

December 07, 2000
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Q: Where do I send for papers, if there are any for the War of 1812, for two of my ancestors that fought in the War? -- Linda

A: The War of 1812 is often one of the overlooked wars when genealogists are researching their ancestry. It was the second War that was fought against England, and was again on soil of America. It would be the war that caused damage to records in the capital when the English went there and set it ablaze. Of course, this was in retaliation for a similar act on the part of America in Canada.

However, it was this war that would bring us the song that would eventually become the national anthem for the United States. And, many of our ancestors would be directly involved in this war. In fact, 280,000 Americans would fight in this war.

280,000 Americans fought in the War of 1812

The First Step

The easiest way to determine the needed information for requesting records from the National Archives is to search available published and microfilmed indexes to service records and pensions. While there should be service records for each person who fought in the War of 1812, not every soldier applied for a pension. So both should be checked.

Service records are the records showing where the soldier enlisted, what his pay was, when he was paid, and so forth. Sometimes knowing where he enlisted is enough to carry back the research.

If you have access to a large genealogy library or a branch of the National Archives, then you may have the microfilms from the National Archives. The Index to Compiled Service Records of Volunteer Soldiers Who Served During the War of 1812 is Micropublication M602 and is on 234 rolls of microfilm. It is an alphabetical index. This same set of microfilms, with different film numbers, is also available through your Family History Center.

The other index that you need to check is for the pension files. The Index to War of 1812 Pension Application Files is Micropublication M313 on 102 rolls. Unfortunately this is not available through the Family History Library. And while your local genealogy library may not have these microfilms, they may have an equally reliable resource in Virgil D. White's Index to War of 1812 Pension Application Files. This three-volume work includes all the pertinent information necessary for requesting copies of the pension files.

Requesting the Records

It is a good idea to request both the military service records as well as the pension records. Generally the pension records will have more in the way of family data, but the service records will detail his involvement in various campaigns and may include a physical description.

You will request these records from the Reference Services Branch:

(NNIR) National Archives
8th and Pennsylvania Avenue
NW, Washington, DC 20408

However, to request the records you will need to use their request forms. For pension records, this will be NATF Form 85 and for the service records, it will be NATF Form 86. These forms can be requested via e-mail. Information for requesting these forms can be found at the National Archives.

When requesting these forms, if possible, it is better to charge it to a credit card. When you are paying by check, they will first have to notify you of the file and its cost. If you authorize them to use a credit card, the process is quicker.

You will also want to write on the application files that you want the COMPLETE FILE. Unless this is specified, they often only copy pertinent pages. For instance, my great-great-great grandfather's Civil War pension file was 195 pages. They wouldn't have sent it if I hadn't asked for the entire file. Their thinking in not sending a complete file is that some of the pages are duplicated. And while this is true, there are often different answers to questions on the duplicated pages that can be important to your research.

In Conclusion

Military records may not give you the names of parents, but the other tidbits of information they may hold make it worth the effort.

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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