Federal and state governments granted certain veterans pensions or free
bounty lands as rewards and compensation
for their service, or as payments for disability caused by war. Pension files, if they exist for your ancestor, can be
a genealogical gold mine. This is even more true if your ancestor's claim was at least initially rejected, because this
inevitably led to a stream of paper between the government and your relative.
In the pension records you will typically find an affidavit supporting your ancestor's claim to the pension. This
document might describe what your ancestor did in the war, how well he did it, diseases or injuries he might have
endured, and the names of comrades or commanders with whom he served. Medical documentation, including
physical description, is common. If the claim was rejected, you might find testimonies by friends and associates
about the applicant, his military service, and any disabilities emanating from his service. If the claim was made by
someone other than the veteran (usually a widow or on behalf of a child), you may well find marriage, birth, death
and other family and life event details.
Between 1776 and 1855, the federal government also provided bounty lands for those who served in the nation's
wars. Veterans or their heirs could claim this bounty land by filing an application at a nearby courthouse.
Approved applicants received a land warrant, which most veterans either sold or exchanged rather than took
possession of the land itself.
Indexes to pension records are available for the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, Mexican War, and for various
Indian Wars. A general, consolidated index from 1861-1934 covers mostly Army, Navy and Marine Corps service
performed between 1861 and 1916. The bulk of this index is comprised of Civil War pensions, but it also includes
pensions stemming from the Spanish-American War, the Philippine Insurrection, and other conflicts.