IN THIS LESSON, YOU'LL
- EXPLORE service and pension records
- READ first-hand accounts of life on the front lines
- RECORD a veteran's oral history
This lesson includes opportunities for class discussion and a video presentation. Vocabulary words are included at the end of the lesson, though not specifically brought into the lesson in the form of an assignment. Resulting measurable assignments include creative writing samples and notes from an oral history interview. While the lesson's main ideas logically build on one another, the activities and assignments suggested can be adapted or omitted according to your needs.
MAIN IDEA NO.1
DISCOVERING A SOLDIER IN A MOUNTAIN OF RECORDS
Wars generate a lot of paperwork. Governments like to know who is enlisted, where the soldiers are based, where they're fighting, when they're absent from duty, and when there's illness or injury. If your ancestor served in a war, there's a good chance you can find out a lot about him.
Your soldier ancestor might have been involved in the Vietnam War, the Korean War, or World War II. If you know many of your ancestors' names, you may even fill your chart back to the Civil War or the Indian Wars of the late 18th and 19th centuries. British settlers were involved in four wars before they fought for their own independence. Since the Revolutionary War, America has seen eleven major conflicts. (These are the wars in which the U.S. declared involvement).
While few women appear in early military records, there are wars in which the women served in medical or cooking positions. Some also helped through welfare organizations. Although women contributed in countless ways to keep society moving on the home front, the vast majority of records cover the contributions of men made in formal military units.
You've heard of the tomb of the unknown soldier. These sacred places are where soldiers who are unknown to the rest of their countrymen can be honored. Right now, your ancestors who served in America's wars are also unknown. If you find them, you honor them. After all, it was for their children and grandchildren - for you - that these soldiers fought.
HOW DO I KNOW IF I'VE GOT A SOLDIER FOR AN ANCESTOR?
Every good ancestor detective knows that when you find a clue, you've got to follow it until you've learned all you can learn. So if you suspect you have a soldier in your family tree, prepare to look for every document that his service may have produced - which may be a substantial amount!
First, look at your pedigree chart. If you haven't started a pedigree chart, take a minute to fill one out. The lesson for Episode 3 will show you how to do this. A pedigree chart will help you focus your search on one ancestor at a time.
A pedigree chart begins with you and moves backward in time to your parents, grandparents, and so on. Eventually, you'll move into the time period of a war. When you've found the names of your ancestors living during a war, the key question then becomes "Is my male ancestor of an age to fight?" Soldiers in days gone by used to be as young as twelve or thirteen, so keep that in mind. In the Civil War, older men were also used. Basically, if the ancestor is older than sixty or younger than ten, he probably stayed home.
A second chart you should consult is your family group record, introduced in Ancestors Episode 4. If you don't have a soldier directly in your line, it could be that his brother was in the war. This brother's records might also provide information about the rest of the family, particularly if there is a pension file available.
VIEW ANCESTORS EPISODE 209: "MILITARY RECORDS"
For many years Susan Hadler's only link to her father was a letter he wrote to her just after she was born and just before he was killed in combat during World War II. Follow Susan as she uses military records to connect with the father she never knew. Experts highlight service and pension records and tell how military records are a rich source of family history information.
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
How do you know if your ancestor served in the military?
What information do you need in order to search for your soldier ancestor?
How do you find out what regiment your ancestor served in?
Military records are divided into three major categories. What are they?
What do service records include?
What happens if a soldier's request for a pension is rejected?
What research tool will help you locate military records (and save you a lot of time)?
MAIN IDEA NO.2
A service record includes company musters, rolls, rosters, enlistments, discharge records, discharge lists, prisoner of war records, records of burials and oaths of allegiance. These records document the daily events of soldiers. The number and types of service records available varies from war to war. There are indexes to help you search them, and copies of the originals have been microfilmed. They can be found at the National Archives, Family History Centers, and also at many genealogical or state historical societies across the country.
Examine the muster roll from the Revolutionary war. A muster is basically the roll of the unit. It was basically used to document who was in attendance and who was missing, or on furlough, much like the roll call your teacher takes.
What is the soldier's name?
What is his regiment?
Which days are documented?
Is he in attendance all of these days?
How much is he being paid, per month, for his service?
MAIN IDEA NO.3
After a soldier is discharged from service, he is entitled to payment for the time he spent in the military. However, to activate a pension, a soldier had to apply. If your ancestor's application was rejected, he had to make a case for his eligibility by submitting letters and testimonials about his service and life at home. Friends, family or doctors may have also submitted testimonials or affidavits describing his life and service. Many widows applied for pensions.
Write a letter to the government as if you were a soldier or a soldier's widowed wife. Relate your experiences based on service and pension records you found online. Make a case for why you deserve a pension. If you're a soldier, let the government know how your service has affected your life now that you're back at home. If you're a widow, tell how your life has changed.
MAIN IDEA NO.4
FROM THE FRONT LINES
Once you know which regiment your ancestor fought in, you can look for a published military history. These histories provide fascinating details about the military experience, often in first hand accounts as the duties of the regiment are traced through the hardships of life at war. These histories are located in the libraries of the regiment's home communities, though some may be in state libraries or historical societies.
Use the oral history skills learned in Episode 2 to interview veterans in your neighborhood. Soldiers who fought in World War II, Vietnam, Korea or Desert Storm can tell you about their regiments and personal experiences. Write a summary of the interview and compile it into your own version of a "military history," created by your class.
GO ONLINE: ONLINE LINKS FOR FURTHER READING
Take a look at the following sites that discuss particular regiments or recorded military histories.
This site, maintained by The International Museum of the Horse, features information on "The Buffalo Soldiers on the Western Frontier." The Buffalo Soldiers were African American units who fought during the Civil War and served loyally in many duties after the War.
Dave Stewart, Assistant Professor of History at Hillsdale College, has placed many fascinating primary documents relating to many US and European wars online for student use. These documents are a fascinating window into war history.
WHAT HAVE I LEARNED AND . . .
Military records are a rich source of information about soldiers. There are three major types of military records: service records, pension records and military histories.
. . . WHAT'S NEXT?
However, bravery at war wasn't the only way our ancestors made a name for themselves. Some people obtained notoriety through their business dealings - perhaps even shady business dealings. People could choose their own destinies in America, but they couldn't always choose what others would write about them. Find out about newspapers as a source of clues to your ancestor's not-so-private life, and learn how to sort fact from fiction.
muster: The roll call for a military unit
pension records: Payment made to a soldier after his service.
service records: A group of military records that detail a soldier's military activities.
affidavit: A legal written statement often made under oath or affirmed by someone with legal authority.
furlough: To be absent from duty.