Civil War "Widows' Pension" Applications
Approved pension applications of widows and other dependents of Civil War veterans who served between 1861 and 1910. Ultimately, the Civil War Widows' Pensions project will digitize, index, and make available approximately 1,280,000 Civil War and later widows’ files in the series.
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Learn more about the Civil War "Widows' Pension" Applications.
- Document types
- Using the collection
- Related resources
- When will my ancestor's pension be online?
- Explore this title
As of April 2012, we are at 4% of total pensions to be digitized. There are over 75,000 Civil War widows' pension applications online, with the highest WC# at about WC95971. Keep in mind that some numbers won't be available, and we are uploading new pension files every week so the certificate numbers will continue to go higher. Read more ...
From the very beginning of the Civil War, widows of men who served and died in the Union Army during the war were entitled to apply for pension benefits. After the war, further legislation was approved to allow for widows and dependents of men who served, survived the war, and died afterward.
Under the Dependent Pension Act, approved on June, 27, 1890, widows of soldiers serving in the Union Army could apply for a pension by proving the following:
- that the soldier served the Union for at least ninety days during the Civil War;
- that he was honorably discharged;
- that the widow provide proof of death, but it need not have been the result of his army service;
- that the widow is without other means of support than her day labor;
- that she married the soldier prior to June 27, 1890, the date of the act.
The following documents will be found most of the pension files:
Proof of marriage - affadavits or certificates proved that the widow seeking the pension was, indeed married to the soldier.
Declaration of a Widow for Restoration of Pension - when a second marriage revoked the pension and the death of the second husband left the widow once again without support.
Dropped from rolls - this record will give a date of death or other circumstance which required the widow to be dropped from the rolls. In this particular example, note the odd phrasing: "I have the honor to report that the name of the above-described pensioner who was last paid at $12, to Nov. 4, 1913, has this day been dropped from the roll because of death Nov. 23, 1913."
Note: Some pension files with early certificate numbers may include a cover page to the file which lists the name of the soldier; company, regiment, and state of service; the name of the widow, often with her maiden name; and the names of any dependent children. It also lists which of the above documents are within the file.
As the Civil War Widows' Pensions project has evolved, the cover page has also been through some changes. In pension files with higher certificate numbers, the page looks like this, with a soldier's service information, the names of the pensioners, and their relationship to the soldier. The form was created during the digitization process, and like the earlier cover pages, is not part of the original case file.
Using the collection
Records are arranged by state of service, then branch of service. Next, by regiment, then company, and veteran's name. The widow's pension is found under her husband's name.
If a widow's certificate number is printed on a Civil War soldier's pension index card (T289), available at Fold3 - Pensions Index, Civil War to 1900 - search on that number to locate the widow's pension file. To search on the certificate number, be sure to include WC (for "Widow's Certificate") plus the number, as in WC94381.
Because the images in these files are digitized from the original paper records, most of which are over a hundred years old, there may be instances where you will need to view side-by-side images to see the full page. The two images presented here are an example of this where a weight keeping a page flat covers part of the document. Another shot, after moving the weight, brings the rest of the page into view.
Many of the first files scanned included a target page written by volunteers at NARA. These should not be considered part of the original application file.
Digitization of this collection is the result of a partnership between FamilySearch, NARA, and Fold3. In addition to name, state, regiment, company, and pensioner given name, the pension files are also indexed by Widow's Certificate number (WC#).
Posts from NARA's online edition of Prologue.
When will my ancestor's pension be online?
Fold3 and the National Archives staff and volunteers are working as quickly as possible to film the Civil War "Widows' Pension" Applications, while still maintaining a process to ensure high quality images and indexes while preserving the original documents.
There are some unique challenges in filming the Civil War "Widows' Pensions." With over a million applications, we estimate there are between 30 and 60 million individual pages to film. We continually look for ways to speed up the process, but it's slow work. First, we prepare each individual file for filming. Some pages are folded, others include seals or ribbons, and some require extra-special handling because they are particularly fragile. It is all done by hand as automated filming would destroy the documents. The files contain records that may be 150 years old and, in the case of pages from family bibles, they can be much older.
The original pension applications at NARA are organized by certificate number, given according to when the widow applied for a pension. Therefore we film the files in chronological order according to the widow's certificate number, the WC. The lowest numbers were obviously given early in the war as women lost husbands in Union service.
The application page shown here is from WC39, the pension for Emily Williams, widow of Henry Williams, and dated 15 February 1862. The image on the left is an index card with the certificate number. If you locate someone in the Civil War Veterans Pension Index, you'll be able to tell by the number if it might be included in these early stages of the project. Low numbers will show up sooner than higher ones. Currently, we're filming application files with 5-digit certificate numbers.
We would really like to see these come online faster. While we are working on ways to speed things up, the reality is that it will take several years to complete this project. Ordering the file from NARA is a good option if you need it soon. This page will tell you where and how to order military service and pension records.
Explore this title
From the following Fold3 title page, you can search, browse, and see what others are finding within these documents.
These are paper records scanned from pension files archived at the National Archives in Washington, DC. They are part of Record Group 15, Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs, 1773-2001.
According to a NARA press release, "FamilySearch, in conjunction with Footnote.com, will eventually digitize and index all 1,280,000 Civil War and later widows’ files
in the series. These records, of great interest to genealogists and others,
are currently available only at the National Archives Building in Washington,
DC. The widows’ pension application files, a rich source of information
about ordinary American citizens of the time, include supporting documents
such as affidavits, depositions of witnesses, marriage certificates, birth
records, death certificates, and pages from family bibles."