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.