cover image

Civil War "Widows' Pensions"

  • Conflict:   Civil War
  • Records:   2,137,079
  • Complete:

Civil War "Widows' Pensions"

Overview Description

The files are grouped under the soldier's name. The pensioner's name (typically the widow's) is searchable, often giving her maiden name as well. Children's names and other dependents' names are searchable as well. Case files include where and when a man served, details of his service, his life before the war, and his family, including information about his widow, children, and sometimes his parents. These files are unfilmed textual records.

Search Civil War "Widows' Pensions"

Pictures & Records

Sample Sample


Publication Title:
Civil War "Widows' Pensions"
Content Source:
The National Archives logo The National Archives
Record Group:
Published on Fold3:
Last Update:
May 22, 2015
Approved pension applications of widows and other dependents of Civil War veterans who served between 1861 and 1910.


Learn more about the Civil War "Widows' Pension" Applications.

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.

Document types

story image(s) 8 images

The following documents will be found most of the pension files:

Original application

Proof of soldier's service

Proof of death

Proof of marriage - affadavits or certificates proved that the widow seeking the pension was, indeed married to the soldier.

Proof of children - when children are listed, you often will find copies of bible records or town records.

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

story image(s) 2 images

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#).

Related resources

Posts from NARA's online edition of Prologue.

"A Civil War Widow's Story" - Adelia Springer's pension file, including the photograph, begins here.

"The Real Widows of the Pension Office" - The "real widow" in the article, Henrietta Kane, was the wife of Thomas Kane, Jr. Her claim for a widow's pension begins here.

When will my ancestor's pension be online?

story image(s) 2 images

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.

Civil War "Widows' Pensions"


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, 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."

Is there a reason that none of the states listed here are Southern states? Were those widows not even considered or did footnote only scan the non-southern states?

Yes, footnote's scanning pertains to Civil War pensions found at the National Archives. The only Civil War pensions at NARA are Union. The federal government did not give pensions to Confederate veterans. Confederate pensions, however, were issued by individual Southern states

That explains it. Thanks for the information. Now I can stop looking for something that isn't there.

I am looking forward to further updates of this database, as I am certain that eventually I will find those I am looking for. Thank -you !

I notice that the pensions are being arranged by state-of-service, then by military unit. How will Footnote address the situation where the veteran served in multiple units, or even served from multiple states?

I discovered this morning to my utter shock & disbelief that NARA is now charging $75 for a complete CW pension file (up to 100 pages -- double what they charged just last year) or $25 for only 8 pages from a file! Two of the 3 files I had intended to order this morning were not issued certificates which likely means these claims were rejected. Will you be including these files as well as claims that were accepted? Thanks.

Thanks for digitizing these records; this is invaluable. Are you scanning them in certificate number order? I ask because some certificates seem to be missing (even when I search by widow's name). Also, the information says certificate numbers are searchable, but I haven't been able to get that to work, even for files I know you have. Thanks

Is footnote scanning all of the Union Veteran Widow's Pension, or just a select number? Contrary to popular belief the south provided many Union Soldiers. I'm especially interested in pensions from soldiers/widows who served with Sixth Tennessee Cavalry (USA).

In the section on using the collection (above), it states that only the first several thousand pensions are being scanned as part of a pilot project. In the linked press release, the figure is placed at 3,150 until successful completion of the pilot.

Where are the files for the U.S.Colored Troops?

Can you confirm that for those files digitized and posted you digitized the ENTIRE file and not just a SELECTION of documents? Thanks.

The contents of each file are scanned fully. These are not selected records.

Does anyone know if it is possible to get the Invalids Application for pension? Anywhere?

This page will tell you where and how to order military service and pension records.

Can anyone tell me if there is a listing in the 1890 Schedule inclusive of the person's name, widow's name and post office box along with unit listed as Ma and not much else if it means it was denied? This may not be the place to ask this question, but I am at a loss concerning Robert Acuff and his widow Caroline Acuff from Delaware County, PA. Can anyone help so I don't continue to wait for something that might not be there?

Images are being added to the Civil War "Widow's" Pension Applications at a very slow pace. Are there any plans to speed up the addition of new images?

Footnote and the National Archives staff and volunteers are working as fast as possible while still maintaining a process to ensure high quality images, indexes, while preserving the original documents.

If you are scanning widow's files in order, can you update what certificate number you are at from time to time so we have some idea how far along the process is regarding our own individual wait time?

I know that certificate numbers were formerly searchable, but they seem not to be now. (At least, I just tried searching for one--WC78602--that I know you've digitized, and the search failed.) Have you stopped indexing them? I, at least, found them useful--I'm studying one regiment, have all the certificate numbers from the pension indices, and have used them in the past to find soldiers who served in multiple regiments (including mine) and are listed under a different regiment. Doing that by name (or by looking at every regiment soldiers served in) will be much harder.

The reason you have not been able to find it is because this particular file is not part of our index yet. It was recently posted to the site. In the next few days you should be able to search by WC number and find it.|296118095

Is this project still going on or has it ground to a halt? I haven't seen any updates since 2012.

What about confederate widows, What did they do? My 4th great grandfather died in early 1864 in the war. Where the widows of the confederate get a pension?

It's now July of 2013 and there hasn't been an update since April of 2012! That's over a year + !!! What has happened to this project? Have you stopped doing it? This is unacceptably slow and makes paying for this site worthless :( I've payed for two years now for this?

I agree with the comment casay2245 just posted. I keep coming back each week to see if there is progress made on the Widow's Pension files and every time I come back, it is still at just 4%. I am beginning to think it will be cheaper to just order the records directly rather than continuing to renew my subscription here. Any idea of how long it will take for this process to be compete?

The Widow's Pension files is such a large collection that it is easier to see the progress from the actual image counts, not the percent complete. We are working on it continuously, and are getting close to having 125,000 files posted.

More than 72,000 new images were indexed and uploaded last month! Great work, Fold3!

I wish Fold3 would post the latest widow's certificate number that has been uploaded. That might make it easier to know how long i have to wait. :)

Another 64,000 images were indexed and uploaded to this collection just in the past month! Kudos, Fold3!

The highest pension file number I can find by searching is WC135029 as of 18 April 2014. More may have been added since but that may help others who want to see how long they might have to wait. I went ahead and ordered my ancestor's that was just under the 400000 mark because at this rate it will be many years before his is on Fold3.

I'm excited to see what comes online next. As far as the widow's pensions go, I keep checking for my ancestor. There were two men with the same name living near each other. I want to check the names to see if it's my ancestor and that's not posted... yet! :)

I have been looking for my immigrant ancestors on my maternal grandfather's side of the family off and on for years. After finding two brief Civil War records which appeared to be for my g-g-grandfather on Ancestry, I subscribed to this site. The widow's pension file under his name included a marriage record, his death certificate, a baptismal record for their only son, and approximately when my g-g-grandmother died in another state. The pension file was a sad but incredibly helpful discovery. Many thanks to everyone involved in preserving, indexing, and digitizing the records.

Is there anywhere that we can see which Widow's Pension # you are up to? I am trying to determine if you are anywhere close to the one I am after, but I have no idea how close you are. I tried to browse the collection, but I couldn't find a chronological browse option, to try and determine the # myself. Thank you, for all that you do.

The records have not been updated in months. What is going on?

Why can I no longer go straight into "Browse" for Civil War Widows' pensions and get the full list of states to search, but have to type in a name? I am not searching for one man, but for a range of soldiers in different states, and want to be able to access their regiments rather than simply their name. And I echo the previous correspondent's comments about updating, which is my perception, too, correct or not, as far as Civil War land, and even naval forces, are concerned. It would also be helpful to know when the various states' pension records (soldiers as well as widows) will start to be uploaded, as it takes a huge amount of time to have to check the several hundred names I am researching every few months. Likewise for the service papers: a schedule showing what is proposed over the next year or two would be really helpful. The earlier comment below about giving the latest certificate numbers to be uploaded is an excellent idea. We appreciate that, as you say above, it will take several years, but it would help our searching if a schedule could be posted.

The problem with searching within the browse has been fixed now. You can highlight the state now and search for a name

What an invaluable resource!