2018 Genealogy Fair Session 3 – All’s Fair in Love and War: The Civil War Widows’ Pension Files


This is session number three of the 2018 Virtual
Genealogy Fair. The lecture is for the beginner skill level
and up. It is entitled, All ís Fair in Love and War:
The Civil War Widows’ Pension Files by presenter Alexandra Villaseran. She will discuss records from the Civil War
and the War with Spain. They contain claims from widows to prove their
entitlement for pensions based on deceased veterans’ military service. Ms. Villaseran is a processing archives technician
at the National Archives in Washington, DC. I am turning the broadcast over to Alexandra
Villaseran.>>Welcome, thank you for for joining us on
YouTube.My name is Alex, I am a processing technician here in Washington, D.C. commonly known as archives one and today I
will be talking about the case files of approved pension applications of widows and other dependents
of the Army and Navy who served mainly in the Civil War and war with Spain and commonly
known as widow certificates or WC files. They are part of entry 12A National Archives identifiers 30020 and record
group 15, records of the Department of Veterans affairs they are a heavily used records series by genealogists and social historians. These files contain records received by the Bureau of Pensions from widows to prove entitlement for pensions based on their deceased husbands’ military service as well as records created by the bureau that document actions taken concerning the applications. So earlier this year I was part of a textual processing
team here in archives one that recently completed a five years old holding maintenance projects
on the widow certificates, AKA the WC files. Together the team has processed 84,295 boxes which
is a total of 42,484.68 cubic footage and individually that is 1.6 million case files. So 1.6 total widows. If you’re looking for the widows pension files
themselves, they are digitized in part on fold three.com and those not are available to research in person here at archives one in Washington. Confederate pension files can be found in records of southern and border states. So on the left side you have what we call Hollinger
boxes, long-term archival storage boxes the right side if you come to research in research
room this is what you actually will receive this is an envelope containing the full documents of the widows’ pension files including the application, the granted certificate and any corroborating evidence included. So the majority of pension files became inactive
around 1930 and those that were still active around this time those files are with veterans
administration. And your search for a specific individual widow’s pension begin your search here at NARA, if you are requesting files not in our holdings we can direct you where it might be. So in 1936 when these records came to the National Archives each file was a bundle of folded papers you can see that photo on the left where WPA worker
processing these files, way they are originally accessioned into NARA they were tri-folded so if you ever folded up a letter size paper twice to be able to fit it into envelope that’s called trifold and you can see again see in the boxes that she’s got against the wall those are how they originally came and part of the job was to flatten them out and they were
put into the humidifying chamber which you see in the photo on the right to ensure that they would remain flat for long-term storage.So upon arrival, as I previously mentioned, were flattened and placed in acidic envelopes and large open-ended acidic cardboard boxes. The way we do things at the Archives today that is not really up to our standards. As part of the National Archives continuing
commitment to preserve and protecting the records in custody my duties as an be archives technician have included working on team that completed rehousing the case files into acid free low lignon envelopes and archival boxes that are appropriate for long-term storage and this is all in the course of trying to make the records last and to make them accessible for researchers. So when it came to soldiers’ pensions the law for what conditions qualified Changed over the years from loss of limb or eye to disability from service, wounds or disease and lastly to old age. When a soldier applied for a pension his file was designated a Soldier’s Original SO number, the first line on the screen, when it was approved it was filed under soldier certificate number or SC number and when a widow applied for soldiers
pension her file was designated a widow’s original or SO number and when it was approved it was filed under widow certificate or WC number and that’s what I had be talking about today, WC files. In the course of the presentation I will go find in the file and narrative put together over how to look up an individual in the pension index and then go over some documents you might find in the file and finally I will talk a little bit about the narrative you can put together using information gleaned from these documents. Tried to pick really interesting one so there are a couple of indexes you can use to begin your search. The first one is micro film roll T288 the general index to pension files 1861 and 1934. These are available to research in person
and in the micro film room here at National Archives in D.C. and they are also available online
for our partners at ancestry.com. When you are searching for individual these index cards are arranged
by surname and then first name and they do include the names of widows and other depend
ants and second record series for the pension files — second index for the pension file
is micro film roll T289 Organizational index to Pension Files of veterans who served between 1861 and 1900. As the previous — as like the previous index
these are available to research at archives one and also in full at fold3.com. Unlike the previous index these are arranged by state, type of service, regiment then company then soldiers name and in general it does not indicate the name of
widow or the guardians of minors and in general they are more likely to indicate the date
of death of the veteran. As an aside you can access — you can access ancestry and fold3 at any NARA field office. Many public institutions will often make it available at libraries, universities, et cetera. This is an example of pension index I found
on micro film roll T288 this particular image has been sourced from our partners at ancestry.com. You can research the index here in Washington D.C. and so here we can see the soldier William H. Chick previously of the17th Maine infantry applied for invalid pension on July 3rd, 1865 and upon the death his widow
Laura Stoneberry Chick applied for his pension on September 11th, 1916. Her application was approved and Williams
files were consolidated into a single WC file under certificate number 815792. What’s unusual about this next entry is that it includes space and information for contested widow. Anna S. Chick Townsend we see that she applied
on May 18th, 1917 for William Chick’s pension which by then was by then already being dispersed to first to the woman first listed as his widow, Laura. Some other information you can derive from
the card include the date of filing, state from which they filed and any additional remarks
being included in the last section. This is another index card also sourced from
partners at ancestry.com the same woman listed as William Chick’s contesting widow in the previous index card entry appears in this entry as Annie S. Townsend. We can see here that she applied for Charles Townsend’s pension as his widow on November 20th, 1896. Her files are available for research under
widow certificate file number 893807 which you can see listed in the columns under certificate
number. Upcoming slides I will be using some documents
pulled from this file to illustrate examples of what you might find on widow pension file
and how they may be of use to you in genealogical research. Here are documents you might
find on typical widow pension file and if widow’s husband had applied for an invalid pension prior to his death his pension files
will be consolidated with the widow’s claim in the WC file. These particular documents were included in
Annie Townsend’s file the widow from the index card listed as contested widow to another soldier William
Chick. She had been married to both men first to
William Chick and secondly to Charles Townsend. Invalid pensions typically Include an application for an invalid pension by a disabled soldier and that’s the left most document and this includes information about
the soldiers address, military service and nature of his disability. Here we can see that Charles Townsend of the
35th Massachusetts volunteers was shot in the hand during the battle of Antietam and subsequently had first and second fingers of his right hand amputated. This claim, of course, needed to be supported
by corroborating evidence included here is the officer’s certificate to disability of
soldier in which Townsend’s first lieutenant confirms the injury and that’s the third most document
from the left. Also included as part of the claim is the certificate of a disability for discharge. From this document we can glean that Private Charles Townsend was 5-foot seven he had dark complexion and eyes and hair and and prior to his service he was employed as a machinist in Massachusetts. Known as the of the right most documents. The files also typically include examining surgeon
certificates from the soldiers claim to invalid pension and as archivist Clare Kluskens writes in the spring 2010 and volume 42 issue of Prologue magazine and act of July 14th, 1862, required veterans to submit to examinations
every two years by local civilian doctor chosen by the commissioner of pensions. Congress left the Number and location of these civilian physicians
to the discretion of the commissioner and 172 civilian doctors were appointed by November
15th, 1862 and those places were quote the convenience of applicants deemed to require such an officer. As the number of veterans needing examination grew so did the number of physicians appointed from 172 in 1862 to 1,578 in 1877.Totally
disabled veterans not required to go for by annual examinations. While the pension act of 1862 did not expressly
define disabled the pension office continued to follow the express of the act of April 10th, 1806 and the offices established precedent that disability was measured by the veterans capacity for procuring a subsistence by manual labor. Not by whether he could perform the particular
kind of employment he had before military service an act of July 14th, 1862 provided an eight-dollar a month pension to private soldiers, for total disability for the performance and manual labor while the act of 1866 provided pension of $20 a month which
was later increase to $24 a month for disability and capacity of any manual labor. Ensuring that competent and scrupulous physicians and surgeons did examinations was an important concern in most counties a single physician conducted the examinations and larger cities where there were three or more physicians were established with the requirement that at least two of them jointly conduct the examination. From 1882 to 1883 the pension office changed the
system so that board of 3 1st class physicians and surgeons jointly conducted all examinations. Although the cost of paying three doctors two dollars was greater than paying a single examining doctor the more accurate results saved the government
money,always an important concern, boards were geographically established no claimant was required travel more than
40 miles to reach one by rail which was an important concern because roads were not paved. These records also include declaration for
widow pension as well as the widow’s certificate. Seeing here is Annie Townsend ‘s initial declaration
which was rejected on the grounds of insufficient proof of dissolution of a previous marriage
to a veteran who was still living. Later after much legal wrangling and correspondence
she was granted a pension under the act of April 19th, 1908. So in order to receive a widow’s pension the widow had to provide proof of marriage to the deceased veteran and had to show proof of her husband’s
death and in 1890s might have been subject to means test proving she had no overly valuable
property. Having initially been denied her second husband ‘s Charles Townsend’s pension due to insufficient proof of divorce from her first husband William Chick Annie Townsend proceeded to apply for
William Chick first husband’s pension as well that’s why she is listed as contested widow on his index card. So unusually the files for both her first
husband William Chick and files for second husband CharlesTownsend are compiled together
in one single WC file. It stands to reason that Annie thought if she
were not Charles Townsend’s widow in the eyes of the bureau she must be William Chick’s widow and therefore as part of her application
Annie included copy of the marriage certificate to William Chick which is the image on the
left as well as his death certificate which is the image on the right. So other final records are often included in the file to support the claims and may include marriage records like the certificate seen here stating that Otis Allen Leonard officiated the wedding on Anna
Chick and Charles Townsend in Brockport Massachusetts. Sometimes in lieu of an official recording of birth which may not have existed and some files include signed affidavits those that witnessed the birth. A file might also include internal correspondence from the Bureau of Pensions related to any discrepancy or conflict that had arisen with regard to the widow’s claims to the veterans
pension.This particular letter was included in Annie’s pension file. The conflict being discussed was whether she is eligible for to receive the pension of Charles Townsend, her second husband or William Chick her first husband. She was unable to show proof of divorce from her first husband William Chick. Rendering her second marriage invalid in the eyes of the Pension Bureau. Further complicating matters was fact that
Laura Chick, William’s second wife was receiving his pension despite the bureau not having record of divorce from marriage to Annie, his first
wife. As the letter states this claim is by reason of the action taken in the claim is placed in rather an anomalous situation and one difficult to defend by the bureau. And this particular document may also be of value
to researchers as includes information about other WO and WC files related to this one. One might also find affidavits taken from
neighbors, friends, coworkers, employers and others familiar with the widows and veterans
relationship. These were used as additional evidence to
support the widows claim for deceased husband’s pension. In this particular affidavit taken from WC 893807
Charles H Proctor, a resident of Lynn, Massachusetts, certified he had known the Townsends for about five
years and never they had never divorced and Annie was not remarried and finally that she had no property
except clothing and household furniture no income except from that derived from her own
labor. There have also been some examples of women
being denied pensions due to bad reputations or bad standing in the community and if they
kept company with the wrong sort of people, quote unquote, wrong, or had children out of wedlock,
situations like that, they might have been denied a pension. In some cases the bureau of pensions would send a special examiner to investigate widow’s claim and here we have a deposition conducted by special examiner MB Miller who interrogated Lula L. Haas about her knowledge regarding the marriage of William and Laura Chick. These transcribed depositions often provide valuable information to genealogists the information contained in them includes addresses, names
and dates as well as personal feelings regarding marriage, nature of the relationship- happy,
sad, struggling, thriving and answer to the character and personality of individuals in question. So a clear narrative emerges upon reading special examiner’s transcribed depositions as well as comprehensively reviewing all previously presented documents in the widow’s pension
case file for this particular case file Annie Chick Townsend the narrative gleaned from the deposition shown in the slides is as follows. Charles Townsend served in the Civil War as private in Company F in the 35th Massachusetts infantry and was honorably discharged after shot in the right hand at Antietam on September 17th, 1862. Charles married Nellie Dorel with whom he had four children but she died sometime before 1869 and that year the widower Charles hired Annie Denton Chick to help him keep house and raise his motherless children. The relationship soon turned romantic. On July 22nd, 1870 they were married and four months later their first son was born. The Townsend settled into life in Brockport, Massachusetts where Charles was employed as a machinist. Together they enjoyed 26 years of marriage
raising Charles four children from his first marriage, nine children of their own and Annie’s son
from her first marriage. Annie’s first marriage had been tumultuous, short and
plagued by accusations of infidelity. She married William Chick, first husband,
on April 11th, 1867 and son Leon was born shortly thereafter and when Leon was three
months old William went to Erie, Pennsylvania to find railroad while his wife and son visited family in Nova Scvotia. She received word from her sister that William was too attentive to a the local girl while she was away. Upon her return Annie says she did not room with him as I was high spirited and he did not
show he was sorry for his behavior. The first document the last most line she
actually says she wanted to tar and feather him which I thought was very interesting. After he parted ways with Annie William married
Agnes McNolte, his second wife on August 21st, 1870. Agnes died on October 7th, 1897 and William married a
little over a month later on November 23rd, 1897 to Laura Stonebury. Meanwhile on October 17th, 1897 Charles Townsend died probably of apoplexy in December 1897, Annie applied to the bureau of pensions for a widow’s pension. Her claim was rejected due to insufficient proof of obtaining a divorce from the first husband William, in fact, Annie and William never officially
filed for divorce. Chick married third wife Laura in Pennsylvania
where courts would presume divorce of prior marriages automatically to license the subsequent union.The case was otherwise in Massachusetts were Annie and Charles Townsend had wed. The courts in that state would only validate a marriage if previous marriages had been legally dissolved by an official filing of divorce papers. Annie found herself in a legal gray area and despite
of 26 years and nine children with Charles Townsend as far as the bureau was concerned she
was still the wife of William Chick. However, when William Chick died in 1916 Laura Stonebury Chick was granted a pension as his widow. According to recorded interrogation by special examiner MB Miller Laura Chick had never heard William mention the first wife Annie nor the son Leon. Laura had only become of Annie’s existence
in May 1917 when Laura’s pension was suspended pending the investigation of Annie’s pension
application claim that she, Annie, was a legal widow of William Chick. Although Annie was ultimately denied pension
as Chick’s widow her 1920 application for a pension as Townsend’s widow was allowed after much wrangling by the board of reviewl aw of review, law division
and commissioner. Sometimes you will find some gems like correspondence written in the widow’s own hand with these documents researchers and genealogist are able to discern a little bit
more about ancestors and other individuals lives and personalities. As an example here is impassioned April 26, 1923 letter to the secretary of the interior that Annie then 76 wrote. She writes it seem to me that all widows should
be treated alike and Federal laws are higher than state laws and every widow should receive
the same treatment from the Federal Government. For the Federal Government to take advantage
of State law in order to debar an aged widow would indicate that some of the lawmakers are very
small men in very large places and all of these weary years of struggling in the narrow
edge of wanton sorrow I never found that my God was good. It is only the good in the heart who suffer. He renders all good things of the world to
evil doers and what comes next no one honors. I have been a good citizen and brought up large family my grandchildren were among the first to volunteer for the defense of their country. We are always ready to face whatever comes
in the line of duty. War whenever it come my cchildren and grandchildren
are ready. I wanted to include this to illustrate that these are more than old papers
just housed in archival boxes they are a really testament to lives lived and challenges faced by women in massive, complicated, byzantine bureaucratic network and I think by examining the correspondence and other records in Annie Townsend’s case file you learn more in dates and sequence of events and also get real sense of her self-described
high spirited personality in her correspondence and in the recorded examination especially the one what she wanted to do to her first husband. Thank you for listening. As pension records are heavily requested the research
staff here at NARA is very experienced and knowledgeable and definitely help you out if you decide
to come visit us in person. If unable to visit us in person send us message
at [email protected] and full pension application requests are available online at archives.gov as well
and if not able to research in person there’s a form to request and fee you pay as well. Hope you enjoyed the info presented and helps
you going forward and good luck on your research.>>Thank you, Alexandra.>>I just want to remind everybody before we get to questions is that her handouts and presentation slides are available online on the genealogy fair web page and I just added the links to the YouTube chat. If you haven’t already sign in to the chat and you can also ask questions. So let’s get into them. Someone asked toward the beginning of presentation
about final payment information, they say there was no final payment information in
the file that they received. Where might they find it?>>I don’t know that information off the top of my head Clare Kluskens is sitting in the audience I will ask Claire. She says there will not always be a final payment information in the file if its from 1907 to 1933 there is a microfilm publication with that information
you might try researching through the archive catalog. If you can’t find any information that way,
definitely send us — request all the information you have on you at [email protected] and we
will get one of the archivist to answer in full detail for you.>>Thank you both. So the next question digitization. I know you guys have been working hard so
the question is what percentage of Civil War widows pension files as been digitized and
when do you expect the digitization to be complete?>>I think less than half are digitized right
now. Ones that are digitized available on fold
three and don’t have final dates for that I don’t know if they are actively being digitized we have several scan-a-thons going on
and citizen archivist and volunteers will scan them and you’re welcome to scan those
as well and always a fun time to go through them and make them available for researchers
that way.>>Another plug for first session folks talking
about the citizen archivist and next question — sounds like somebody’s files went missing. They said that I ordered a pension file for
soldier in the index. NARA says that they no longer have the file. Can you explain what might have happened in
this case where NARA — this person thinks report back was no longer had file for pension.>>With regard to the specific file we can’t
answer what happens to individual files and any number of things could have happened. If they are no longer in our custody send us another
request with all the information you have and do best to track it down for you and if
files still active around 1930 there’s a small chance they could be filed in records of veterans
administration.>>Good question. Some records might have been damaged and now
I think there was a fire at one point.>>There was a fire in St. Louis, I believe
and there was another one.>>Next question ask about somebody who was
actually with teamster, relative worked as teamster delivering supplies to the military
for the union and teamster delivering supplies to the military and wouldn’t he be entitled
to some sort of pension?>>The pension, widow pension files 12A don’t
believe include teamster records and only for widows that had husband that was deceased
and served in Union Army specifically.>>Scrolling backwards. People are saying great presentation, that
was a really great presentation, I learned a lot and someone having trouble interpreting
the cursive handwriting.>>I have the problem too sometime we have a lot of good handwriting experts on staff.>>I think that concludes presentation and
if something occurs to you later and want to submit a question to us send to [email protected]

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