Monday, February 3, 2014

A Civil War Widow Applies for a Pension

Recently my subscription was about to expire.  I rarely used it, finding it hard to navigate and not very useful.  But I decided to give it one last chance to prove itself.  

I started poking around the Civil War records, since that’s their specialty.  After a few misses, I had a hit.  My husband’s great-great-grandfather Charles Alwood, who died in a Civil War camp from typhoid fever, had a wife who applied for a widow’s pension just weeks after he died.  I downloaded and printed out the 18 pages of records, and it was a gold mine!

I spent the next few hours analyzing what I’d found.  It included:
  • The Declaration, partially shown in the photo.  It was an sworn affidavit which gave a detailed background of Elizabeth and Charles, his service, his death, and their family.  Her parents were the sworn witnesses.  One thing they had to swear to was that Elizabeth “has not, in any manner, been engaged in, or aided or abetted the rebellion in the United States.”  Elizabeth had to sign all the documents with an “X”—she couldn’t read or write.
  • As proof of these facts, a letter from the Adjutant General’s Office which gave the details of Charles’ army service, from enrollment until death.  Very handy to have!
  • A letter from the Surgeon General’s Office that is the equivalent of a death certificate for Charles.  Priceless!  I’d never been able to narrow down exactly when and where he died.
  • An affidavit from Tuscarawas County, Ohio, stating the details of Charles and Elizabeth’s marriage—the equivalent of a marriage certificate, signed by a judge.
  • An affidavit from Elizabeth’s mother, stating that she was present at the birth of all six underage children being listed on the pension application.  She gave the details about each birth.  A great substitute for official birth records, which the government did not keep in the 1850s!
  • Paperwork for Elizabeth’s later application (and approval) for a pension increase; in addition to her $8 per month, she was entitled to an additional $2 per month for each child under age 16.  The children are again listed, with birth dates and dates on which they will turn 16, along with many other details.
  • A “Drop Pensioner” card which states the details of Elizabeth’s death in 1912, at which time she was receiving $12 a month.  Not a death record, but pretty darn close.  Better than anything I’d been able to find previously.

I found it interesting that, on these forms created in the middle of the Civil War, the conflict is referred to as “The War of 1861.”  I’d never heard it called that before.

So, maybe had its place in my toolbox after all...  I have written for a Civil War pension record before—to the National Archives—and it was an expensive hassle.  This was easy and free!  So, I did one more thing that day—I renewed my subscription to

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