Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Military Records

The Medina County Genealogical Society's July meeting included a class on military records. It reminded me that military records are some of my favorite records to research. The documentation of an individual's life when it is intersecting with big historical events is intoxicating!

There are two major types of military records: service records document the day-to-day records of an individual's service; and pension records, which document the benefits a person takes advantage of after their service has ended.

These types of records produce very different information that a genealogist would be interested in. The service record will tell where the person served and in what capacity, at what rank, if he/she had any awards or medals, what training was received and their medical records. It generally does not have any information about family members or the military members movements after they left the service. That is where the pension records come in. I LOVE pension records!

The National Archives has a very complete page about US military records and how to order them: 

If your ancestor's service was for the Confederacy or for a state militia, the records will be held at the state level, not by the federal government. Foreign military service records are generally available from the foreign government.

So, how do you know if a relative ever served in the military?
My Great Great Grandfather, James Tanner on
the right. He is in a Civil War Navy Captain's
uniform. His son, George Tanner is in his World
War I US Army uniform.
·        Family stories and traditions
·        Photographs
·        Published histories
·        Cemetery markers
·        Biographies
·        Age at the time of major conflicts 
·        Census records that have military service information:
           1910 asked men if they were a veteran of the Civil War
           1890 Census had special schedules that lists Union Civil War veterans or their surviving spouses.
          1840 Census lists Revolutionary War pensioners, or their widows, on the second page.

So what kind of genealogical information have I uncovered in military records??

My Revolutionary War Ancestor, Christian Young, in his pension application, reveals all the different places he served and the battles he participated in. He also mentions that he helped build the cheval de frise (barrier made of spiked posts) across the Hudson River that was supposed to keep the British from sailing up the Hudson from New York City, which they occupied. This was while he was stationed at Fort Montgomery. He goes on to tell how he and others from the fort escaped when the British over ran the fort. They crawled through the trees and rocks to a ship waiting just off shore.

In James Tanner's (pictured above) pension records, I discovered that his rank was never higher than Common Seaman, despite the stories he told his grandchildren and the photo he posed for with his son. I also discovered why it was so difficult to pin him down in the census records. He moved every 18 months. I later learned from a cousin that he worked for the railroad and that was why he moved so often. His record also revealed what ships -- actually,boats, river boats, he served on.
The Grampus

These are the two ships James Tanner served on. The Grampus was a training ship.

The Peosta was a steamboat outfitted as a gun boat. It patrolled the Tennessee River.
The Peosta

James McComas' pension record revealed that his wife, my 4X great aunt, Mary Ann, died of typhus, a disease quite probably brought home from the returning Civil War Soldiers. (I thought it likely that she died of exhaustion after giving birth to 11 children in less than 20 years!) 

Later in James' record, Mary Ann's brother, James Tagg, my 3X great grandfather, served as a notary, taking James McComas' statement for his pension record. After several pages of recording the statement, fatigue must have set in. The nearly 70 year old slipped into the English accent of his youth by writing "he as ad"  when he clearly meant "he has had"!  

That kind of personal detail you can't find in many records!!

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