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Genealogical Jackpot

Genealogists keep an ancestor’s age in mind when looking for records. A standard question is whether a man was eligible to have served in one of our nation’s wars. If so, did he apply for a pension?

Pension application files can be rich sources of genealogical information. People wanted those pensions. They provided every document they could to strengthen their case. The government saved it all.

I had never been lucky enough to find one of these for any of my family members, until now. Last week I located an application filed by Bridget Ryan, widow of my second great-grandfather Daniel Ryan (1829-1863).

Daniel enlisted for a three-year term of service in the Union Army from Illinois in 1861. He died in Louisiana two years later from disease.

The Fold 3 subscription database has digitized copies of Civil War pension applications, and I was able to find Bridget’s. It is 76 pages long, due to some controversy.

The packet is chock-full of interesting documents:

  1. Certificates for Daniel’s marriages to each of his two wives.
  2. Catholic priest affidavits attesting to the baptisms of Daniel’s sons with each of the wives.
  3. Verification of Daniel’s military service from the U. S. Adjutant General office.
  4. Verification of Daniel’s death from the U. S. Surgeon General office.
  5. Guardianship information for the first son.
  6. Paperwork from the first son contesting the right of the widow and second son to receive a pension.
  7. Place of residence for the widow and the first son.

It would have taken a long time to collect these documents individually. Finding all of them in one convenient place saved me a lot of time.

Daniel suffered an untimely death during the Civil War. He left behind a tangled family life. The pension application based on his service gave this descendant a means to begin unraveling it.

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