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What Can You Learn From the War of 1812 Pension Files

Do you have an ancestor who served in the War of 1812? The digitization of the War of 1812 pension files continues and is now 86% complete. If you find your ancestor’s pension file, here are some tips on using these amazing records to research your military ancestors.

Find the Pension File: From the War of 1812 Pension Files publication page, enter a soldier’s name in the search box OR select Browse to search for files by state. Remember that many War of 1812 veterans received bounty land, so the state where your ancestor died may not be the state from which he served. Try a variety of search parameters until you locate the correct pension file.

The First Page: The file’s first page contains a summary and may include many details.

Spelling Variations for the Soldier’s Name: This pension file shows that the soldier’s records might be found under two different spellings (Alger or Elger). However, as we dive deeper into the manuscripts in this file, a third spelling is also used (Alaer). These are all great clues for further research.

Where the Soldier Served/Enlistment and Discharge Dates: After learning which regiment your ancestor served in, you can do further research on that regiment. Which battles did they participate in? Who commanded the regiment? Sometimes, pension files give details about the regiment’s service, but if your ancestor’s file doesn’t contain those details, search the commanding officer’s pension file or the files of others who served in the same regiment. These can all help build the narrative of your ancestor’s service.

The Veteran’s Residence: Knowing where our ancestors lived is crucial to finding additional records. This pension file shows that the soldier relocated from Virginia to Indiana and that, by 1878, he had passed away, but his widow survived him. Sometimes, these boxes are left blank on the first page, but take the time to read through the manuscripts in the pension file, and you will likely learn more about the soldier’s residence.

The Widow’s Maiden Name and Marriage Date: In the example below, we are lucky to find this information right on the first page. Often, it requires reading through the file very carefully. Researching women can be particularly difficult, so learning that this soldier was married twice and that the file contains the maiden names of both women is extremely valuable. A widow had to prove her marriage to the veteran, so you may find an affidavit from the person who performed or witnessed the marriage. We have even come across pages from the family bible in the pension file as proof of marriage.

Did the Widow Apply for a Pension: When a veteran’s widow applied for a pension, officials created a file and gave it a number. W.O. refers to the Widow’s Original. When the application was granted, it became known as the W.C. or Widow’s Certificate.

Did the Soldier Receive Bounty Land: Various acts of Congress granted bounty land for soldiers who fought in the War of 1812. This pension file reveals that this veteran received 80 acres of bounty land in 1850 (Certificate No. 32478) and 80 acres of bounty land in 1855 (Certificate No. 12346).

Affidavits: Proper military records were not kept during the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. Consequently, soldiers had to provide proof of their service. Pension files contain affidavits of individuals who hope to provide that proof. The affidavits may be from fellow soldiers, acquaintances, family members, etc. These are written in quill and ink and may be difficult to read, but they can reveal amazing details. Take advantage of Fold3’s® Viewer Tools along the right margin to enlarge, rotate, and adjust the contrast to make these manuscripts easier to read. You can also transcribe these records using the ‘Annotate’ feature and then select ‘Transcription.’

Children and Dependents: Pension files may contain the names and birthdates of the veteran’s children.

Death Date of the Soldier: Pension files usually contain the death date of the veteran.

Use these helpful tips and dive into our War of 1812 Pension Files to learn more about your ancestors’ military service. Search the free War of 1812 Pension Files collection today on Fold3®.


  1. Jonne E Adams says:

    If your ancestor was in a state militia and moved to another state after the War of 1812 he very possibly would not have received a pension from that state. However don’t fail to search the Bounty Lands Applications at NARA that he or his surviving spouse may have applied for. That is what happened with one of my ancestors……………………….. When the report came from NARA there was a detailed report of his service.

  2. ADAM says:

    I think it’s pretty amazing that not only are 200+ year old military records being discovered in such large quantities, but they have even survived at all.

    • Donald Hall says:

      They aren’t being discovered–they’ve always been there in the Archives in Washington DC–it’s just that getting to them was a painful, and sometimes expensive, process. Digitizing them is just making them readily accessible.

  3. Doris Gorgas says:

    This will be exciting!
    I did discover one veteran was buried in Washington DC. That record was in the Alexandra Museum.

  4. Robert Shay says:

    My great great grand-father served in the 1812 conflict, his son served in the civil war and was wounded. He and his son are buried in Illinois.

  5. Jeannette Gilchrist says:

    Hello. I am looking for someone who served the war of 1812. His name is Obediah Thomas and he is my father. He was on Legislation and in the Library of Congress. Please let me know if you can find anything on him. I was a baby when he died. It would mean that much to me. Thank you in advance for everything.

    • Jenny Ashcraft says:

      Hello Jeannette, Wow! I am trying to do the math and figure out how a War of 1812 Veteran has a living daughter. I searched for Obediah but did not see him in any records for the War of 1812. I also searched “O. Thomas.” Do have any further information or know what state he served for?

    • Kenneth C. Morgan says:

      I also did the math and you could not be a daughter of someone who served during the War of 1812? They would have likely been born by or before 1800? I would sooner think he served in the Civil War or more likely one of the conflicts between the Civil War and World War 1. Perhaps even World War 1? It would be unlikely your grandfather served in the War of 1812?

  6. Graham Bandy says:

    May I ask why – now Fold3 contains many British recirds, and will probably contain the post 1921 service records that are currently being digitised – is it that EVERY email I get, and EVERY blog post is about the US Army…including this one which we actually won…??

    If you are taking are records AND our monies to access them, WHY are you so US centric??
    Why is there no blogs about British Service personnel? Why are there no emails about British records??

    Poor show ancestry, poor show.

  7. Barb LaFara says:

    I searched for an ancestor in the 1812 Pensions and discovered his widow applied for the pension. Among the supporting documents is a handwritten letter from her that she addressed to President Cleveland! The grammar and spelling are awful, but finding her letter digitized on Fold3 was fantastic. BTW, she did not receive the pension, it was denied.

  8. Marie Poinan says:

    How do we go about finding where the bounty land was located? I volunteer at a local historical society and visitors come in asking about their ancestors’ land grants and we would like to help answer their questions.

  9. Sharon Miller says:

    Any idea when this collection will be completed? My ancestor is Francis Sullivan who is in the 14% not yet availableonline. Thanks. So happy these records are available online!

    • Jenny Ashcraft says:

      Hi Sharon, It will probably take another 18 months to complete all the digitization. However, we are currently on letter “S” so I anticipate the pension record you are waiting for we be available much sooner.

  10. Kim Schoenback says:

    how do i find out about a vet whose records burnt in st louis?

  11. Irene R. Butland says:

    I’m searching for the cemetery where my great great grandmother’s brother is buried. Samuel Linderman died at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. He was 26 years old. Samuel was a union soldier. He was declared missing in action on July 1, 1863. His sister is my Great Great Grandmother—Lydia Linderman Harper.

  12. Kim Samuelson says:

    I am looking for any information on my ggg grandfather Jeremiah Turner who served in the War of 1812. I have front page with pension numbers for his widow, Zebiah Turner, (WO 43599 and WC 34498), but the page has nothing else on it. I also found a land grant for her through the BLM for 120 acres in Wisconsin, based on her being a widow of Jeremiah Turner serving in the War of 1812, with a warrant number of 90.771. However, I have not been able to find any other information such as their marriage date, his death date, etc. The government had to have known his death information if they gave her a land warrant based on her being his widow. Is there anyone who can help me find any other information on Jeremiah? I am writing a book about his family and really need the information sooner than 18 months.

  13. Kathryn Taylor says:

    I am looking for a James Smith, born in Wales who served as a musician in War of 1812, I cannot find any more information except his enlistment and discharge dates of 6/28/1847 to 11/5/1847. His wife was Sarah and he died in 1867 at 39 years old.

  14. My GGG Grandfather, Clement H. Brooke, received 160 acres land grant. Is there a way to find out where that land was?

    • Jackie Budell says:

      Searching the General Land Office records at the Bureau of Land Management site returns these results:|st=|cty=|ln=brooke|fn=clement%20|sp=true|sw=true|sadv=false

      Several are “canceled” documents and the remaining entries reference the Scrip Warrant Act of 1850 for land in Illinois and Wisconsin. Note that most veterans sold their scrip for cash and never settled the land in the states indicated.

  15. Jack Belsom says:

    Good morning.
    I am wondering whether the records include the citizen militias that defended New Orleans under the command of General Andrew Jackson 1814/15. I suspect that direct ancestors Jean Henri (Henry) Belsom and Henri (Henry) Belsom were involved in the battle with he British army downriver from the city.

    • Jenny Ashcraft says:

      Hi Jack, I don’t see anything in pension files for these men, but I do see a service card for Henri Belsom and Henri Belsom (son) who both served in the 5 Regiment (La Branche’s) Louisiana Militia.