Civil War (Union) Widows' Pensions Now Online

Posted 20 October 2008

From the onset of the Civil War, the US government granted pensions to widows of men who died in service to the Union Army. Then the Pension Dependent Act of 1890 extended benefits to those who could prove that they were the widows of honorably discharged veterans serving the Union for at least ninety days during the Civil War. A widow also had to provide proof of the soldier’s death, unless it resulted from his military service. An applicant could not have any means of support other than her day labor, and her marriage to the soldier had to occur before 17 June 1890, the date of the act.

These records, which were never microfilmed, were only accessible at the National Archives and Records Administration, in Washington, DC. Reproduction of a complete pension file for Union military service during the Civil War may be ordered by mail or online, but the fee for a complete file (up to 100 pages) is $75 and it takes up to 120 days to arrive.

Now, though, in partnering with the National Archives and FamilySearch, is making these valuable documents accessible online. On October 16, 2008, the website began releasing the first digitization of the Civil War Pension Files. Eventually, this digitizing and indexing project will encompass 1,280,000 Civil War and later widows’ files in the series. "These are one of the most heavily used series of original records at the National Archives," says James Hastings, NARA Director of Access Programs.

The cover page to the file lists the soldier’s name; company, regiment, and state of service; the widow’s name; and the names of any dependent children. Papers found in files often include the original application, proof of soldier’s service, proof of marriage (identifying the widow’s maiden name), and proof of children. Another record gives the date of death (or other circumstance) for the widow’s name to be dropped from the rolls.

For full details about accessing this data online, visit

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