Civil War Pension Files of Former Slaves Who Served

I was leafing through Voices of Emancipation and got to wondering if any of my forebears who owned slaves are mentioned in a Civil War pension application of one of those former slaves. Regosin and Shaffer discuss several applications where affidavits or statements reference the slaveholding family who held the veteran before the war, particularly when attempts are made to document the veteran’s age, marital status, areas of residence before the war, or other antebellum aspects of their life.

Given when most Civil War veterans were born, this may be only helpful in my research with one ancestral family who owned slaves through the early 1840s. There are uncles/aunts and cousins who were slaveowners until the War, but I’d like to focus on my Kentucky ancestor who freed his slaves in his 1840 will. It’s possible some of them were involved in the War.

It’s important to remember that the former slaves of an ancestor are a part of their FAN (friend, affiliate, neighbor) network–if not an outright biological relative.


Voices of Emancipation: Understand Slavery, the Civil War and Reconstruction through the U. S. Pension Bureau Files, by Elizabeth A. Regosin and Donald R. Shaffer


Women, Slavery, and Murder on My Reading List

A few months ago, I actually sat down and made time to actually read one of the books that’s been on my shelf for some time. That caused me to purchase a few new books and pull one that I’ve been meaning to read for some time and put it on my short list. I’m intentionally avoiding reading genealogy “how-to” books for a while in place of some historically based materials.

On my reading list:

I’ve actually finished They Were Her Property: White Women as Slave Owners in the American South. It was an easy read and focused more on the perspective of the female slave owner than the slave, drawing upon court records, published materials, and interviews of ex-slaves conducted during the 1930s as a part of the Federal Writer’s Project. While the fact that white women owned slaves should come as no surprise to genealogists with ancestors in the antebellum South, the book goes into some detail about the way white women handled their slaves. Of particular interest to me was the legal machinations done to ensure white women retained their ownership of enslaved individuals–but Jones-Rogers does not get buried into the legal details as much as I would like. That said, for the genealogist who wants an overview without getting mired in legalities too much, it’s a good read. The book though paints a realistic portrait of slave holding in the South.

Masterful Women which I’m approximately one-fifth of the way through, is a more dense read and takes a more academic tone. However, it delves a little into the legal details of slave ownership, focusing on widows and not on married women. It’s not a breezy read (at least not for me) and I’ve found myself actually referring to footnote as I read it or Googling a word, phrase, or historical event to make certain I’m understanding things correctly.

Women and the Law of Property in Early America is one I have seen others refer to and when I saw it referenced I decided to add it to my reading list. It is organized by legal topic–making it an easier reference than the others that are on the list. I’ve browsed a few portions of it and it seems very readable but I have no doubt there will be some terminology I’ll have to brush up on while reading it.

Voices of Emancipation: Understand Slavery, the Civil War and Reconstruction through the U. S. Pension Bureau Files I stumbled upon while reading They Were Her Property. I really didn’t do too much delving into the endnotes of They Were Her Property as I read it, but there was a section where it “felt” like that sort of detail would come from a pension application and Regosin and Shaffer’s was referenced. Having read a fair number of materials from Civil War Union pension applications, the book appealed to me from that perspective.

The Ties That Buy is a study of women and commerce in early America. I’ve not even peeked at it yet.

Homicide Justified: was purchased some time ago because it referenced a relative who murdered a slave. It’s on my to-read list, but the reference to the situation in which I have an interest was a summary of two newspaper articles that I have already located. I am hoping the text gives me some additional insight when I begin going through the court records that I have located after the early 19th century murder of a slave in Bedford County, Virginia.

I’ll be interested in hearing comments from readers who happen to have these materials on their genealogical/historical bookshelf.


Children in Quotes and No Data Entry

I’ve tried to be very careful in my blog posts on the family of Benjamin Butler to put the word “children” in quotes. It would probably be best to refer to these individuals as members of Benjamin’s household, particularly those who are not enumerated in his 1880 household.

My work on these individuals is incomplete and at this point I’m not certain which children are his and which ones may be children of one of his wives by a previous marriage. Even for his children, I’m not certain for all of them which ones were born from which marriage. Benjamin is known to have had two wives, Margaret Stevens and Nancy Jane Wolfe. Benjamin married Nancy Jane in Nebraska in 1854. He may have had a wife between Margaret and Nancy.

Entering any relationships in a computer database is premature at this point as well.

I’ll stick to charts to list the children as we’ve shown in blog posts and maintaining the individuals as separate people in any genealogical databases that include relationships.

But to be honest, I’m sticking to doing my work in Microsoft Word.


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It’s Not a Hallson

It took me quite a while to figure out what this word was on John Lake’s 1863 federal tax assessment. The item he was taxed on (the actual heading it “occupation or article”) is the one on the list between the line that starts with 13 and the line that starts with 18.I’m pretty certain it says “stallion. “The tax due was $10.83–this would have been a nice piece of change in 1863.


Were They Married: What’s More Reliable?

I’ve stripped the identifying details because these individuals were alive during my lifetime. The thought process and analysis is what matters.

A relative dies in California in the early 1970s and is survived by a woman with whom he shared his home. She is referred to as his “wife” in his obituary. His “wife” dies ten years later in California.

The relative’s intestate probate file documents who the heirs of the relative were at the time of his death and how the balance of his estate was distributed among his heirs. No wife is listed as an heir–only his siblings or children of pre-deceased siblings are listed. Those same individuals receive the entire balance of his estate. Again, no wife is listed. No spousal inheritance is indicated.

Ten years later the woman who was living with him at the time of his death dies. Her last name on the death certificate is two last names: the apparent last name of a previous husband and the last name of a relative. These two last names are separated by an “aka.” The woman’s marital status is listed as “widowed.” The informant’s name, address, and relationship to the deceased are given. The name and address are consistent with a known sister-in-law of the relative who died in the early 1970s. The relationship as stated on the death certificate is “sister-in-law.”

To date, a marriage record has not been located for the relative and the woman who was his purported wife.

But what is more likely to reflect the true marital relationship (were they married or not?): the probate record, the death record, or the obituary? That is the order in which I would give them credence. Had there been a legal marriage, the wife would have been entitled to inherit from his estate (if this is not something I am certain of, reference to appropriate state statue at the time in question is recommended). The woman living with him would have known that he died and, if she were entitled to his property, would likely have asserted her rights to it.

The death record states she is widowed, but that reference could have been to a previous husband. The informant being listed as a “sister-in-law” is evidence of a relationship between the two, but stronger evidence than that statement is needed.

And obituaries? Well they can always be incorrect.

Not all records are created equally.


Beginning Irish Research Webinar Released

Irish research isn’t easy, but knowing what is available and having a plan can help. That’s what is discussed in my “Beginning Irish Research” webinar. It’s an hour of actual content–no babble and we don’t spend time trying to sell you other products.

Irish native Annie (Murphy) Neill, born about 1840.

More information (including a discount coupon for Rootdig readers good through 19 November) can be found on our announcement page.

Note: the coupon is good through 19 November even though the announcement page says otherwise.


Are those “n”s made into “u”s or vice versa?

The screen above is one of the results from a search for  “Freund” as a last name in Scott County, Iowa, in the Civil War Draft Registrations Records (1863-1865) at I’m not exactly certain what made someone think “Panl” was a first name. I’m not even certain what it could be an abbreviation for.

The image below is from the actual record. It really appears to be Paul Freund as the 37 year old on line 2 of this image.

Astute readers will notice that there is also a forty year old Peter Freund listed. Turns out they are brothers, but that’s not clear from this listing.


Thoughts on “Is It My Person?”

  1. Sounds matter more than spelling. Consider a name as potentially being a match to your person of interest if the name sounds the name, even if the spelling is different.
  2. Ages should be reasonably consistent. If the document gives an age it should be relatively consistent with the known age for the person. Often we do not know who provided the age in the record and it’s also possible that the age you have for a person is incorrect, particularly if you know little about the person of interest.
  3. Does it fit the chronology for the person of interest? People are not buying land or paying taxes (usually) before they reach the age of majority. Eighty-year old women are not having children. Sixty-five year old men are not usually signing up for active military service.
  4. Does it fit the lifestyle of the person of interest? Does the new document indicate the person attended a denomination significantly different from what is suggested in other records? Does the new document suggest a significant change in financial status? Is the residence of the person of interest consistent with what is suggested by the new document? Does the person’s religious beliefs or church membership suggest they would not actively serve in the military on a volunteer basis? Is the occupation listed consisted with the known person.
  5. Place of birth should be reasonably consistent. Records on the known person may give inconsistent places of birth, but these hopefully are either in close geographic proximity or tied to other events in their life (eg. the family of origin moved and places of birth as given include these different places). If all information on the known ancestor suggests they were born in Kentucky or Virginia, a record you think is on them that indicates they were born in New Hampshire would be suspect.
  6. Any other item that looks “off.” This last piece of advice summarizes the first five points and is intended to cover anything we overlooked. If the new record suggests something significantly different from what’s known about the known ancestor, there’s a good chance you have the wrong person in that new record.

The less you know about a person of interest, the more difficult it can be to make these judgement calls about whether you have the same person in a record or not. In those cases, more research is warranted before determining if it’s the same person.

Keep track of the things you have eliminated as being for your person of interest, especially if that determination took you some time. Don’t just track what you concluded was not for your person of interest–briefly include your reason as to why that conclusion was reached and the information eliminated. That will make it easier if you realize what you “knew” about the person of interest was incorrect and a review of previous research is necessary.