Striking Out on Civil War Pensions

I’ve requested three Civil War pensions from my researcher contact at the National Archives and he tells me that they are not at the National Archives. Based on suggestions from him and another genealogist, I’ve decided try contacting the Federal Personnel Records Center in St. Louis for copies of these records to make certain they are not there before I contact the Veterans’ Administration and make a Freedom of Information Act request.

Why are the files not in the National Archives? That’s because not all Civil War pension files are in the National Archives. The vast majority are and that is the place to initially make your request for Civil War pension materials.

The three files I requested were for:

  • Alfred Butler, 9th Regiment, Company I, Michigan Cavalry
  • Charles Kirkham, 61st Illinois Infantry, Company I
  • William Ehmen, 43rd Illinois Infantry, Company C

Why aren’t these men’s pensions at the National Archives? The reason is pretty simple (or at least I think so): their wives.

  • Alfred Butler’s wife, Sarah, died in 1952
  • Charles Kirkham’ s wife, Reka, died in 1960
  • William Ehmen’s wife, Tjede, died in 1942

While I’m not certain of the exact cutoff to be in the National Archives, I’m reasonably certain that Kirkham’s pension is not at the Archives because the widow who was getting pension benefits died in 1960. The relatively recently deaths of the other two may be the reason as well.  I just know that the pensions I have received from the National Archives have been ones where the widows died well before 1942. This experience is anecdotal and your experience may vary slightly.

We will have a status update when there’s something to report.

There’s a reason behind getting each pension as this is not an academic exercise.

  • Alfred Butler is a son of my ggg-grandfather Benjamin Butler (about 1819 New York State-1880s Vernon County, Missouri). I’m hoping his pension provides a clue as to Alfred’s origins or that perhaps family members provided testimony.
  • Reka (Behrens) Ideus Kirkham (about 1872-1960) is a first cousin of my gg-grandmother Fredericka (Sartorius) Janssen. I’m hoping that her widow’s application contains details about her that I do not have, particularly information on her date and place of birth.
  • William/Willm Ehmen is a first cousin of my gg-grandfather Focke Jansen Goldenstein. I’m just curious about this one and with extended family in the area, it’s possible that one of them testified in Ehmen’s pension or his widow’s application.

Stay tuned.

My connections to the above are on my ahnenlist.


4 thoughts on “Striking Out on Civil War Pensions

  1. I am looking into requesting a pension application file on my 3x g-gma, but there are discrepancies in her soldier husband’s service. She’s my direct line, he’s collateral, but I’m hoping the file will reveal some useful info on her daughter (my 2x g-gma) who I believe might have been “illegitimate.” The index card for her widow & dependent pension file shows she filed with him serving in a certain AL Union regiment, but I have turned up no evidence of him serving there. I have however, turned up (probable) evidence that he served in a nearby AL Confederate regiment. I’m on a fixed income & I don’t want to shell out $80 to NARA just to have them tell me her file isn’t there. Suggestions or recommendations?

    • I’ve not been charged if the file is not there. I did get a merry run around for over a year trying to get a granduncle’s pension file. Each place I wrote said it wasn’t there and I should contact a new address they supplied. If I remember correctly, I wrote to 3 places and I’m not so sure I didn’t end up where I started. The day it arrived in the mail it came 2nd day air. It was over 300 pages. I had asked and been turned away so long before it came I couldn’t imagine what it was! And I have no idea how much I paid. Of those 300 pages there was not one thing there we didn’t already know. NO family names other than his wife and her parents and of course we already knew those. Page after page of descriptions of his health. Everybody and their neighbor attested to his health. Nothing at all before 1890 which is what we were hoping to get.

      • I wasn’t charged for those files and I’m working on getting them. The two times there was quite a bit of pre-1880 information in the file was when a special examiner was sent out to interview the widow and family members. In those cases, there was significant information.

        But many times there is page after page about his health-which they were trying to document to get the pension.

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