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All I want for Christmas

Dear Santa,

With no small pangs of regret, The Legal Genealogist does realize that wrapping up cousins and putting them — or at least their DNA — under my Christmas tree may not be possible… or even legal in some parts of the world.

So despite the fact that yesterday’s DNA wish list is my priority,1 there are a few other things I’d love to have if you’re so inclined.

Let’s start, Santa, with a pension file.

Dollar Bills As Money GiftActually, with a whole bunch of pension files, while we’re at it.

And you’d make a whole lot of people very happy if you’d deliver this one in genealogists’ Christmas stockings, Santa.

You see, back a couple of hundred years ago, folks here in the United States got into a dust-up with our British cousins. And although it’s hard to imagine today, we did some pretty amazing things.

Like invade Canada.2

And have the Capitol and White House in Washington, D.C. burned by the British.3

And fight one of the most important battles of the war after the peace treaty had been signed.4

No, most of the War of 1812 wasn’t one of our better moments, overall, and we were darned lucky we survived as a nation.

And even luckier as genealogists because of the records that the war led to.

Specifically… the granting of pensions to those who served. And even the denial of pensions to some who may have served, or may have been married to those who did, but who couldn’t prove eligibility. More than 180,000 pension files for War of 1812 soldiers and their families.

Because the applicants had to prove eligibility, pension files are chock full of goodies: pages from family Bibles; original marriage records; original citizenship papers; discharge certificates and so much more.

And because the pension files have so many goodies, they are among the most frequently used records held by the National Archives — and that makes them among the most fragile, the most in need of preservation and digitization to make them more accessible for us all.

So, Santa, how about it? How about delivering to every genealogist who ever has used, ever might use, could ever even think of using these records the directions on how to donate to the Preserve the Pensions campaign?

This is an effort led by the Federation of Genealogical Societies, with matching funds support from Ancestry. Every image digitized becomes available, free, to the public. So far, enough money has been raised to preserve about 38% of the files — so there’s a lot more that needs to be done, Santa. Each page costs 45 cents to digitize. A donation of $4.50 would usually digitize 10 pages. But because of the matching funds from Ancestry, that same donation will digitize 20 pages. For a flat $10, nearly 45 pages can be protected. Go to $20 and it’s nearly 90 pages. And for $45, 200 pages of these genealogical treasures can be preserved.

The directions are really easy, Santa, and tucking them into everybody’s stockings wouldn’t add much weight to your sleigh: just tell everybody to head over to the Preserve the Pensions website and click on the Donate Now button.

It’s for a really good cause, Santa.

Thanks.


NOTES

  1. Judy G. Russell, “2014 holiday wish list: DNA,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 21 Dec 2014 (http://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : accessed 21 Dec 2014).
  2. Where we got our tails whipped. Seriously. Read up on it if you don’t believe me. See e.g. Pierre Berton, The American Invasion of Canada: The War of 1812’s First Year (New York : Skyhorse Pub., 2012).
  3. See “The British Burn Washington, DC, 1814,” Eyewitness to History (http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com/ : accessed 21 Dec 2014).
  4. The Treaty of Ghent, ending the war, was signed 24 December 1814, when the Battle of New Orleans was getting underway. The battle continued until 8 January 1815. See Wikipedia (http://www.wikipedia.com), “Battle of New Orleans,” rev. 7 Dec 2014. Today, people would be tweeting the signing as it occurred. Then we were lucky to get a ship across the Atlantic in a week, with even more time needed to get to the Gulf of Mexico.
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