Don’t forget the appeals
One of the most powerful sources of genealogical information on the face of the earth is the military pension file.
Chock full of detail on everything from the military service of the soldier or sailor himself to the details of his family, military pensions often give us insights into family history that just can’t be found anywhere else.
So it’s no wonder that any genealogist — The Legal Genealogist included — is thrilled to find the name of an ancestor or collateral relative on any list of those who were awarded pensions for military service.
And also no wonder that any genealogist — The Legal Genealogist included — is disheartened and discouraged on discovering that any particular family member didn’t live long enough to file for a pension.1
Where we occasionally go wrong, however, is in not pursuing the matter all the way when we think that a family member was alive at a time when he or she could have applied for and received a pension — but we don’t find the name on the pension list.
Because not everybody who applied for a pension got it.
And the records created when someone didn’t get a pension are still well worth the effort of tracking them down.
Here’s one clue to getting into those records that you might not have thought of before: the Decisions of the Department of the Interior in Appealed Pension and Bounty-Land Claims.
Up until 1930, administration of the military pension program was in the Department of the Interior. It was only in 1930 that the Bureau of Pensions was transferred to the Veterans Administration.2
And — starting in 1887 and running through to 1930 — the Department of the Interior prepared and published its decisions in appealed cases involving military pensions.
There were 22 volumes of decisions published and a quick online search turns up all of them, digitized, online, free. The best collection is at HathiTrust Digital Library, an online partnership of academic and research institutions, where you can find all but volumes 19 and 21-22 in full text in this collection from the University of Michigan. Volume 19 is at HathiTrust as well, in the collection from Harvard University, and the last two volumes (21-22) can be found here in the collection from the University of California.
So… what might you find in one of these volumes?
Well, the most important thing you might find is the name of one of your relatives — someone who either applied for a pension and was denied, or who was a family member of a soldier ot sailor or a witness who just happened to be mentioned in the course of the opinion. Finding that reference can alert you to the fact that there’s a file out there that needs to be obtained and reviewed.
And although the opinions themselves tend to be brief and provide only snippets of information, those snippets alone can be pure gold.
• Andrew J. McIntire, who served in Company D of the 26th Kentucky Volunteers, had two neighbors submit affidavits that he’d been treated for lung ailments secondary to measles right after he was discharged from the service, but it wasn’t enough to convince the Interior Department that it was service related.3
• Joshua Pyle, who served in Company K of the 124th Pennsylvania Volunteers, became totally deaf as the result of concussion in the Battle of Antietam. In 1869, he was killed when he was hit by a train, and his widow Elizabeth argued that he wouldn’t have died if he hadn’t been deaf. The argument didn’t work: “such bald assumption is necessarily hypothetical,” the department said.4
• Walter Ingerick enlisted in the 143rd Regiment of the New York Volunteers in 1862 and died in service in 1864. Both of his parents sought a pension as his dependents. The father was given a pension; the mother was not because at the time of her son’s service “she abandoned her husband without good cause, and entered upon a life of shame and adulterous intercourse with one Lamen Hinckly.”5
Even when a pension application is turned down, the facts you may find may be appealing indeed.
- See e.g. Judy G. Russell, “Chasing that pension file,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 20 Mar 2013 (https://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : accessed 22 Apr 2015). ↩
- See “History of Interior,” U.S. Department of the Interior (http://www.doi.gov/ : accessed 22 Apr 2015). ↩
- Andrew J. McIntire, “Decisions of the Department of the Interior in Cases Relating to Pension Claims” (Washington, D.C.: Govt. Printing Office, 1887), I: 20-21; digital images, HathiTrust (http://www.hathitrust.org/ : accessed 22 Apr 2015). ↩
- Ibid., Elizabeth T. Pyle, I: 27-29. ↩
- Ibid., Jane Ingerick, I: 394-395. ↩