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Anyone who has read this blog for any time at all knows that The Legal Genealogist is a huge fan of the Preserve the Pensions project — the effort spearheaded by the Federation of Genealogical Societies to digitize the pension records from the War of 1812.

But it’s a war that most Americans don’t know very much about.

Oh, we may know that it began in 18121 when the United States declared war on the United Kingdom:

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That war be and is hereby declared to exist between the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and the dependencies thereof, and the United States of America and their territories; and that the President of the United States is hereby authorized to use the whole land and naval force of the United States to carry the same into effect, and to issue to private armed vessels of the United States commissions or letters of marque and general reprisal, in such form as he shall think proper, and under the seal of the United States, against the vessels, goods, and effects of the government of the said United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and the subjects thereof.2

We may know that at least one of the causes cited for the war is the impressment of American sailors by the British Navy,3 that the British burned the U.S. capital of Washington D.C. in 1814,4 and that Andrew Jackson led U.S. forces in a defeat of the British at the Battle of New Orleans in 1815.5

And that’s usually pretty much it.

AA.1812But many of us need to know more, because, we’ve discovered, an ancestor fought in that war, or our family — in America, in Canada, in the UK or elsewhere — was impacted by it.

And now there’s a way to find out more, free, explaining both the war in brief and these amazing records — the pension records of the war held by the U.S. National Archives.


There’s a free course now online from Ancestry Academy. Taught by David Rencher, this new video course is entitled Ancestors, Family, and Associates in the War of 1812 Records and — like the pension records being digitized — it is and will be free, forever.

Here’s the course description:

The War of 1812 was America’s ‘Second Revolution’ – little understood by many in America how precarious the survival of the new nation was. This segment enlarges the student’s understanding of the causes of the war and how the Napoleonic War on Europe’s continent distracting the British military may very well have saved the nation. Ending in 1815 with the ratification of the Treaty of Ghent, the war directly led to the penning of our nation’s national anthem, The Star Spangled Banner and propelled Battle of New Orleans’ famous General Andrew Jackson to the Presidency of the United States, serving as its seventh president. To place an ancestor in the context of history, this segment paints the landscape of the social climate during the War’s four year course – 1812 to 1815.

And each of the segments can be viewed again and again as often as we’d like:

• Introduction to the War of 1812: “David Rencher and Laura Prescott welcome you to the War of 1812 course with a brief overview.”

• Brief History of the War and its Causes: “It’s important to understand the context of your ancestors in the battles and the history of the War of 1812.”

• Acts of Congress and the Congressional Record: “… Numerous Acts of Congress affected the availability of bounty-lands and pensions for those who served.”

• Introduction to the Records the War Created: “Many people don’t realize they had an ancestor who fought in the War of 1812 … (and) there are numerous other family members who may be associated to someone who did.”

• Naval and Marine Service During the War of 1812: “If your ancestors served in the Navy or the Marines during the War of 1812, this video will be particularly helpful to you.”

• An Examination of the Pension Records: “… the pension records for the War of 1812 (are) rich in genealogical details and information… Numerous types of records and vital information … may be found in the War of 1812 pension files.”

• Illustrations of the Scope of the Relationships in the Records: “When looking at … pension files …, sometimes there’s enough detail to begin identifying brothers who served in the war, fathers and sons who served together … linking them together into multiple generations…”

• Bounty Land Records – The Reward for Service: “The opportunity for land ownership was the single best motivation the new government could use to enlist recruits to serve in the war.”

• State Militia Records: “The number of men serving in state militias far outnumbered the regular army in the War of 1812.”

• Prisoner of War Records: “During any major war or conflict, prisoners are taken (and) these records will help you find information…”

• Native American and African-American Service During the War of 1812: “… there are numerous records about these (African American or Native American) ethnic groups.”

• In Conclusion: “David Rencher and Laura Prescott wrap up the … course and discuss the … Preserve the Pensions Project.”

Kudos to David for a great course, and to Ancestry Academy for producing and hosting it, free.


  1. Duh… it is called the War of 1812, after all.
  2. An Act declaring War between the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and the dependencies thereof, and the United States of America and their territories,” 2 Stat. 755 (18 June 1812); digital images, “A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774-1875,” Library of Congress, American Memory ( : accessed 29 Mar 2016).
  3. Impressment of American Sailors,” Prelude to the War of 1812, Mariners Museum ( accessed 29 Mar 2016).
  4. See Anthony S. Pitch, “The Burning of Washington,” The White House Historical Association ( : accessed 29 Mar 2016).
  5. See Marc Schulman, “Battle of New Orleans,” HistoryCentral ( : accessed 29 Mar 2016).
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