Monday, December 5, 2016

Military Monday: Pension Index Cards: Not Created Equal

Pension Index Cards: Not Created Equal

by Jean M. Hoffman, CG

Pension index cards available at both and FamilySearch are not the same as those provided at Fold3. Allison recently pointed out differences in a Legacy Tree Genealogists blog post, “Civil War Pension Files Research Tips.”1 I had just found a pension index card at related to a female ancestor. It shows her application for a widow's pension, but no application for the soldier. Spurred by the article, I located the card for the soldier at Fold3. That card shows he applied for and received an invalid pension. Note, these records, if Civil War era, are for Union soldiers.

Before concluding you've found pension information for your person of interest and requesting original pension records, review both versions of index cards. The card sets were created for different purposes and organized in a different manner. Today they are indexed by both name and unit but one is arranged alphabetically by soldier's name while the other is grouped by unit from the company level. As they served different needs, they contain different data.
Civil War Pension index card for Caleb S. Whaley from Ancestry.com2
 In my example, the card has the following information not on the Fold3 version:
  1. Widow's name
  2. State from which she applied
  3. Date of her application.
Civil War Pension index card for Caleb S. Whaley from (indexed as Gales)3
The card at Fold3 provides fields not on the first card:
  1. Rank of the soldier
  2. Date of his application
  3. application and certificate numbers for his pension.
In addition, the first card was correctly indexed at under the name Caleb S. Whaley but the second card was indexed under Gales S. Whaley. As I used the Fold3 browse function to view the cards by unit, that did not cause a problem.

The index cards were transcribed from other documents and can contain errors. Also, the soldier's name on these cards is the same but one was misread by the indexer. Pay particular attention to the certificate numbers as these are what the National Archives will use to attempt to locate original records. Any error can lead to not found files. A review of more cards would give a better picture of the variation in data on them but my example and that in the article demonstrate the merit of obtaining both. FamilySearch can be accessed for free and many libraries have subscriptions to Ancestry Library Edition. Some libraries also have Fold3 subscriptions, possibly providing access from home.
    1. Allison, “ Civil War Pension Files Research Tips,” Legacy Tree Genealogists (blog), November 29, 2016,
    2. “U.S., Civil War Pension Index: General Index to Pension Files, 1861-1934,” Caleb S. Whaley card; digital image, ( : accessed 30 November 2016); citing NARA microfilm T288, roll 510.
    3. “Organization Index to Pension Files of Veterans Who Served Between 1861 and 1900,” Kentucky>Cavalry>7th>Co. G> “Gales” S. Whaley card; digital image, Fold3 ( : accessed 30 November 2016); citing NARA microfilm T289, roll 146.