Searching Through Military Pension Records | Genealogy Clips #67

Military pension records are a good source of first and maiden names for female ancestors.

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Military pension records are a good source of first and maiden names for female ancestors. If the wife outlived the husband and applied for a pension, she was required to prove her marriage to her husband. This would mean either including a marriage certificate, or one or more affidavits from people who knew of the marriage first-hand and could corroborate the details on the marriage given by the woman. In either instance, the woman would be required to use her first name in the application, and mention her maiden name in her proof of the marriage.

Sometimes, a mysterious wife’s name can even be found in other people’s pension records. I have a great-great-great-great grandfather whose wife’s name I have been searching for a couple of decades. I know her general age range from the 1830 and 1840 census records, but she seems to have outlived her husband, and since I didn’t know her first name or whether she remarried, it was not possible to search for her in later census records where her name would have been included.

I also knew this male ancestor had at least three daughters, whose ages I knew from those same census records, but whose names I did not know. I did, however, know the names of the sons of this ancestor. Recently, a random Google search (to see if any new information on this family had appeared online) revealed a pension record kept by the historical society of the county this family lived in. It was written by one of the known sons of this great-great-great-great grandfather, and he was writing the letter to support his younger sister’s claim for a pension on her husband’s Civil War service. In the letter, her brother states he was present at her marriage, which took place at the home of their mother, Rachel.

So, through the pension record of someone else entirely, I found not only the name of one of my ancestor’s elusive daughters (as well as the name of the man she married), I finally learned his wife’s first name… Rachel! I’m still looking for proof of her maiden name, but have a good idea of what it might be through several sources of indirect evidence.

As you can see, discovering an elusive female ancestor’s name is not always impossible. In fact, it can be done more often than you realize. You just have to look at alternative sources and keep exploring those sources until you find that name. You may discover that the name really wasn’t ever recorded anywhere. However, more often, you will discover the name for which you’ve been searching for so long.

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