Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Where Are Veteran Pension Files?

Detail Pension Index for Nelson Strader
Note Widow Application Number
Obtaining Copies of Veteran Pension Files
Most researchers know that they can order, from the National Archives, copies of military pension applications using form NATF85, “Order for Copies and Federal Pension or Bounty Land ApplicationsThe key to successfully receiving your veteran’s copies is to clearly identify the soldier. To assist in identifying your soldier, you may wish to use the NARA microfilm: T288 - General Index to Pension or digitized index.  Know that the index is not complete due to poor quality of some original sources.  But where do you go to if normal channels fail to produce the pension file or if more information is needed on your veteran? 

Understanding C and XC Pension Designations
You will want to understand the various series of pension files. I have summarized the early designation of the various pension series - Civil War, until the 1900’s. The goal is to locate one of the certificates below:
  • SO = survivor’s originals. These pension applications used by soldiers’ to claim wounds and illnesses, required further review.  They were often rejected, and did not result in “certificates of pension” but if the soldier was deemed an invalid or eligible for a pension, the original SO number became void and the file was moved to the SC=Soldier’s Certificate series. The SC series was an active file for the life of the soldier.
  • WO= widows original. If a soldier died, the SC file was no longer valid. However, dependents to include the widow, minor children or indigent parents could apply for a continuance of benefits (WO).  Again this designation was for the reviewing period and once the benefits were approved, the file was reassigned to the WC= Widow’s Certificates series and the file was issued a new number. These files were consolidated with the soldier’s certificate files.  If the extension of benefits was rejected no “certificates of pension” was realized.
  • C=Certificates. The renumbering and reassigning of pension files became obsolete at the beginning of the 20th century.  The SC files discussed above were reassigned to C files: C=Certificates.  This designation replaced the Soldier’s Certificates and new pension applications of soldiers.
  •  XC= Certificates replaced the WC series used by widows, minor children and indigent parents.
Obtaining The Files: FOIA
Using the Freedom of Information Act ,  researchers may retrieve these records by requesting a Beneficiary Identification and Records Locator System (BIRLS) search. It is imperative for the researcher to identify the C or XC file number since they are filed and searched by this barcoded number. These files are not filed or searchable by their individual wars but by the individual’s XC or C number.

To initiate the process the researcher must write a FOIA request to the VA. If possible include the C/XC file number that may be located on the pension index cards. The next step is to wait. Remember not all veterans applied for pensions and not all files have been designated as public access files yet.  An XC pension file may still be in the custody of the Department of Veteran’s Affairs, and not the National Archives.

The National Archives holds many of the originals. These may be viewed at the NARA, ArchivesI in Washington DC.  The Navy files are available on microfilm only.

More Information
C and XC Pension Files for the Civil War, Rebecca, 15 May 2010.

Kathleen Brandt
Accurate, accessible answers

Friday, July 13, 2012

Genealogy and Army Court Martial Records

How to Obtain A Copy
Court Martial Records should not be overlooked when researching your Army veteran. They may explain an unexpected demotion or even reveal details on the family secret of why Grandpa spent time at Ft. Leavenworth, or other gaps in service stories. Why did he only serve 2 months? Why did he go to Europe in WWI and returned a year before his troop? Why did he not receive a pension? These are just a few scenarios that my peak your interest into researching court martial records.

Where To Start
  1. SF-180 Form. As with copies of any service record, begin with the SF-180 form and request a copy of your veteran’s full service record.  There are Freedom of Information Act stipulations but any court martial procedure will be referenced in the service file, and often you will find full copies of the relevant documents. Remember not all service file records are available due to the 1973 Fire.   
  2. Attorney.  If you are the subject, next of kin, or Power of Attorney, the attorney who tried the case will also have a copy of the court martial records. This resource is often forgotten.
  3. JAG Index. The Judge Advocate General office created an index of court martial cases (1891-1939; not comprehensive) for a quick lookup of veteran by name. You will need to have qualifying information: name, birth, service number (helps), and timeframe. 
What is in RG 153.2.3?
Court Martial cases are part of Record Group (RG) 153.2.3. Know that JAG no longer holds any records, but the Index is available at the National Archives (see below). Record Group 153.2.3 are textural records (not microfilmed). Here is an overview of its contents based on the website: Office of the Judge Advocate General.
  • Copies of records of general courts-martial and courts of inquiry, 1808-1815
  •  Registers of court-martial cases, 1809-90
  • Case files of general courts-martial, courts of inquiry, and military commissions,1809-1939
  • Index, 1891-1917 of general court martial, and courts inquiry
  • Case files lost during the Civil War (later recovered by the Judge Advocate General) 1861-65
  • General courts-martial case number ledgers (1918-50) and offense ledgers (1917-50)
  • Ledger of general courts-martial convictions in the American Expeditionary Forces, 1917-19
  • Applications for and correspondence regarding clemency for prisoners sentenced by general courts-martial to the U.S. Military Prison at Fort Leavenworth, KS, 1887-89. Clemency orders issued by the Assistant Secretary of War, 1894-97.
Where to Locate Army Court Martial Records
Court Martial Records are filed by date and then alphabetized by veteran name. If the file you are searching cannot be located in the veteran’s service file record using the SF-180 form, you may locate the originals at these National Archive repositories:

1803 - 1917 National Archives, Archives I, Washington, DC
Our understanding is these earlier files will remain at the NARA, Archives I.

1918 - 1938 Currently held at National Archives, College, Park, Archives II, but in the process of being transferred to St. Louis, National Personnel Service Center (NPRC). Expected arrival is around October 2012.  During the interim July 1 – Sept 30, 2012 documents are not likely to be accessible.

1939 – 1976 National Personnel Service Center (NPRC), St. Louis. These records were previously held at the Suitland Maryland holding facility 

Other Military Branches
Preliminary plans suggest court martial records of all military branches to be transferred to the NPRC, St. Louis (no timeframe provided).  However, as mentioned, early Army Court Martial records are not included in this transfer. These plans have not been solidified.

How to Order Documents:
The best way to order the above documents is to send your request with your veteran’s vital information and timeframe of court martial to: For more information on ordering copies visit NARA: Need a Form.

Kathleen Brandt
Accurate, Accessible Answers