HeritageQuest Online has now added a great new collection of records to the company's online service: Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty-Land-Warrant Application Files. Previously available only on microfilm, these are some of the most popular records for those researching 18th and early 19th century ancestors. Best of all, these are not transcribed records. This database allows you to view the original, hand-written records on your screen and to print them on a local printer.
I used this new database for a while today and found it easy to use. If you have ever used HeritageQuest Online's other genealogy services, you will have no difficulty accessing the new Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty-Land-Warrant Application Files. Even if you are new to HeritageQuest Online, you will only need a few minutes to become accustomed to the service.
HeritageQuest Online is not available directly to private individuals. To access these databases, you must belong to a subscribing genealogy library or genealogy society. In some cases, access is only available in that library's or society's location. In other cases, the subscribing library or society may be able to offer in-home service to its members and patrons. Pricing varies from one organization to another.
Once you log onto your library's or society's home page, you need to navigate to find these databases. Once you are at HeritageQuest Online's main page, you will see four selections:
Search Revolutionary War Pension & Bounty-Land-Warrant Applications
In my testing, I selected the last entry and then was looking at a very simple-looking data entry screen with only four possible entries:
You do not need to fill in all these fields; simply fill in whatever you can, and leave the remaining fields blank. I did a search for one of my ancestors whose records I viewed several years ago on microfilm. I had no trouble finding his six-page application. In fact, it took less time to find it online than it would have in the library by use of microfilm; I did not have to locate the reel of film, load it into a viewer, and then crank to the appropriate page.
The image of the original hand-written records that appeared on my screen seemed to be clearer and sharper than what I remember of the microfilm version. Indeed, copies that I printed on my local printer are clearer and will probably last longer than the photocopies that I had in my filing cabinet.
Just what was I looking at? The Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty-Land-Warrant Application Files contain selected genealogical records from an estimated 80,000 pension and bounty-land-warrant application files that are based on the participation of American military, naval, and marine officers and enlisted men in the Revolutionary War. Most of the records are dated between 1800 and 1900.
During and after the Revolutionary War, three principal types of pensions were provided by the U.S. Government for servicemen and their dependents. "Disability" or "invalid pensions" were awarded to servicemen for physical disabilities incurred in the line of duty; "service pensions" went to veterans who served for specified periods of time; and "widows' pensions" were given to women whose husbands had been killed in the war or were veterans who had served for specified periods of time.
On August 26, 1776, the first pension legislation for the American colonies as a group was enacted. A resolution of the Continental Congress provided half pay for officers and enlisted men, including those on warships and armed vessels, who were disabled in the service of the United States and who were incapable of earning a living. The half pay was to continue for the duration of the disability.
On May 15, 1778, another resolution provided half pay for 7 years after the conclusion of the war to all military officers who remained in Continental service to the end of the war. Under the terms of the same enactment, enlisted men who continued to serve for the duration of the conflict were each to receive a gratuity of $80 after the war.
The first national pension legislation for widows was a Continental Congress resolution of August 24, 1780, which offered the prospect of half pay for 7 years to widows and orphans of officers who met the requirements included in the terms of the resolution of May 15, 1778.
Pension legislation during the Revolutionary War was designed to encourage enlistment and acceptance of commissions and to prevent desertion and resignation. After the war, pensions became a form of reward for services rendered.
The service-pension act of 1818 resulted in a great number of applications, many of which were approved. Congress was appropriating greater sums than ever before the Revolutionary War pension payments. Financial difficulties and charges that applicants were feigning poverty to obtain benefits under the terms of the act caused Congress to enact remedial legislation on May 1, 1820. The new law required every would-be pensioner to submit a certified schedule of his estate and income to the Secretary of War.
Congress passed another service-pension act on May 15, 1828, which granted full pay for life to surviving officers and enlisted men of the Revolutionary War who were eligible for benefits under the terms of the Continental Congress resolution of May 15, 1778, as amended.
The last and most liberal of the service-pension acts benefiting Revolutionary War veterans was passed on June 7, 1832, and extended the provisions of the law of May 15, 1828 to more persons. This act provided that every officer or enlisted man who had served at least 2 years in the Continental Line, or as State troops, volunteers, or militia, was eligible for a pension of full pay for life. Naval and marine officers and enlisted men were also included. Veterans who had served less than 2 years, but not less than 6 months, were eligible for pensions of less than full pay. Neither the act of 1832 nor the one of 1828 required applicants to demonstrate need. Under the act of 1832, money due from the last payment until the date of death of a pensioner could be collected by his widow or children.
These records often are a gold mine to genealogists: the records not only show the financial status of each applicant, but also often list dependents, his former rank, unit, and period of service, as well as his age or date of birth, his residence, and sometimes his birthplace. Property schedules often give names and ages of a veteran's wife and children. In addition, testimonials from other relatives, neighbors, or fellow soldiers, may be included and shed more light on the person's life at the time of service.
The widows' pension applications can be especially valuable. Not only did the widow have to prove financial need, but she also had to prove that she was married to the former soldier or sailor. Widows typically gave the exact date and place of marriage. In the case of one of my widowed ancestors, she even enclosed an affidavit from the minister who married the couple. The clergyman must have been elderly, but his mind was obviously clear, and his records were intact; he wrote the name of the church, the town, the date, the names of the bride and groom, as well as the names of their parents and the witnesses who signed the marriage certificate!
Bounty-land warrant-rights to free land in the public domain were granted under the acts of the Continental Congress and of the Federal Government to veterans and to the heirs of veterans for Revolutionary War service of specified periods of time. The promises of bounty-land during the Revolutionary War were another inducement to enter and remain in service; after the war, bounty-land grants became a form of reward. Most warrants were issued to servicemen or their heirs who met common eligibility standards established by the public acts period between 1776 and 1856.
Depending on the period in which a claim was made, claimants for bounty-land warrants based on Revolutionary War service sent applications for adjudication to either the Secretary of War, the Commissioner of Pensions, or the Secretary of the Interior. Affidavits of witnesses testifying to service performed, marriage records, and other forms of evidence, were also forwarded. These records are also available online in HeritageQuest Online's new database.
All in all, this is an excellent online genealogy database. You can view handwritten primary source records directly on the computer screen and print them on a local printer. I predict that HeritageQuest Online's new Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty-Land-Warrant Application Files are destined to be very popular.