Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Anatomy of a Military Pension File, Part 1

Previously, I reported on the acquisition of my great-great-great grandfather's military pension file. The documents contained within paint a picture of a man and his family about which I knew very little. I've decided to share this 103-page treasure chest of information with you a few pages at a time.

Page 1: An advertisement for legal-sized archival supplies from NARA (where I sent for the file).

Page 2: A research ticket for my file. When I ordered my file, I had to fill out a form providing as much as I knew about my ancestor. It wasn't a whole lot. I provided name and dates (Max Baerecke 1827-1904), Civil War service in 26th Wisconsin Infantry, place of birth: Germany, wife: Amelia Baerecke, pension application and certificate numbers as I found them on Footnote.com. This seemed to be enough for the researcher, as each of these facts is checked off on the research ticket.

Page 3: A disclaimer that files are old and these are the best copies available. NARA sends this page out with all files. My copy was fine.

Page 4: This is a National Archives card listing the pension certificate number (615946), pensioner (Amalie Baerecke, widow), veteran (Max Baerecke) can number 51536 and bundle number 6. The condition of the image is too dark to read here so I didn't include a photo of it.

Page 5: A 1912 letter to the Pension Bureau from Mrs. C. J. Smith. It is handwritten on stationery from Hotel Hammond of Flat River, Missouri. Below in italics is the text of the letter:

Department of Interior
Bureau of Pensions

My Dear Sir:

My mother, Mrs. Amalie Baerecke (Cert. No. 615946) lived with me for the last five years until her death which occurred Jan. 4th 1912. She left no estate whatsoever. I bore all the expenses of sickness and burial.

Please send me the proper form for this.

Mrs. C. J. Smith
670 33 St
Mil Wis.

Here's what I learned (or didn't) from this letter:

1. I have no idea if there is any significance to Hotel Hammond. Was Mrs. Smith staying there when she wrote the letter? Or did she pilfer some stationery and write the letter at home? Hey, it runs in the family.

2. My great-great-great grandmother, Amalie Baerecke, died on Jan. 4, 1912. The only other indication I had of this date was from a city directory. I'm glad to have confirmation of this date on this letter. Also, I thought her name was Amelia, but it looks like in the family, she was Amalie. Also, we know where she lived for the last five years of her life and I can add a residence fact to her timeline based on this information.

3. Mrs. C. J. Smith is Amalie's daughter. The question is, which one? The answer comes out deeper in the pension file.

The letter requests government forms for reimbursement of medical and burial costs for the widow of a military pensioner. Do they arrive? The answer is yes, but with complications and red tape. Bad for Mrs. C. J. Smith, but good for me and this big pension file. Stay tuned....


  1. My 3rd great grandfather applied for an invalid pension in 1872 and after 2 different lawyers and mounds of paperwork he was granted his pension in 1902. He died 2 years later. almost 30 years to get what was due him! My files is 103 pages and full of good stuff but almost overwhelming. I am going to follow along with your dissection and see if it helps make sense of mine. Thanks Amy!

  2. Thanks for taking us along on your ride, Amy. I'm looking forward to the next installments!

  3. Great idea for a series of blog posts, and will keep you busy and blogging for a while! Pension files can vary in their contents, but there is usually a goodly bit in each one.

    In my great-great grandfather Matthew Hale Packard's file, there is a copy of his death certificate. That was a great find!

    I look forward to your further installments.

  4. Excellent topic for a series of posts - I love the itemizing every page and commenting upon them, and the analysis of what you learned at the end.

    Keep up the great work! -- Randy

  5. How cool. You motivated me to go ahead and see if I can get a great Uncle's military records from WWI and to try to find out if his brother was called to duty, too. The one I had no info on at all other than draft registration card, so I got a quick response for him that there wasn't enough information.

    Looking forward to reading about the rest of the file.