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- With Heart and Hands: Michele Bilyeu (blog)
Monday, November 12, 2007
The Revolutionary War Pension Files: Remember Me
In honor of Veterans Day (observed), the fragile remnants from one of six needlework samplers made by young girls two hundred years ago. The six samplers were found among the records in the National Archives' Revolutionary War pension files.
The Revolutionary War Pension Files, numbering around 80,000, consist of applications received by the federal government in response to pension legislation enacted in various laws between 1818 and 1878. These works of linen and silk, created as family treasures, became federal documents when pension claimants submitted them as proof of relationship to a Revolutionary War veteran. The pension's amount depended on the serviceman's military rank and length of service.
Widows of men who provided service received the right to apply for pensions beginning in 1836. If the veteran had not received a pension, the widow had to prove her late husband had served in the war. In order to be eligible for benefits, widows or surviving adult children also had to provide proof of their relationship to the former serviceman.
This was difficult in some cases because the recording of vital statistics information was not uniform. The record of a marriage was often in the custody of the clergyman who performed the ceremony rather than with a colony or state office. Even in instances where a marriage may have been recorded, the record may have been subsequently destroyed.
Because of the difficulty in producing official records, the federal government allowed the sworn testimony of one or two witnesses to the marriage. Even this, however, could be a problem when none of the witnesses were living at the time the widow or other family member applied for a pension. In addition, many people did not hold on to military discharge papers and other records that did not seem to serve any purpose past their original use.
As a result, widows occasionally would produce "unofficial" family records documenting the marriage and, sometimes, the birth of children from the marriage. These submissions took the form of manuscript and printed family registers (or "family records" as they were called), manuscript and printed birth and baptismal certificates of the Pennsylvania Germans, and to a lesser degree, embroidered needlework samplers.
The National Archives discovered the one shown above, while microfilming the Revolutionary War pension files in the 1970s. As one of six, all six samplers may be divided into two groups: three that record birth information for the samplers' makers and three that provide birth information for their entire families.
For additional information:
Details about Samplers Found in the Revolutionary War Pension Files