Monday, July 03, 2006

Revolutionary War Ancestor Research

The following article is from Eastman’s Online Genealogy Newsletter and is copyright 2006 by Richard W. Eastman. It is re-published here with the permission of the author. Information about the newsletter is available at

Searching for Your Revolutionary War Ancestor

As Americans celebrate Independence Day this week, perhaps now is the time to focus on finding more information about your ancestors who took part in the war that brought independence to this great nation. Luckily, there are numerous online resources to help you get started.

I would suggest that you first read an excellent introductory article, Finding Your Patriot: Basic Sources for Starting Revolutionary War Research by Curt Witcher. Curt is the department manager for the Historical Genealogy Department of Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and is a well-known and respected genealogy researcher. His excellent article can be found at Finding Your Patriot: Basic Sources for Starting Revolutionary War Research.

James C. Neagles has written an excellent article on how to find Revolutionary War service records. The article Compiled Service Records: Revolutionary War Period, 1775-83 can be found at Compiled Service Records: Revolutionary War Period, 1775-83

Revolutionary War Sources by Kip Sperry also contains many excellent references. You can find Kip's article at Revolutionary War Sources

Perhaps the best online resource available anywhere is the Revolutionary War Era Pension and Bounty Land Warrant Application Files available on HeritageQuest Online. 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. HeritageQuest Online is not directly accessible by individuals. If you want to access these online records, you must use the services of a subscribing library or perhaps a genealogical or historical society or museum. You may have to travel to that society or library although some do offer remote, in-home access to these records. Further information is available on the Encyclopedia of Genealogy at

Here are other articles and online resources worthy of note:

Revolutionary War Bounty Land Grants by Lloyd DeWitt Bockstruck:

Revolutionary War Military Records by Myra Vanderpool Gormley:

Researching Your Revolutionary War Ancestor by Jaime Simmons focuses on Virginia and West Virginia resources but has excellent background information of interest to all:

The Revolutionary War Forum is an online message board containing discussions about many topics associated with the War, including researching of ancestors:

American Revolutionary War Soldiers & Their Descendants is an online "clearinghouse:" web pages containing the email and/or URL addresses of descendants or persons who can give you some background on many Revolutionary War veterans:

Loyalist Genealogy is a web site about those Americans who remained loyal to the King and then paid a high price for that loyalty: most were exiled to Canada or to other places outside of the new United States. Those who went to Canada are discussed at

Do you have comments, questions or corrections to this article? If so, please post your words at
Richard does not mention it in his fine article, but another resource for those beginning Rev. War research is the DAR lookups available on the DAR Message Board:

In her article CELEBRATING REVOLUTIONARY-WAR-ERA ANCESTORS, Paula Stuart-Warren cautions
There are two sets of pension records for Revolutionary War service and this often causes confusion for researchers. If you don't know the difference, read on.

M804 AND M805

M804 and M805 are National Archives publication numbers for the microfilmed records of the Revolutionary War pension, service, and bounty land records. When you check any indexes or abstracts of Revolutionary War records, be sure to read the introductory details to see which set of records is covered by the index. Determine if the index or abstract is of state- or federal-level records. When genealogists tell me that the pension record for an ancestor didn't tell them anything, I usually ask if they went beyond the index or abstract and have the selected or complete record.


This is the set of records referred to as the "complete" records and includes about 80,000 files of applications for "Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty Land Warrant Application Files, 1800-1906." These alphabetical files are based on the participation of Army, Navy, and Marine officers and enlisted men in the Revolutionary War. The files are part of "National Archives Record Group 15, Records of the Veterans Administration," on 2,670 rolls of microfilm. An individual file may give a birth date and place and a list of minor children, and may include a Bible record, a testimony from neighbors or a fellow military man, or even a later letter from a descendant seeking info. If a widow was involved in the application, you are likely to find more genealogically significant details.


This National Archives microfilm publication is the "Selected Records from Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty-Land-Warrant Application Files" and is on 898 rolls of microfilm. It includes selected records from the 80,000 pension and bounty-land applications. If a complete file was more than ten pages long, only the supposedly most significant genealogical documents were included in the filming of M805. Some of the selected records files in this series do include more than ten pages. Don't stop with just these selected records; check the full file to see if there are more helpful pages.


The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) in Washington, D.C. and the Family History Library in Salt Lake City have both sets of microfilm. NARA regional branches should also have the complete set. Many libraries with genealogical research collections have M804, the selected records, because it has fewer rolls of film.

But although denying that we have a special position in the natural world might seem becomingly modest in the eye of eternity, it might also be used as an excuse for evading our responsibilities. The fact is that no species has ever had such wholesale control over everything on earth, living or dead, as we now have. That lays upon us, whether we like it or not, an awesome responsibility. In our hands now lies not only our own future, but that of all living creatures with whom we share the earth. - David Attenborough


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