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Military Records for Genealogy Research: War of 1812

OVERVIEW

Screen shot of Fold3 collection page for War of 1812 Pension RecordsThe War of 1812 between the United States and Great Britain began in June of 1812 and lasted until February, 1815, lasting two years and eight months.

The great majority of soldiers who served during the War of 1812 were volunteers, or members of state militia who were federalized for portions of the war period.  There were also volunteer units directly raised by the federal government. Reliable numbers are hard to come by, but by the end of the war more than 35,000 soldiers served in the regular army, joined by some 458,000 militiamen. Noting that the U.S. population at the time was approximately 7,700,000 person, George K. Schweitzer asserts in his still-valuable 1983 guide War of 1812 genealogy that "about one out of every 27 persons was involved, or about one out of every 14 men. If you had ancestors who were in the US at that time, there is a good chance that one or more of the men was directly involved" (p. 3). Most of the men who served were in their 20's or 30's, although a few were outside this range. African Americans and Native Americans also participated in the conflict on both sides.

These participants fall into six distinct categories of service, which determine the location of their records:

Battles took place in Alabama, Louisiana, Georgia, Mississippi, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, Maine and the Chesapeake, as well as in Canada. Many were naval engagements, including significant battles on Lake Erie and Lake Ontario.

FEDERAL MILITARY RECORDS (NARA)

ONLINE GUIDES

PRINT GUIDES AT NYPL:

COMPILED MILITARY SERVICE RECORDS (CMSR'S) -- VOLUNTEER SOLDIERS 

1. Carded Records Showing Military Service of Soldiers Who Fought in Volunteer Organizations During the War of 1812 (Record Group 94, Records of the Adjutant General's Office, Multiple Microfilm Publications). 

  • Description of records
    • CMSR's for volunteer soldiers in the federal army
    • from NARA catalog record: "This series consists of jackets giving name of soldier, his organization and rank, and cards on which information from original records, such as muster rolls, pay rolls, and various other original records has been copied. Personal papers, if any, are generally filed in the main jacket for the individual. Papers relating to an officer's accounts are often included with the individual officer's file."
  • Digitized Records available online -- NOT ALL RECORDS HAVE BEEN DIGITIZED

2.  Index to Compiled Service Records of Volunteer Soldiers Who Served During the War of 1812 (Record Group 94, Records of the Adjutant General's Office, Microfilm Publication M602)

REGULAR ARMY SERVICE RECORDS

1. Register of Enlistments in the U.S. Army, 1798-1914 (Record Group 94, Records of the Adjutant General's Office, Microfilm Publication M233)

2. Enlistment Papers, 1798 -1912 (Record Group 94, Records of the Adjutant General's Office, Microfilm Publication M2031)

  • Description of Records
    • records are arranged in two series, the first covering 1798 - July 14, 1894, and the second covering July 15, 1894 - October 1912. Information varies by series, but generally includes the soldier's name, place of enlistment, date of enlistment, by whom enlisted, age, occupation, a personal description, regimental assignment, and certifications of the examining surgeon and recruiting officer. 
    • For more information, see the NARA catalog record and the article U.S. Regular Army Registers of Enlistment and enlistment papers, 1798–1914
  • NOT DIGITIZED

3. Discharge Certificates and Miscellaneous Records Relating to the Discharge of Soldiers from the Regular Army, 1792-1815 (Record Group 94, Records of the Adjutant General's Office, Microfilm Publication M1856)

NAVY AND MARINE SERVICE RECORDS

1. Abstracts of Service Records of Naval Officers, 1798 - 1924, (Record Group 24, Records of the Bureau of Naval Personnel, Microfilm Publication M330)

2Records of the United States Marine Corps, Entry 76 (Record Group 127)

  • Description of Records
    • Service records or “case files” of enlisted marines at the National Archives
    • Records are arranged by date of service, but there is an index, "Alphabetical Card List of Enlisted Men of the Marine Corps,
      1798–1941," in Entry 75
  • NOT DIGITIZED OR MICROFILMED

For additional Naval records, see the Other Records tab.

 

PENSION APPLICATION FILES (INCLUDES BOUNTY LAND WARRANT APPLICATIONS)

Until 1871, pensions for service in the War of 1812 were only available to those who’d been injured in the war and the widows of those who had been killed. As Judy Russell points out in her Legal Genealogist blog Chasing that pension file, "That wasn’t a lot of people — there were only 2,260 reported battle deaths and 4,505 reported woundings in that war."

In 1871, eligibility was expanded to include anyone who had served 60 days and been honorably discharged, and widows who had married before the peace treaty was ratified (February 17, 1815). It wasn’t until 1878 --  — when most of the 286,730 men who’d served were likely to have been either quite elderly or dead. -- that the law was changed to make anybody who’d served at least 14 days eligible for a pension, and gave pensions to widows no matter when they’d been married Most of the pension applications relating to service in the War of 1812 were filed under these later acts.

1. War of 1812 Pension and Bounty Land Warrant Application Files, ca. 1871 - ca. 1900 (Record Group 15, Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs, 1773 - 2007, not microfilmed)

  • Description of Records
    • from the NARA catalog record: "This series consists of approximately 180,000 pension and bounty land warrant application files relating to claims based on service betwen 1812 and 1815. The files generally contain documentation submitted in support of a claim, such as the original application form, affidavits, and statements from witnesses. The records document the veteran's name, age, place of residence, and service data including dates, places of enlistment and discharge, organization, and rank. In addition, the pension and bounty land warrant application files may include reports verifying the military or naval service of the veteran, submitted by the officials in the Adjutant General Office and the 3rd and 4th Auditors of the Treasury Department, and letters from a pension agency regarding pension payments. Similar information about a veteran is included if the application was submitted by his widow or survivors. In addition, a widow's application files generally shows the widow's age and maiden name, the date and place of marriage, and date and place of the veteran's death. Some bounty land warrant application files, have been consolidated with the pension files."
  • Digitized Records available online: NOT ALL RECORDS HAVE BEEN DIGITIZED

2. Index to War of 1812 Pension Application Files (Record Group 15, Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs, 1773 - 2007, Microfilm Publication M313)

3. Case Files of Pension Applications Based on Death or Disability Incurred in Service between 1783 and 1861 ("Old Wars"), ca. 1815 - ca. 1930 (Record Group 15, Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs, not microfilmed)

  • Description of Records
    • Pension application files of Regular Army personnel ("Old War" refers to service in the Regular Army between the 1780s and the Civil War.) 
    • From NARA catalog record: "This series consists of the pension application case files relating chiefly to claims based on death or disability incurred in service in the regular forces between the end of the Revolutionary War in 1783 and the outbreak of the American Civil War in 1861. The claims concern service in the Regular Army, Navy, or Marine Corps during the War of 1812, Mexican War, Indian wars, and in a few cases, the Civil War."
  • Digitized Records available online

4. Old War Index to Pension Files, 1815-1926 (Record Group 15, Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs, Microfilm Publication T316)

5. Name Index to Pension Applications Files of Remarried Widows Based on Service Before 1861, 1887 - 1926 (Record Group 15, Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs, Microfilm Publication M1784)

 

PENSION PAYMENT RECORDS

Since the majority of War of 1812 pensions were awarded under the 1871 and later acts, most of these pension payments occurred after that date. Unfortunately, most of these later payment records are not digitized or microfilmed, and are only accessible on-site at NARA.

The catalog entries for these records are particularly confusing, so this guide will list the digitized records first, even though not many War of 1812 veterans are included. The later, more relevant records, which can only be accessed on-site, are listed after in reverse chronological order. 

Digitized Pension Payment Records Available online

1. Ledgers of Payments, 1818-1872, to U.S. Pensioners Under Acts of 1818 Through 1858 From Records of the Office of the Third Auditor of the Treasury, 1818-1872 (Record Group 217, Records of the Accounting Officers of the Department of the Treasury, Microfilm publication T718).

2. Final Payment Vouchers Index for Military Pensions, 1818-1864 ( culled from "Settled Accounts of Pension Agents, 1813–1899," Entry A1-712 in Record Group 217, Records of the Accounting Officers of the Department of the Treasury, not microfilmed).

Non-Digitized Pension Payment Records (available on-site at NARA only)

  • Pension Agency Payment Books, 1805–1909 (Record Group 15, Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs, not microfilmed, NARA catalog record ARC 2600765)
  • Records of Pension Payments, 1859 - 1901 [NAVY] (Record Group 217, Records of the Accounting Officers of the Department of the Treasury, not microfilmed, NARA catalog record ARC 2774843)
  • Register of Pension Payments, 1813 - 1866 (Record Group 217, Records of the Accounting Officers of the Department of the Treasury, not microfilmed, NARA catalog record ARC 2642336)
    • Note that included in these record are payments to heirs of Cherokee warriors
  • Registers of Pension Payments, ca. 1811 - 1868 ((Record Group 217, Records of the Accounting Officers of the Department of the Treasury, not microfilmed, NARA catalog record 2545102)
  • Registers of Pension Payments, 1789 - 1872 (Record Group 217, Records of the Accounting Officers of the Department of the Treasury, not microfilmed, NARA catalog record 2642440)

PENSION LISTS

A few War of 1812 pensioners (disabled veterans or widows who applied under the pre-1871 acts) will appear on the lists described on the Revolutionary War Pension Records page, but most are far more likely to appear the 1883 pension list, which is available online and at NYPL:

Many War of 1812 bounty land applications were interfiled with the pension record files. For veterans who applied for both pensions and bounty land warrants, the BLW applications will generally be included in their pension file (described under the Pension Records tab). However, many War of 1812 veterans did not survive long enough to get a pension.

Most War of 1812 veterans became eligible for bounty land well before they were eligible for pensions (the original bounty land acts for this conflict were passed in 1811 and 1812). So if you think your ancestor served in the War of 1812 and you can't locate a pension file, try looking for a bounty warrant application in the records described below. These will include bounty land applications of veterans who did not also apply for pensions.

APPLICATION FILES

1. Bounty-Land Warrant Application Files, ca. 1800 - ca. 1900 (Record Group 15: Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs, not microfilmed)

  • Description of Records
    • The formal title for this series is "Case Files of Bounty-Land Warrant Applications Based on Service Between 1812 and 1855 and Disapproved Applications Based on Revolutionary War Service, but it's also referred to as "Unindexed Bounty-Land Warrant Applications", or the "1812-1855 Bounty Land Warrant Application Files".
    • From NARA catalog record: "This series consists of approximately 360,000 bounty-land application files submitted by veterans or their heirs based on service between 1790 and 1855. The majority of the claims are based on service in the War of 1812, Indian wars, and the Mexican War. Each file consists of the application of the veteran or widow; records submitted as evidence of service, and a file jacket which shows whether the claim was approved or disapproved. Documentation submitted in support of a claim may include documentary evidence of service such as commissions or discharges; and affidavits or written declarations made by the widow, dependents, other veterans, or other persons having knowledge of the facts concerning the claim."
  • Digitized Records available online -- NOT ALL RECORDS HAVE BEEN DIGITIZED

  • Non-digitized records can be ordered using a form that is available on the NARA web site.

WARRANT CERTIFICATES

1. War of 1812 Military Bounty Land Warrants, 1815 - 1858 (Record Group 49, Records of the Bureau of Land Management, Microfilm Publication M848)

  • Description of Records
    • These are the actual warrants that were issued to successful Bounty Land applicants (see NARA catalog record)
    • The warrants contain less information than the application files, but they show the location of the land to which the veteran was entitled and the person to whom the land was given. Note that since many veterans sold their rights to bounty land to other persons, their names often do not appear on the warrant.
  • Digitized Records available online

BUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT

To claim bounty land, veterans whose applications were approved could use their warrant to apply for a land patent, or deed of ownership. Once the patent was obtained, the veteran could take ownership of the land himself, assign it to another person, or sell it to a land speculator. Most veterans of the War of 1812 chose the last option. Regardless of whether the land was sold or retained, the patent should be included in the  Bureau of Land Management's General Land Office database of land patents ("BLM GLO"), AND the veteran should be listed as the "warrantee."

3. Warrants and Patents -- for successful applicants, an actual Land Bounty Warrant was issued. The bounty warrants usually contain the following information:

  • Name of veteran
  • Rank
  • Company
  • Regiment
  • Date of warrant
  • Date land was located
  • State where land was located

The warrants were kept in books, with each warrant consisting of a stub on the left hand side and a certificate on the right hand side. The War Department issued the warrant by filling in the name, rank, company & date in the appropriate blanks on the warrant certificate and the stub. The warrant was then signed and torn out of the book, leaving only the stub as a record. Later the actual warrants were retained and a soldier merely received notification that a warrant had been issued in his name.

Most records from the War of 1812 include the original warrants, and are available online:

 

CASUALTY REPORTS

1. Returns of Killed and Wounded in Battles or Engagements with Indians, British Troops, and Mexican Troops, compiled 1850 - 1851, documenting the period 1790 - 1848 (Record Group 94,  Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, Microfilm Publication M1832)

  • Description of Records
    • Compilation of returns of soldiers and sailors killed and wounded in engagements that took place between 1790 and 1848. The information included varies but can can include battle dates and places, with names of commanding officers, number of troops engaged, casualties, and remarks on some of the engagements (see NARA catalog record)
  • Digitized Records available online

PRISONERS OF WAR

1. Records Relating to War of 1812 Prisoners, 1812 - 1815 (Record Group 94, Records of the Adjutant General's Office, Microfilm Publication M2019)

  • Description of Records
    • Records relating to Prisoners of War from the War of 1812 (primarily American soldiers, but also some civilians and British soldiers), including lists and details of prisoners and men exchanged (see also NARA catalog record).

  • Digitized Records available online

2. American Prisoners of War, 1812-1815 (Public Record Office, London)

  • Description of Records
    • "These prison ship records show how prisoner populations were managed at Plymouth and Dartmoor in the early 19th century. There is a gap in the Plymouth records from May 1814 to January 1815. However, the Dartmoor General Entry Books appear to be complete and nearly all prisoners received in Plymouth by 1814 were sent on to Dartmoor. There may have been Americans held at other locations, but these were where most would have been held. The different entry book types cover prisoners to be held in England, those in transit, the ill or wounded, the paroled, and the dead."
  • Digitized Records available online

COURT MARTIAL RECORDS

1. Court Martial Case Files, 1800 - 1894 (Record Group 153, Records of the Office of the Judge Advocate General (Army), not microfilmed)

  • Description of Records
    • from NARA catalog record: "This series consists of the records of general courts-martial, courts of inquiry, and military commissions. Included are documents describing the organization and personnel of the courts; charges and specifications; pleas and arraignments of the defendants; papers and exhibits submitted for the consideration of the courts; proceedings, findings, and sentences of the courts; reports of the reviewing authorities; statements of action by the Secretary of War and the President of the United States; and related correspondence and evidence."
  • Digitized Records available online -- NOT DIGITIZED
  • Indexes

NAVY

1. Navy Casualty Reports, 1776-1941 (reports compiled by Casualty Branch, U.S. Bureau of Naval Personnel, and held by Navy Department Library)

2. Records of General Courts-martial and Courts of Inquiry of the Navy Department, 1799–1867 (Record Group 125, Records of the Office of the Judge Advocate General (Navy), Microfilm Publication M273)

  • Description of Records
    • Transcripts of proceedings of general courts-martial. A name index identifies the case file of a particular person and the records relating to a court of inquiry. Each dossier, when complete, contains the precept appointing the court; letters detailing or detaching its several members; a letter dissolving the court; the charges and specifications; minutes of the court, consisting chiefly of a verbatim transcript of testimony; the plea of the defendant (often printed); copies of correspondence introduced as part of the minutes; the finding of the court; the sentence in case of a finding of guilty; and various endorsements (see also NARA catalog record and American Prisoners during the War of 1812)
  • Digitized Records available online

3. Area File of the Naval Records Collection, 1775-1910 (Record Group 45, Naval Records Collect-ion of the Office of
Naval Records and Library, Microfilm Publication M625)

4. Prize and Related records for the War of 1812 of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York 1812-1816 (Record Group  21, Records of the District Courts of the United States, Microfilm Publication M928)

5. War of 1812 Prize Case Fall of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania 1812-1815 (Record Group 21, Records of the District Courts of the United States, Microfilm Publication M966)

 

PRIMARY RECORDS

PRINTED SOURCES

Although the records of lineage societies are not "official" federal records, they are included here because they are national in scope. Among the still-extant War of 1812 lineage organizations are:

  • The National Society United States Daughters of 1812
  • General Society of the War of 1812
  • Society of the War of 1812 in the District of Columbia

National Society United States Daughters of 1812

General Society of the War of 1812

Society of the War of 1812 in the District of Columbia

STATE MILITARY RECORDS

In addition to the records of the Federal Government, both state and local governments may have generated records such as militia lists

ONLINE GUIDES

  • Links to articles about states with military records from the War of 1812 are available in the FamilySearch Research Wiki article Beginning War of 1812 Research 

NEW YORK STATE ARCHIVES

Note that New York residents are eligible for free access to NYS Archives records digitized on Ancestry

NEW YORK STATE MILITARY MUSEUM AND VETERANS RESEARCH CENTER

  • Primarily secondary source materials, digitized and usefully arranged, including unit histories and muster rolls
  • Also include photographs and some object collections such as New York Battle Flags
  • Use their online catalog to search for relevant material

RESOURCES AT NYPL

If your ancestor served in the state militia or volunteer regiment, records relating to his military service (typically muster rolls or payment records) may be found at the state archives, state historical society or state adjutant general's office. In addition, state governments offered their own pensions and bounty land warrants, and any surviving records of these will also be found at the state repository, rather than the National Archives. 

Many of these organizations have finding aids or descriptions of the records available online, including the following (note that this list is representative, not exhaustive):

To find similar resources for your own state, try an internet search for the State Archives and/or State Historical Society, or do a search for [name of state] War of 1812 records or [name of state] military records.

Links to some digitized state records are available at Online Mexican War Indexes and Records. Be aware that many of the state military "records" digitized on Ancestry are actually reproductions of the printed indexes, rather than collections of original documents.

RESOURCES AT NYPL