Various laws made those who served in the armed forces between 1775 and 1916, or their survivors, eligible for military pensions. You can search some indexes to pensions at sites such as Ancestry.com, Fold3, FamilySearch.org, MyHeritage and findmypast.
One of the most helpful indexes is the General Index to Pension Files, 1861-1934, from National Archives microfilm T288 and searchable free online at FamilySearch.org.
For earlier conflicts, try the Old War Pension Index, 1815-1926, from NARA microfilm T316.
The pension files themselves are on microfilm at the National Archives (with copies at the Family History Library), with some collections online. A few are:
- Revolutionary War Pensions on Fold3 and on HeritageQuest Online, which is available through many public libraries
- War of 1812 Pension Files is a free, growing collection at Fold3 (learn more about the Preserve the Pensions project here)
- Civil War Widows’ Pensions, a growing collection on Fold3
The exception is pensions for Confederate soldiers in the Civil War: The former Confederate states awarded pensions to their armed forces, so look to those state archives for records. You can link to several states’ Confederate pensions collections from here. Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org also have collections of some Confederate states’ Civil War pensions.
A final tip: If you plan to leave flowers at an ancestor’s gravesite this Memorial Day, consider also leaving a note for the next person, who may be a cousin.
Our Military Research Value Pack—now just $49.99—has a webinar, CD of how-to articles, and a class that provide you in-depth guidance for finding your ancestors’ military records throughout US history.