Military records are very valuable for genealogical research. Sometimes, however, it helps to look beyond the obvious. We can get absorbed in pension files for the Revolutionary War and Civil War, or draft registrations for World Wars I and II, but there are a number of other places to look as well. Here are three tips for military research to get you thinking.
1. Other Wars
We tend to think most frequently of the “major” wars that America has been involved in. The Revolutionary War, War of 1812, Civil War, Spanish-American War, WWI, WWII, etc. But we have been involved in many other altercation as well. The Marine Hymn embodies these wars in its lyrics: “From the Halls of Montezuma, to the shores of Tripoli, we will fight our country’s battles on the land and on the sea.” “The Halls of Montezuma” refers to the Battle of Chapultelpec during the War with Mexico. “The shores of Tripoli” is a reference to the Battle of Derna during the First Barbary War.
The Quasi-War with France (1798–1800), First Barbary War (1801–1805), Second Barbary War (1815) and the Boxer Rebellion (1900) are examples of other altercations involving American forces. There were also numerous interactions between the 1780s and the 1890s that are collective known as the Indian Wars. There are dozens of other military actions in the first century and a half of America’s existence. Check for service in some of these other actions for your ancestor.
2. Bounty Land
The federal government started giving Bounty Land to those who fought in the Revolutionary War. They continued to do so for those who fought in the War of 1812, War with Mexico, and the Indian Wars. But one thing to remember is that not all who served claimed the land that they were entitled to. Sometimes it went to their heirs (widows and/or children). And even if they did claim the land, they did not necessarily move there. They may have claimed the land, but sold it to speculators or to others wanting to move there, and stayed right where they were the entire time. Just because your family never left Connecticut, it does not mean that they didn’t own and sell land in Ohio that they received as bounty land. Always look for these transactions, as the people with whom they bought and sold the land may turn out to be relatives or neighbors.
But bounty land predates the Federal Government. Massachusetts, for example, created seven townships in 1728 for veterans of King Philip’s War (also known as the Narragansett War). These townships were called Narragansetts Township No. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7. Today these towns are Buxton, Me.; Westminster, Mass.; Amherst, N.H.; Goffstown, N.H.; Bedford, N.H., Templeton, Mass.; and Gorham, Me., respectively. The land at Goffstown was considered unsuitable, and was replaced by land that is today Greenwich, Mass. If your ancestor was an early settler in one of these towns, it is possible that they (or their father or grandfather) fought in King Phillip’s War.
3. County Courthouses
County courthouses are a hidden treasure trove of military records, and one that is rarely thought of. After all, who ever heard of one county drafting an army and attacking another?
County courthouses can hold valuable information for you, however. During the Civil War, for example, many towns and counties kept lists of those who served. There may also be information on assistance that was provided to family members of soldiers. Those who served in World War I and World War II often filed copies of their discharge papers with the county clerks. This was recommended so that a copy of their papers would be available locally if needed. Often they were filed with land record volumes.