On July 4 Americans will gather to celebrate the 238th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, the moment when thirteen colonies formally declared themselves to be the United States of America. Six years later that independence was officially realized at the conclusion of the Revolutionary War. Take a moment to think about how different American history would have been if the men and women of the colonies did not stand up to Great Britain. Perhaps one of these unsung everyday heroes is even your ancestor.
There are numerous obstacles that get in the way of finding information about your Revolutionary War veteran ancestors, the first of which is determining whether they served at all! Since the first United States Census was conducted in 1790, eighteen years after the end of the war with only limited data recorded, and much of the original data destroyed or lost not much is to be found there. Death records, grave markers, and local histories can provide better clues, but may be difficult to locate due to their age.
In 1800 and 1814 most of the military records for the Army and Navy belonging to the War Department were destroyed, including records from the Revolutionary War. Since then an effort has been made to recreate the data in those records, called Compiled Military Records, by collecting information from as many supplementary materials regarding individual veterans as possible. This includes data from muster rolls, enlistment and discharge papers, hospital records, payrolls, prison records, and rank rolls, among other sources.
Some of the most helpful records for genealogists concerning Revolutionary War veterans are pension records. Pension records can contain supporting military documents, marriage certificates, birth records, death certificates, among other relevant documents. Because of their age, pension records for Revolutionary War veterans may not contain as much information as those for veterans of later wars. A look into land bounty records may also be worth your while. Land bounties were grants of land given by the
government in return for military service between 1775 and 1855. The applications often contain information similar to that of the pension records. Pension and Land Bounty records are kept on file at the Textual Archives Services Division in Washington D.C. You can learn more about the Textual Archives Services Division and how to make record requests here.
The Godfrey is planning on adding 20 new records to the Revolutionary War section of the Scholar by the end of July. This includes muster rolls, regimental histories, histories of state involvement, general histories, and pension records. If, in the spirit of Independence Day, you feel like researching your Revolutionary War era ancestors be sure to make the Godfrey Scholar's Revolutionary War collection a part of your search!