News Story

Revolutionary War Records to Go Online

A treasure trove of U.S. Revolutionary War records will soon be at the fingertips of millions of family history researchers, thanks in large part to FamilySearch, a nonprofit genealogical organization sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

A historic project to digitize and index the pension records of U.S. Revolutionary War veterans will make genealogical information readily available online to the millions of Americans who are descended from patriots who fought for independence.

According to researchers, the military pension records now being digitized and indexed are incredibly valuable due to the amount of detail and the variety of information they include.

For example, a pension application might contain information on an individual soldier’s rank, unit, date mustered in and mustered out, basic biographical information, medical information and military service assignments.

The pension files also often contain supporting documents such as narratives of events during service, marriage certificates, birth records, death certificates, pages from family Bibles, family letters, depositions of witnesses, affidavits, discharge papers and other supporting papers.

The federal government and some state governments granted pensions to officers, disabled veterans, needy veterans, widows or orphans of veterans and veterans who served a certain length of time, and access to such information about an ancestor is a researcher’s dream.

The Revolutionary War was a long one, beginning on 19 April 1775 at Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts, between the local militia and British troops and finally ending officially with the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1783. The eight-year military struggle generated a tremendous volume of records on the approximately 250,000 military participants. Pension records usually contain more genealogical information than other types of military records. 

The pension records are even more valuable because most of the original service records and the earliest pension records of the Revolutionary War were destroyed in fires in 1800 and 1814.

When complete, the images and indexes of this vast collection of information will be viewable at the more than 4,500 Church-run family history centers around the world. They will also be available online at the Church Web site, as well as through project partner is one of the new breed of genealogy Web sites working with FamilySearch to preserve digitally, index and publish the world’s records in concert with archives around the world. As part of the agreement, FamilySearch will digitize the images currently held in the National Archives Record and Administration’s (NARA) collection in Washington, D.C., and will create the electronic indexes.

The historic Revolutionary War Pension Records project is the first of many future projects the Church is undertaking to expedite access to historical records. The new Records Access program initiated by FamilySearch will result in a virtual tidal wave of online databases around the world, according to FamilySearch officials.

“Records custodians worldwide are experiencing growing pressure to provide access to their records online while maintaining control and ownership,” said Wayne Metcalfe, director of Records Services for FamilySearch.

“At the same time, Web sites that provide digitizing and publishing services are struggling with the staggering costs. The new Records Access program takes advantage of FamilySearch’s resources and creates an economical and effective forum where records custodians and genealogy Web sites can work together to accomplish their respective objectives.”

FamilySearch’s new Records Access program provides tools and assistance to records custodians who want to publish their collection using state-of-the-art digital cameras, software and Web-based applications.

FamilySearch has representatives worldwide who can work with archivists to determine how FamilySearch and affiliates can help them achieve their digital preservation and publication needs.

The Church’s interest and commitment to records preservation dates back to the 1800s. Mormons consider it a religious obligation to trace their ancestors, stemming partly from a conviction that family relationships can continue after death.

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