William B Hayes is one of my 2nd great granduncles. He served in the Civil War enlisting on 18 August 1862 as a Private in Company K of the 155th Pennsylvania Infantry. Unfortunately, William succumbed to “Typhoid Fever” on 7 November 1862 at the Frederick Hospital #5 in Frederick, Maryland.
When William died in 1862, he did not leave a surviving spouse or any children, and because he helped support his parents and siblings, his parents were eligible for a parental pension based on his service. His 27 page pension packet includes a form
“Declaration for an Original Pension of a Father or Mother”. Looking at the form you will see his mother Jane’s information
- Jane is 68 on 15 May 1886
- Jane married dad (John Hayes) on the 14th of February 1834
- Dad (John) died on the 20th of April 1884
The form includes a list of the children under 16 that he was helping to support including their birth dates (one child was born after William enlisted). In Pennsylvania, marriages were not tracked until 1885 and births and deaths were not tracked until 1906. In this single document I have:
- Marriage date of my 3rd great grandparents
- Death date for dad (John Hayes)
- Birth date for my 2nd great grandfather Luther A Hays (3rd Nov 1849)
Jane was a widow when she filed for a pension based on William’s service where in 1886 due to age and poor health was having difficulty supporting herself. The War Department wrote to the County tax office requesting a valuation of the family farm for tax purposes from 1862 – 1887 (those records are no longer extant).
There are 9 affidavits included in this pension packet that describe the family circumstances.
The affidavits describe a struggling, hard working family with 12 children, 3 of whom died before very young, a small farm, and dad taking on any outside work he could find. Neighbors estimate that John could not have earned more than $100 in any given year to support the family. The three oldest male children enlisted in the Civil War and sent home pay to help support the family.
After the war things improved for a short time, but as John aged and his health started to fail, Jane started working outside the house as a carpet weaver, knitting and as a household servant. Some affidavits state that Jane started working out of the house as early as 1862, while others suggest it was before 1870 that she began taking on outside work. In the end, Jane received a mothers pension of $12 a month from 21 May 1886 – 19 Jul 1901 when she died, the record of which is also included in the file.
Military pension files can be a gold mine for any family, but for families that weren’t very wealthy and didn’t appear in many “official records” these files can provide first hand insight into the life of your family.