Civil War Pensions: Cunningham Kenley

Cunningham Kenley, yes his parents really did saddle him with his mothers maiden name, was my 3rd great granduncle and first cousin 5x removed.  Tracing Cunningham allowed me to find the proof I needed for the second line to the same patriot, Samuel Kenley.  Cunningham was the son of John Kenley and Mary Cunningham, and he was the only sibling that was indexed in the Westmoreland County Deed Book.  It turns out many of his siblings (including 5 sisters with 4 husbands) signed over their inheritance from father John (who died around age 43) along with mom (selling her dower) to Cunningham who then sold the property.  Bottom line his unique name allowed me to stich together a family where many of the siblings, aunts/uncles, 1st and 2nd cousins all had the same names, creating a fondness for Cunningham.

Cunningham Kenly Pension Card

Cunningham Kenly Pension Card

Who, it turns out, was a bit of a character.  Or more accurately the rest of his immediate family was.  I have pulled his Civil War pension file, all 219 pages of it.  It is so big it arrived in 2 separate folders.  The truly interesting thing is that this pension dragged on for years and multiple law changes and no one ever received a dime from the Pension Bureau.

I have no simple way to summarize this pension packet due to its size.  It is a funny, confusing, contradictory read that has many affidavits, letters to Postmasters for opinions on character of the affidavit providers, all of which, makes it a sad read.  There is a lot of desperation in Jane’s letters to the Pension Bureau.  In a last ditch effort to get a pension Jane tries to switch her pension from 2nd husband (Cunningham) to her first husband, and that effort is disallowed because of the existence of the 2nd marriage, which she has already proven.  I have to say the government must have felt like someone was trying to pull a fast one or three.

Cast of characters:

  • Cunningham Kenly – solider, deceased
  • Lydia Trussel – 1st wife (deceased)
  • Jane McCurdy – 2nd wife (2nd marriage for Jane, widow/divorcee)
  • William L Kenley – son of Lydia & Cunningham, guardian of minor children
  • Cora Bell Kenley – daughter of Lydia & Cunningham
  • Clara A Kenley – daughter of Lydia & Cunningham
  • Sylvester David Kenley – son of Jane & Cunningham
  • Charles Kenley – son of Jane & Cunningham (did he die?)

I’ve created a chronological summary of some of the unique, interesting documents:
29 Aug 1871: Death certificate of 1st wife, Lydia  29 Aug 1871: Death Certificate 1st wife, Lydia Trussel



06 Aug 1879: Divorce granted to Cunningham Kenly from Jane McCurdy (Letter dated 04 Oct 1895) DSCN1838




17 Apr 1891: William files minor pension claim for 4 children he raisedDSCN1818




08 Jun 1893: Jane’s application, 2 children (same 2 children also claimed by William) DSCN1844



30 Mar 1895: Who is the guardian of children?  Widow claims she is, and has affidavits from witnesses saying she is raising children in PA (William claims he is raising kids in West Virginia & Chicago and also has affidavits)






12 Apr 1895: Jane says I didn’t abandon my kid (she claimed 2) and you just don’t understand my life!DSCN1860DSCN1861



22 Sep 1896: William, says Charlie is nickname, Jane not widow!  But I thought there was a son named Charlie?   Confused, the government was too!  22 Sep 1896: William L says I'm guardian, Charlie is a nickname, and there was a divorce!




11 Oct 1897: Jane’s claim rejected .. divorced not a widow you don’t qualifyDSCN1814




22 Oct 1897: Jane writes I wasn’t divorced! “mine is one of the greats wrongs heaven ever witnessed” (see letter 06 Aug 1879)DSCN1815




31 Oct 1902: Minor child pension rejected no record of soldiers health impacted by war DSCN1781




Wow!  Sometimes all you can do is shake your head and wonder.

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