How You Can Honor America’s Second War for Independence

American’s Second War for Independence? Didn’t we only have one? Yes… and no.

While there was only one war where America formally declared its independence from Britain, it took the War of 1812 to cement America’s position as an independent nation. Though this war is largely (and regrettably) overlooked in many history classes, it was a pivotal time in American history.

Almost Lost to Time

The pension files of the War of 1812 veterans total nearly 7.2 million pages. These are pages filled with information about these men and their families. It isn’t unusual to find pages from family Bibles, marriage records, and affidavits about family relationships.

These pension records have never been microfilmed and are among the most heavily used records at the National Archives. All of that handling takes a toll on the paper. And once it’s gone, it’s gone.

Preserve the Pensions Project

The Preserve the Pensions project is a joint project of the Federation of Genealogical Societies, the National Archives, Ancestry, and Fold3. The goal is to digitize those 7.2 million pages of War of 1812 pension files and make them available to everyone for FREE. (Yes, free!)

They’re making great progress. They’re already posted pensions files for veterans A through L and are starting in the M surnames. See the pensions that are already available!

Marriage record found in Lewis Clemmer's War of 1812 pension file.

Marriage record found in Lewis Clemmer’s War of 1812 pension file.

Think of the Possibilities

Think what research possibilities will be opened when 7.2 million pages of these files are available. Yes, they will be a boon to genealogists. (They already are!) But they’ll also be a great resource for history students. With dwindling education dollars, teachers are looking for free resources. Not only is this free, but it’s the actual primary document, not just an index.

Making Donations Count

It costs 45 cents to digitize and add metadata to each image. (If you know anything about large-scale digitization projects, you know what a low price that is!) So normally, a $45 donation would digitize 100 pages. However, Ancestry is matching all donations dollar for dollar — making your donation go twice as far.

I’ve Helped — and So Can You!

I’ve set up a recurring donation for $18.12/month. My total donation of $217.44 will digitize 483 pages. Plus, Ancestry’s match will digitize another 483 pages. So for less than the cost of a pizza per month, I’m helping to digitize 966 pages of War of 1812 pension files!

Donating to Preserve the Pensions is easy. You can do it online or mail in a donation to Preserve the Pensions, P.O. Box 200940, Austin, TX 78720-0940. Do it today!


How to Decode a WWII US Army Serial Number

Gerald Ridenour, an Aviation Cadet in the U.S. Army Air Force, died in World War II. He was just shy of his 21st birthday. When my mom showed me his grave at Highland Cemetery in Perry County, Ohio, I knew I had to find out more about him.

The Casualty List

I found him listed on the WWII Army and Army Air Force Casualty List on Fold3. The information includes name, serial number, rank, and something pertaining to the death.


From World War II Honor List of Dead and Missing: State of Ohio. Online at Fold3 (titled WWII Army and Army Air Force Casualty List).

It was when I looked for the meaning of “DNB” that I discovered there is meaning in the serial number, also referred to as a service number.

WWII US Army Serial Numbers: Meaning in the First Digits

The U.S. Army began issuing serial numbers to help avoid mixing the records of people with the same name. (A genealogist’s dream come true!)  When we dig a little deeper into the number itself, we can learn a bit about the person.

Look at the First Number or Letter

Some prefixes were used in World War I. However, the following system began shortly before World War II.

The first character gives us a lot of information.

  • 1 = Enlisted in the Army (in other words, volunteered rather than drafted)
  • 2 = Federally recognized National Guard
  • 3 = Drafted
  • 4 = Drafted
  • O (that’s the letter O, not a zero) = Male commissioned officers
  • W = Male Warrant officers
  • T = Flight officers (Army Air Force)
  • L = Commissioned officers of the Women’s Army Corps (WAC)
  • V = WAC Warrant officers
  • A = WAC enlisted women
  • R = Hospital dietitians
  • M = Physical therapy aides

Looking back at the casualty list, we now know:

  • Gerald Ridenour enlisted
  • Arthur Porter was in a federally recognized National Guard unit
  • Robert Pratt and Wilfred Ratliff were drafted
  • William Petruzzi was a commissioned officer. (We also knew that from him being listed as a 2 Lt. But if his rank hadn’t been listed, we would have discovered he was a commissioned officer based on his serial number.)

Look at the Second Number

When you have an 8-digit serial number, the second number shows the Service Command. This narrows down where the person enlisted or was drafted. If you have a serial number for a member of the WAC, look at the number after the letter prefix.

There’s an exception. Remember those serial numbers that begin with “2,” showing National Guard service? You need to look at the 3rd digit. (The second digit for those will always be a zero. You knew there’d be some exception, didn’t you.)

  • 1 = Connecticut Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont
  • 2 = Delaware, New Jersey, New York
  • 3 = Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia
  • 4 = Alabama, Florida, Georgia Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee
  • 5 = Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, West Virginia
  • 6 = Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin
  • 7 = Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming
  • 8 = Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas
  • 9 = Alaska, Arizona, California, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington
  • 0 = When the first number is 3, the zero means he was drafted outside the U.S. (301 indicates Panama; 302 indicates Puerto Rico)

Since the second digit of Gerald Ridenour’s serial number is 5, we now know that he enlisted from either Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, or West Virginia. The same for where Robert Pratt and William Ratliff were drafted. Arthur Porter, from the National Guard, also enlisted from one of those four states, since the third number of his serial number is 5.

A Note About Twins

According to the introduction to the World War II Honor List of Dead and Missing:

“Serial numbers are assigned with great care and according to a set of regulations. Consecutive serial numbers, for example, are not assigned to twins since this might cause confusion of identity between two persons with the same birth date and same general physical characteristics.”

Other Resources


How to Decode WWII US Army Serial Numbers

World War II US Army serial numbers weren't random. This guide will show you what each part means.

Treasures in a Random War of 1812 Pension File recently released the first 1,400 images of the War of 1812 pension files, as part of its partnership with the Federation of Genealogical Societies and the National Archives. (You can read the full announcement here.) As promised, these images are free — no subscription required!

What’s so great about War of 1812 pension files? They can contain details not only of the veteran’s service, but his marriages, children, residences, and more. I decided to pick a random War of 1812 pension file and see what all I could glean from it.

Veteran: James Abbott of Ohio. You’ll notice on this page that many of the details contained in the file have been summarized. (No, I didn’t read this page and then choose him for my subject!) Even if the pension file you’re interested in has a summary page like this, read the entire file. You never know what else is in there (or what mistakes might have been made when that summary sheet was created).

Service: Captain Patrick Shaw’s Company, Ohio Militia. Enlisted 6 February 1813; discharged 6 August 1813. (page 6 and page 47). Drafted at Lebanon, Ohio (page 14)

Pension: Granted a pension of $8/month, 18 November 1871 (page 6), certificate number 8404 (page 2)

Bounty Land Warrant: 10713-160-55 (page 8 )


  • Warren County, Ohio (page 21)
  • Miami County, Ohio (page 21)
  • Niles Township, Delaware County, Indiana “for 24 years” (stated 21 March 1871) (page 14); Moved to Delaware County, Indiana in 1846 (page 21)
  • Delaware County, Indiana (Granville post office), 25 March 1871 (page 6)

Born: circa 1794 (was 77 in 1781) (page 14) in Clermont County, Ohio (page 21)

Died: 14 October 1874 (page 8) at Delaware County, Indiana (page 21). See also page 52.

Physical Description (age 18): 5′ 9″, dark hair, blue eyes, light complexion (page 21)

Occupation: “Carpenter, and farming until within the last fifteen years he could not farm on account of age,” 21 March 1871 (page 14)

Widow: Rosa, received $8/month pension, certificate 13344 dated 19 December 1878 (page 5)


  • Rosa Keenan, near Lebanon, Warren County, Ohio, 19 June 1824, by Mahlon Roach, JP (page 21 and page 33)
  • According to Rosa, neither she nor James had been married previously (page 21)


  • Son William, age 44 (stated 27 March 1878) residing in Muncie, Indiana; his wife is F. Martha Abbott (page 22)


  • John C. Matthews and William H. Stewart, both of Delaware County, who had known James for 20 years, 21 March 1871 (page 14 and page 15)
  • William and F. Martha Abbott (page 17)
  • Thomas J. Sample and William Abbott (page 21)
  • William H. Stewart and Amos L. Wilson, stating that James Abbott never aided in the rebellion (Civil War) (page 23)
  • Jacob F. Peterson and Henry Shaw, testified to death of James Abbott and that Rosa Abbott had not remarried (page 52)

Preserve the PensionsSee what a great resource War of 1812 pension files are?! These pension files, which had never even been microfilmed before, are being digitized thanks to the Preserve the Pensions project. This project seeks to raise $3.7 million to digitize and post online the 7.2 million pages of War of 1812 pension files.

You can help! Each dollar donated will digitize two images. Please visit the Preserve the Pensions page for more information. Preserve the Pensions is also on Facebook and on Twitter.

Digitizing War of 1812 Pension Files

From the 12 April 2011 press release by the Federation of Genealogical Societies and iArchives:

iArchives today announced a collaboration with the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) to digitize 180,000 pension applications, or an estimated 7.2 million pages of War of 1812 Pension Applications and Bounty Land Warrants. The collection will be available on iArchives’ military records website,, home of more than 72 million historical records.

The multi-year project will consist of scanning the pension files at the National Archives in Washington D.C. and creating a searchable index to the digital images. FGS has targeted the War of 1812 Pension Applications as a high priority project based on the value of the content for genealogists as well as the importance of preserving the fragile records.

“Our goal with any collaboration is to honor our nation’s heritage by preserving the records of our past,” said Patricia Oxley, President of FGS. “In the specific case of the War of 1812 pension records, there is an added priority due to their frail state where not acting may mean sacrificing these for future generations.”

With the burden of proof on the applicant to qualify for a pension, those applying proved participation in the war by including dozens of vividly descriptive pages.  Details recorded include military battle stories, service dates, mentions of fellow soldiers, family relations, marriages, widows’ maiden names and many other clues significant to researchers. The breadth of information allows the pension files to tell the richest story of that time period.

“The most popular database on today is the Revolutionary War Pensions which is very similar content,” said Brian Hansen, General Manager at “Our users have been asking for the War of 1812 pension records for some time, and I expect this collection to be very popular based on the rich war time detail it contains.  We are pleased to make these records available for free on as a result of FGS fundraising efforts to subsidize the production cost.” [emphasis added — ajc]

FGS is proud to be leading the national fundraising to support this project and is actively seeking donations from genealogical and historical societies, patriotic and military heritage societies, as well as interested corporations and individuals.  iArchives is providing a dollar-for-dollar match of each donation through a provision of services. To learn more and contribute to the project,

Page from War of 1812 Pension of Henry Lightner, Pennsylvania. Image at ACPL Genealogy Center.

That’s pretty exciting stuff! I’ve used War of 1812 pension files and they can be fabulous resources. There are two things I’d like to point out:

  1. Did you catch that part about the images will be free on Footnote? Free. As in you won’t need to pay to see them.
  2. FGS is raising funds to pay for the production.

According to the “Preserve the Pensions” page on the FGS website, each dollar raised will digitize two images.

That’s already a good deal, but you can make each dollar of your donation digitize four images! How? Donate through the Indiana Genealogical Society. IGS will match donations between now and June 30, 2011 (up to a total of $10,000). So if you donate $10 through IGS, they’ll match it — making the total donation to Preserve the Pensions $20. Donate $100 and IGS will match it, for a total donation of $200.

Working together — it’s a wonderful thing!

Not All Ohioans Fought for the Union: Gen. Roswell Ripley, CSA

Roswell Ripley

Brig. Gen. Roswell Sabin Ripley, CSA. Photo taken from Ohio Historical Society marker, Nov. 2009.

When you think of Civil War generals from Ohio, the names Grant, Sherman, and Sheridan often come to mind. Roswell S. Ripley also was a general, yet he is rarely (if ever) mentioned in Ohio classrooms. Why? It’s probably because he was a general in the Confederate Army.

Ripley was born in Worthington, just north of Columbus, in 1823. He graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1843 and served in the Mexican-American War. He resigned his commission in 1853 while stationed in South Carolina.

In April 1861, his forces at Fort Moultrie fired artillery onto Fort Sumter, the first volleys of the Civil War.

He was appointed a brigadier general in Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia and was wounded in the throat at the battle of Antietam. He directed the improvement of defenses around Charleston as was later dubbed ‘Charleston’s Gallant Defender.’

He died 29 March 1887 in New York and is buried in Magnolia Cemetery in Charleston.