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!

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Why Closing the SSDI is a Bad Idea

Recently, Rep. Sam Johnson (R-Texas) introduced the “Keeping IDs Safe Act of 2011” (aka KIDS Act). Rep. Johnson claims that thieves have been using the Social Security Death Index (SSDI) “to access Social Security numbers, file bogus tax returns to the Internal Revenue Service and collect refunds.”1 By closing the SSDI to the public, Johnson claims, thieves will no longer be able to steal the identity of deceased children and claim them as dependents on tax returns (as what happened to the Watters family of Illinois).1

However, the SSDI is an excellent tool for preventing identity theft. The SSDI can be used to verify that the Social Security number in question was assigned to someone who is now deceased. Some of the publicly-available SSDI websites offer the ability to search by Social Security number. A quick search for that number would show if it was assigned to a now-deceased person.

If more agencies and employers used the SSDI, they would instantly spot that a number being passed off by a living person is actually invalid — thus preventing the identity theft.

It is true that there are instances of living people appearing in the SSDI. (According to Johnson, there are approximately 14,000 such people.1 The entire SSDI contains more than 90.8 million records.2)

It is certainly understandable to want to protect against identity theft. However, shutting off a valuable tool such as the SSDI is not the way to do it.

Resources:

  1. Wolf, Isaac. “Senators try to block ID theft of the deceased.” Chicago Sun-Times, 25 November 2011. (Accessed 25 November 2011).
  2. RootsWeb’s Social Security Death Index search page (accessed 25 November 2011).

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, Footnote.com, 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 Footnote.com today is the Revolutionary War Pensions which is very similar content,” said Brian Hansen, General Manager at Footnote.com. “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 Footnote.com 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, visitwww.fgs.org/1812.


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!

Celebrating the 2nd War for Independence

While celebrating Independence Day this weekend, think about not only the American Revolution but also the 2nd War for Independence: the War of 1812.

Although England agreed to withdraw her troops as a condition of the Treaty of Paris (ending the American Revolution), British troops remained in territory claimed by the United States. Most were positioned near and around the Great Lakes, in places such as Detroit and present-day Mackinaw City, Michigan. The Shawnee leader Tecumseh was successful in forging a pan-Indian confederation which worked with the British against the Americans. War was finally declared in 1812.

Ohio was key in the War of 1812. Not only was it the site of the pivotal American victory in the Battle of Lake Erie, but she also supplied numerous troops to aid the U.S. effort.

Surprisingly, the National Archives has never microfilmed the War of 1812 pension files. They are among the most-often requested records, with approximately 3,000 of them requested every year.

Preserve the PensionsRecently, the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) announced a program — Preserve the Pensions! — which seeks to raise $3.7 million to digitize these 7.2 million pages. The files have been prepared and the digital cameras are ready to roll. The only thing the National Archives needs is the funding.

You can help. Each dollar donated to Preserve the Pensions will digitize two pages of War of 1812 pension files. Further, FGS has reached an agreement with the National Archives so that the digitized images will be freely available on the Internet — not “trapped” in a website that you need to pay for.

So as you’re celebrating Independence Day, celebrate both of the wars for Independence and consider making a tax-deductible donation to Preserve the Pensions.

More hours at the Ohio Historical Society

The Ohio Historical Society has just announced that the Historical Center and the Archives/Library will be open more hours! Beginning July 1, the hours will be:

  • Thursdays 10am – 7pm
  • Fridays and Saturdays 10am – 5pm

This is fantastic news, as the Historical Center and the Archives/Library are currently open only Thursday from 9am-9pm. It’s not the hours that they were open before the legislature slashed their budget, but it is certainly an improvement.

The full press release can be found at http://www.ohiohistory.org/about/pr/060310a.html