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Original Applications

by Will Graves

(as of March 2022)

A number of users of this site have asked how they can obtain photocopies of the original pension applications from which the posted transcripts were made. As far as we are aware, there are 5 ways to obtain copies of the applications as follows:

1. For a fee, the National Archives (NA) will copy a pension file. The person requesting the copy must fill out a request form provided by the NA. For specifics on getting a copy of the required form and file from the NA, see its website at http://www.archives.gov/.  It is our experience that the cost of obtaining copies via this method exceed by some measure the cost of joining Fold3.com.

2. The National Archives has recently put the federal pension and bounty land records online for free.  To access those records, click on https://catalog.archives.gov/search?q=*:*&f.ancestorNaIds=300022&sort=naIdSort%20asc and in the search box in the upper left-hand portion of the page type the name of the soldier being searched in quotation marks.  For common names, the results are not particularly precise, so you may have to scroll down to find the specific individual of interest.

3. Many libraries and archives have microfilm versions of the pension applications. There are microfilm readers (equipment with which microfilm is viewed) that can copy the image from the microfilm.  The National Archives made two different sets of microfilm.  One set (consisting of thousands of rolls of microfilm) is denominated NARA M805 and contains only the 'Selected Records' portion of each pension file.  The other set (also consisting of even more thousands of rolls of microfilm) is denominated NARA M804 and contains the entire contents of each pension file.

4. HeritageQuest Online (HQ) has been acquired by Ancestry.com.  It now provides access online to the NARA M804 digital images of the entire pension files at its website.  Individuals, however, cannot subscribe directly to HQ. Its service is only available through institutions such as universities and public libraries. A large number of public libraries subscribe to HQ and make it available to holders of their library cards. Check your local library to see if it offers access to HQ. Some libraries offer access to HQ online allowing their card holders the convenience of accessing HQ from their home computers.'

5. Fold3.com, (F#) a private, subscription service (and now owned by Ancestry.com), has posted on the Internet digital images of all of the Revolutionary War pension applications taken from NARA M804.  In addition, F3 has several other compilations of documents relating to the Revolutionary War, including the Virginia Half Pay claims for both the Army and Navy taken from NARA M910.  For current subscription information for F3, see its website at Fold3.com.  F3 allows subscribers to download digital images of individual pages of pension applications one page at a time.  We have been informed that some public libraries and other institutional libraries are providing access to Fold3.com free to their card holders or members.  You should check with the libraries of which you are a card holder or member to see if it provides such access to Fold3.com.

6. Ancestry.com/ now provides access to the file pension files.  Images can be downloaded on a page-by-page basis.

NOTE: Please do not request copies of the digital images of the pension applications from this site. Being a volunteer operation which provides access to its site free of charge to its users, we are not equipped to handle such requests. Those interested in obtaining copies of the original pension application of a particular claimant should pursue one of the options listed above. There may be other options, but the ones listed above are the only ones of which we are currently aware.

Researchers will note that in the vast majority of cases, pension and bounty land file numbers will be preceded by "S," "R," "W, "BLWt." or "Dis. No Papers."  On occasion we are asked what these designations signify.  These designations were assigned when the files were re-catalogued so as to arrange them in alphabetical order by surname of the veteran.  The process of re-cataloguing the applications was completed in 1912.  Here is a table that explains our understanding of these designations:


"S" designates files in which the application for a pension filed by a revolutionary war veteran was granted by the Pension Office of the War Department.  The "S" designated "survivors" – i.e., veterans who lived long enough to qualify for a pension.


"R" usually designates files in which at least one of the applications contained in such file was rejected by the Pension Office.  Just because a file is designated "R," however, does not mean that no pension was granted to the veteran upon whose services the application was based.  For example, such files may contain a veteran's application upon which he was granted his pension but his widow's application for her pension was rejected or the application of the heirs of the veteran and/or his widow was rejected.  Also, rejection of a veteran's application does not necessarily mean that the veteran was deemed by the Pension Office to have not served in the Revolution.  As noted in the "Legislation" article on this site, there were numerous pension laws enacted by Congress, each of which carried separate criteria for qualifying under its provisions.  If the veteran served in the war but failed to establish service which met the criteria applicable to the act under which his application was filed, then his application was rejected.  Quite often, "R" files will contain applications by veterans who were awarded a pension but whose widow failed to establish her marriage to the veteran to the satisfaction of the Pension Office or whose marriage took place beyond the criteria for length of marriage as set by the particular legislation under which her application was filed.  Another example of "R" designated files which do not necessarily apply to rejected claims are files relating to claims by sailors who served in the Virginia Navy and claims for half-pay made by officers in the Virginia service who were covered by a special legislation passed on July 5, 1832 whereby the Congress agreed to relieve Virginia of its responsibility to pay such claims.  To further complicate matters, many of the claims covered by the Act of July 5, 1832 were assigned the same file numbers as those already assigned to other veterans' claims.


"W" designates files containing one or more successful applications filed by the widow (or her heirs) of a veteran who failed to live long enough to qualify for a pension in his own right.  Such files do not contain any application filed by the veteran himself.


"BLWt" designates files which contain bounty land warrant claims filed by the veterans, their widows or the heirs of either the veteran or the widow.  Because bounty land legislation was separate and distinct from pension legislation, some files will contain both a letter designation and a bounty land designation which indicates that such files will contain both pension applications and applications for bounty land warrants.

Dis. No Papers


This designation is used for files containing no papers for veterans who were granted disability pensions prior to 1800.  A fire in 1800 destroyed the papers relating to these pensioners.  The "X" designation which we have used to index these files in our database is as assigned by HeritageQuest.com in its postings.  The "X" designation is part of the official file designation system used by the National Archives.

The National Archives has a descriptive pamphlet formatted as an 82-page pdf file which explains the Pension and Bounty Land records in great detail.  That pdf file can be downloaded for free at the Fold3.com web site at NARA Descriptive Pamphlet on Rev War Pensions.

As to the number of federal pension applications and bounty land claims transcribed and posted on this website as indexed by the state in which the claimant first began service during the Revolutionary War, they break down as follows: Georgia veterans: 368; North Carolina veterans: 3,011; South Carolina veterans: 1,376; and Virginia veterans: 4,714.  These numbers were compiled using Fold3.com’s indices and do not include a small number of claims for which Fold3.com was unable to determine the state in which the veteran first initiated military service.  Those applications, however, have been read and the applications filed by veterans of the Southern Campaigns are included in the database posted on this website.  In addition, there are a small number of pension files which are only found in the local county court records and which never made it into the federal pension records.  As and when those local court records are found and provided to us for transcription, they are included in this database.

In addition to the official file designations set forth in the table above, researchers will encounter in this database transcriptions bearing designations "GA," "MD", "NC," "SC," "VA," "VAS" or "SCS" followed by a number.  Such designations were assigned by me to indicate that these documents are not in the Federal files.  Most are applications that can be found in local court records but for some reason unknown to me never made it into the Federal pension files.  The exceptions are the designation (1) "VAS" which designates records found in the online digital image collection of the Virginia State Library; (2) "SCS" which designates records found in the online digital image collection of the South Carolina Department of Archives and History and (3) “SC” which designates records found in the South Carolina Audited Accounts which are now also available online in the South Carolina Department of Archives and History records.  Leon and I felt that since these records are available online and contain information relating to veterans whose services might otherwise go unknown to researchers, we would expand the database to include transcriptions of records found those sources.