Why I Love Revolutionary War Pension Records

Sheilagh Doerfler’s recent post about finding Revolutionary War ancestors reminded me of the story I tell people about how much I love Revolutionary War pension records. They often contain significant genealogical information—but the first time I ever consulted these records, they yielded much more material than I ever would have expected.

In the early 1990s, I was doing the paperwork do get my father into the National Huguenot Society by right of his descent from our ancestor Abraham Tourtellotte (ca. 1655–ca. 1704) of Newport, Rhode Island. (I could not join then because I was not yet 18 years old.) The American generations went from Rhode Island—specifically, from Newport to Providence and Glocester—into Thompson, Connecticut, in the northeastern corner of that state. They generally stayed within a few towns of Thompson afterward. As I began to obtain every birth, marriage, and death record, I struggled to find the birth of my great-great-great-great-grandmother Lucy Tourtellotte. Family papers indicated she was born at Thompson on March 9, 1785 (one year before her parents’ marriage on May 6, 1786) and that her daughter Lucy Holmes was born there on June 27, 1816. I visited NEHGS, where a staff genealogist recommended I check Virgil D. White’s Genealogical Abstracts of Revolutionary War Pension Files because Lucy’s father, Joseph, had served for Connecticut. The abstract itself was amazing, but fold3.com now has digital images of the actual pension record, shown here.

Revolutionary War pension record of Joseph Tourtellotte, as viewed at fold3.com. Revolutionary War pension record of Joseph Tourtellotte, as viewed at fold3.com.

This was incredible! The pension records listed not only the births and deaths of Joseph’s parents but also the births of his siblings, the births of Joseph and his wife, and the births of his two daughters and all his grandchildren! I could see four generations’ worth of events, spanning the years 1725 to 1827, in Glocester, Rhode Island, and Thompson, Connecticut (which had been established only in 1785 from Killingly). These two pages had thirty-four birthdates (twenty-six being full dates of birth, eight being years only) and two death dates, none of which I have found in vital records of Connecticut and Rhode Island. (The gravestones of Joseph’s parents Abraham and Phebe, at the appropriately named Tourtellotte Cemetery in Thompson, have the same death dates.)

After this extremely fruitful first experience, I always check the pensions!

Christopher C. Child

About Christopher C. Child

Chris Child has worked for various departments at NEHGS since 1997 and became a full-time employee in July 2003. He has been a member of NEHGS since the age of eleven. He has written several articles in American Ancestors, The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, and The Mayflower Descendant. He is the co-editor of The Ancestry of Catherine Middleton (NEHGS, 2011), co-author of The Descendants of Judge John Lowell of Newburyport, Massachusetts (Newbury Street Press, 2011) and Ancestors and Descendants of George Rufus and Alice Nelson Pratt (Newbury Street Press, 2013), and author of The Nelson Family of Rowley, Massachusetts (Newbury Street Press, 2014). Chris holds a B.A. in history from Drew University in Madison, New Jersey.View all posts by Christopher C. Child