Years ago, before Fold3.com existed, I ordered Thomas Carter Black’s Civil War pension, accompanied by the required fee. He served as a Private in Company D of the 4th Regiment of New York Heavy Artillery. I waited many weeks before it arrived in the postal mail. When it did finally arrive, the papers included were mostly about his service, some medical forms with his application, and so on; typical of most pension files. I did not know then, that his wife Margaret filed a widow’s pension in 1933 after Thomas’ death. I was happy to find this tidbit in one of my online random searches (which I do often for my ancestors, as always new documents and resources are available, especially online.) Margaret’s index pension card listed her widow’s certificate number. Bingo. I put it on my ‘to-do’ list to pull Margaret’s file for my next National Archives research trip.
So…on a recent research trip to Washington, D.C., indeed, I pulled Margaret’s pension file just for confirmation. I was not expecting any new information or surprises, except to learn what was actually in her application file. Both applications were together in one file jacket. Just being thorough, I thought, what could possibly be in there that I didn’t already know? Well, that was a narrow-minded thought.
How about Thomas’ original handwritten death certificate completed in blue ink? This was not part of the original packet for Thomas I received years ago, but then again, this was in Margaret’s file, even though they were kept together.
Thomas C. Black’s Death Certificate, 1933
But that was not all! Oh no! That was not all…
Treasures abounded that I did not have. Margaret’s death certificate was in there too! Although hers was only a photocopy of a copy, it was still as good – a double bonus! And then… there were the affidavits. Margaret had to prove of course, that she married Thomas and not only did remain Thomas’ widow, but provide witnesses of their relationship. Friends and neighbors came forward on her behalf. That was cool. (Another item added on my “to do” list for them – who were those people?) But more importantly, and what I was truly excited about even more so – was their son, Reverend John Black’s affidavit, below (just one sample page):
Details upon details of Thomas and Margaret’s lives. This page is a detailed listing of every place they lived, as well as John’s current residence in 1933…and again, I added this to my ‘to-do’ list for them – to pull those land records as I know exactly when and where lived and even from whom they bought and sold!
In addition, this pension yielded some other insights on this page:
Rev. John Black’s signature for one. I love signatures! They also tell a story – their own story in reflection of a person’s personality.
The statement, “I am the only living child of Thomas C. Black and Margaret McGlashan Black”…revealed that there were probably other children born to Margaret and Thomas that were deceased by 1933.
And while all of this is great and I am thrilled to now have these treasures, why am I sharing this with you?
My point: Do it yourself! Get the original files. If I had just ordered them, or downloaded the file from the Internet it probably would have been digitized black and white (it’s not online yet, but Fold3.com/Ancestry.com is working with NARA to continually add pension records.) I would not have known the death certificate was completed in original blue ink. I might have thought it was just another copy of an original. …And, it’s possible that not all papers included in the packet file that actually complete the entire file would be mailed if I ordered them or digitized if and when they were posted online. Now…I have a photos of all of it, for both pension application files.
…and Thomas’ death certificate: In full color. In blue ink. And…it was free.
So I ask you: What’s in your ancestor’s pension file?
[Side note: Interestingly, the image of the index card for Thomas C. Black on Fold3.com is entirely different than the image on Familysearch.org…]
 Thomas C. Black (Pvt. Co. D, 4th Regiment, NY Heavy Artillery, Civil War), certificate #1095.535 NY, Pension Files of Veterans Who Served Between …1861 and 1900, Record Group 15, Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs; publication T289, Roll 375, National Archives, Washington D.C.
 “New York Civil War Muster Roll Abstracts”, 4th Heavy Artillery, images, Fold3.com (www.fold3.com : accessed 15 August 2016) entry for Thomas C. Black, citing New York State Archives, Albany.
 Civil War Pension Index; General Index to Pension Files, 1861-1934, index card images, Familysearch.org (www.familysearch.org: accessed 15 May 2015) Thomas C. Black (Co. D, 4th Regt, NYHA)and widow Margaret Black, General Index to Pension Files, 1861-1934, publication T288, Roll 37, National Archives, Washington D.C.
 Deposition of Claimant, 2 March 1933, Margaret Black, widow’s pension application no. A-5-26-33NY combined with Thomas C. Black (Pvt. Co. D, 4th Regiment, NY Heavy Artillery, Civil War), certificate #1095.535 NY, Pension Files of Veterans Who Served Between 1861 and 1900, Record Group 15, Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs; publication T289, Roll 375, National Archives, Washington D.C.
 New York Department of Health, death certificate no. 1, District # 2821 (1933), Thomas C. Black, Division of Vital Statistics, Albany.
 Montgomery County, New York, 26 April 1933, affidavit of John Black, in Margaret Black’s, widow’s pension application no. A-5-26-33NY combined with Thomas C. Black (Pvt. Co. D, 4th Regiment, NY Heavy Artillery, Civil War), certificate #1095.535 NY, unpaginated.
 “Civil War Pension Index”; index card images, Fold3.com (www.fold3.com: accessed 15 May 2015) entry for Thomas C. Black (Co. D, 4th Regt, NYHA) citing Record Group 15: Organization Index to Pension Files of Veterans Who Served…1861-1942, publication T289, Roll 375, National Archives, Washington D.C. and see also, “Civil War Pension Index”; General Index to Pension Files, 1861-193” index card, Familysearch.org, Thomas C. Black (Co. D, 4th Regt, NYHA) and widow Margaret Black.