Genealogy: Mexican War 1846-1848, Researching and finding military records

Mexican WarBy Barry J. Ewell
The U.S. Mexican War (also known as the Mexican-American War and US Mexican War) began as result of the US annexation of Texas.  War was declared on May 13, 1846 which ended on February 2, 1848 with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hildalgo. During the war there were several large battles, the most famous being “The Alamo.”  The treaty fixed the Rio Grand River as the boundary of the Texas and required Mexico to cede the United States all the territory that makes up the states of California, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah and parts of Colorado and Wyoming in return for $15 million. There were 35,000 U.S. Army soldiers and 73,000 volunteers who fought in the war. Most volunteers came from Southern states, (e.g., Louisiana, Missouri, Tennessee, and Texas.)  U.S. soldiers that served in the war with the war with an age range 15-50 years old.

Finding evidence that ancestor served in the U.S. military
The following are few tips I have used to define if my ancestor might have served in the military during this period of time.

  • List all the wars that existed during the each ancestor’s life time and what age they were during the war.  As a rule of thumb the age range for soldiers during a war period is 16-60.
  • Look for clues that might be found on gravestones, family papers, obituaries, biographies.
  • Look where the ancestor lived. Does your ancestor live on what is referred to as the frontier (western most land) of the United States in the early 1800′? This might indicate that he received bounty lands.
  • Search indexes for military land patents and other military records. If you don’t find ancestor in one index, try another.  It is not uncommon to have ancestors who were veterans of multiple wars.
  • Identify if the veteran belong to the regular Army, state militia or another unit.  Were they in the Army, Navy or Marines?  Answers to these questions will guide you to where to find the records.

Search for the following records
Pension records. Pension records usually include the veterans rank, place of residence, age or date of birth, and time of service.  The widow’s application may include her place of residence, her maiden name, the date and place of marriage, the date and lace of her husband’s death, and the names of children under 16. A child’s or heir’s file contains information about the veteran and the widow, as well as child’s place of residence, date of birth, and date and place of the widow’s death. Even if your ancestor did not receive a pension, look to see if his pension request was denied. Pension applications, pension-payment records and many other military records for all U.S. forces 1775–1916 are held at the NARA in Washington, D.C.

Bounty land applications and warrants. Congress granted bounty-land warrants for service in the Mexican War under the act of 1847.  Veterans could apply for bounty land.  They were entitled to 160.  Copies of the bounty land files will show where the veteran settled after the war, provides a physical description, age, place of birth. The actual bounty land warrants have less information. Digitized land patents may be found on the Bureau of Land Management.
Bounty LandService records. The service records consist of compiled service records (CMSRs) which were formed in the 1890’s from various sources (e.g., muster rolls, descriptive rolls, pay rolls.)  The service records can show the soldier’s name, rank, regimental unit (usually showing the last name of the regimental commander), the company commander’s name, dates of service and pay, whether the soldier was a substitute, date of discharge, and sometimes, distance to the soldier’s home from place of discharge, date of death, if applicable, and periods of sickness.  Microfilm records exist for soldiers serving from Arkansas, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Texas and Mormon volunteers (aka, Mormon Battalion).

Societies. Search for information and records provided by various societies related to the Mexican War that include Descendants of Mexican War Veterans, Aztec Club of 1847 and  National Association of Veterans of the Mexican War.

On the internet.  To find records and learn more about the War of 1812, try the following Google searches

  • Mexican War index to pension applications files
  • Mexican War bounty land applications OR warrants
  • Mexican War service records
  • Mexican War FamilySearch OR OR Fold3
  • National Archives Mexican War
  • Mexican War societies
  • Texas Mexican War (Replace the Texas with the desired state)
  • United States Mexican War
  • Mexican War history

Search the cemetery. Finding graves of your ancestors is really hit and miss. Resources to consider as a starting point follow:

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