Genealogy: Revolutionary War 1776-1783—Researching and finding military records

Revolutionary WarBy Barry J. Ewell
The following categories and additional resources are provided to aid your research and finding of military records for the Revolutionary War 1776-1783:

  • Revolutionary War Overview
  • Searching for Revolutionary War records
    • Pension applications
    • Bounty Land Warrant Applications
    • Revolutionary War rolls 1775-1783
    • Locating records
    • Loyalists
    • Hessians
  • Search the cemetery
    • Department of Veterans Affairs National Gravesite Locator
    • Historical society headstone symbolism

Revolutionary War Overview
Fought between the years of 1774-1783, the American Revolution was a time when the British colonists in the Americas rebelled against the rule of Great Britain. Of the colonies 13 rebelled which included: Delaware, Virginia, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, New Hampshire, New York, and Rhode Island. One of the main reasons for rebellion was representation. The British government was making new laws and levying taxes without representation of the colonies in the government.  At first the war was protests and arguments which over time escalated to war.  The colonies each had their own governments and in 1774 each sent elected officials to the “First Continental Congress” to unite and make a single government. It was the “Second Continental Congress,” that declared independence for the United States from Great Britain.  The new government would be a democratic government with leaders elected by the people with balances of power unlike that of British rule.

During the Revolutionary War, the American colonies (United States) had an estimated population of 2.7 million of which 20% were loyal to the British government (Loyalists).  Best estimates suggest that 175,000 men served in the war. About 5,000 free lack men and slaves served with many more in support roles as waggoners, drovers, and laborers. The range of age for soldiers/militia was between 15 and 50 (some were as young as 10 and as old as 60). The following are a few facts related to the war:

  • 1 of every 5 shoulders were killed, wounded or missing in action
  • American battle casualties 6,824
  • American wounded 8,4,45
  • Disappeared with no knowledge of whereabouts 1,500
  • Deaths from disease 10,000 (approximate)
  • Americans who died in British prisons 8,500
  • Americans captured 18,152
  • Total British casualties from battle 24,000 (approximate)

If your ancestor was 15 to 60 years of age between 1774-1783, there is a good chance he served as a soldier in the Revolutionary War.  The birth year would have been between 1715 and 1767.

Searching for Revolutionary War records
I have made it practice to search for military records head of households for the 1790-1840 U.S. Federal census and/or if they were specifically mentioned in the 1840 census question “Pensions for Revolutionary or Military Services.”

Revolutionary war SolidierPension applications. Search for pension applications and records of pension payments for veterans, their widows, and other heirs. There are over 80,000 such records. The pension applications usually provide the most information and can include supporting documents such as marriage, birth, and dead records/certificates, pages from family Bibles, family letters, dispositions of witnesses, affidavits, discharge papers and other supporting documents. Even if you ancestor did not receive a pension, look to see if his pension request was denied which can provide a lot of good information. When I haven’t found any information about my direct ancestor, I have researched other family members like fathers, brothers, uncles and even neighbors to see if there is any information related to family connections.

Bounty Land Warrant Applications. Bounty land applications are also related wartime service. The federal government provided bounty land for those who served in the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Mexican War, and Indian wars between 1775 and 1855. Bounty lands were offered as incentive to serve and as a reward for service. Bounty land was claimed by veterans or their heirs. The federal government reserved tracts of land for this purpose. The states of New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia also set aside tracts of bounty land for their Revolutionary War veterans.

If you ancestor served as a soldier, searching these records can be fruitful.  The bounty land records contain documents like those of the pension files.  Many of the bounty land applications for 1789-1800 were destroyed by fire.  Most bounty land application files of the Revolutionary War and War of 1812 service have been combined with pension files. Federal bounty land applications and warrants for the Revolutionary War have been microfilmed.  bount land warrantRevolutionary War rolls 1775-1783.  These rolls were maintained by the American Army to provide basic information about the identities, numbers, conditions, equipment and pay status of the men and units.

Locating records. Revolutionary War records can be found in online databases such as FamilySearch, Ancestry.com, Fold3 and others with military collections.  Check to see if your local library has subscriptions to online military collections from sources like Fold3, Ancestry, HeritageQuest or locate your nearest LDS Family History Library/Centers.

Microfilm versions are available at LDS Family History Centers/Library, federal repository libraries and many university libraries throughout the United States.  You can locate the records at a  library using Worldcat (Note: Use the search term, “Revolutionary war pension and bounty-land warrant application files” in the World cat search engine.)  The pension files have been reproduced in NARA microfilm publication M804, Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty-Land Warrant Application Files (2,670 rolls). Military service records are also available on microfilm; for more information see listings for Record Group 93, War Department Collection of Revolutionary War Records, in Microfilm Resources for Research: A Comprehensive Catalog (Washington, DC: National Archives and Records Administration, 1996), which is available online or for purchase.

I have had success working with the historical societies: Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) and Sons of the American Revolution (SAR).  For the DAR do a Google search on ” DAR Genealogical Research System and Genealogy  and DAR Library” to learn details.  For the SAR do a Google search on “SAR Genealogical Library and SAR Revolutionary War Patriots Index and Graves Registry.”

Also check with state and county historical societies to see what information they have or if they can provide guidance were to expand your research. Many Revolutionary War soldiers fought for state militias and those records are at the state level. See if these records have been put online with a Google search that includes the term Revolutionary War and state (e.g.,  “Revolutionary War” +Virginia). Many states have put online a variety of documents related to the Revolutionary War. The following list is sampling of what you will find (List compiled from MyGenShare Links Directory). Do a Google search on the category names to find related websites:

StateDo a Google search on document name
AlabamaAlabama Revolutionary War Soldiers
Alphabetical List of Revolutionary Soldiers in Alabama
ConnecticutConnecticut Revolutionary War Records
Connecticut Men in the Revolutionary War
Connecticut Revolutionary War Military Lists, 1775-1783 nearly 13,000 men listed
DelawareDelaware Revolutionary War Records
GeorgiaAuthentic List of All Land Lottery Grants Made to Veterans of the Revolutionary War by the State of Georgia
Georgia Revolutionary War Records
List of Loyalists Banished from Georgia – 1783
Roster of Revolutionary Soldiers in Georgia
IllinoisIllinois Revolutionary War Records
Illinois Revolutionary War Veteran Burials
Index to the George Rogers Clark Collection of Papers Pertaining to the Illinois Regiment of Virginia State Forces
IndianaIndiana Revolutionary War Records
Indiana Society Sons of the American Revolution Patriot Graves Registry
Indiana: Surname Index to Roster of Soldiers & Patriots of the American Revolution Buried in Indiana, Vol. I & II
KentuckyKentucky Revolutionary War Records
Kentucky Revolutionary War Warrants Database (Note: before June 1, 1792, Kentucky was a part of Virginia)
MaineMaine Revolutionary War Bounty Applications, 1835-36 (at Ancestry/requires payment)
Maine Revolutionary War Records
MarylandMaryland Revolutionary War Records
Maryland Revolutionary War Records
Maryland: Muster Rolls & Other Records of Service of Maryland Troops in the American Revolution
MassachusettsMassachusetts Revolutionary War Records
Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors in the Revolutionary War
New HampshireNew Hampshire revolutionary War Records
New JerseyNew Jersey Revolutionary War Records
New Jersey Volunteers (Loyalists) in the Revolutionary War
New Jersey: Official Register of the Officers and Men of New Jersey in the Revolutionary War
New YorkNew York in the Revolution
Index to New York Revolutionary War Invalid Pension Records 1801-1815
New York Revolutionary War Pension Lists of 1792-1795
New York Revolutionary War Records
North CarolinaNorth Carolina Revolutionary War Records
North Carolina Revolutionary War Soldiers (at Ancestry/requires payment)
OhioThe Official Roster of the Soldiers of the American Revolution Buried in the State of Ohio
Ohio War Records
Revolutionary War Pensioners Living in the State of Ohio in 1818-1819
PennsylvaniaPennsylvania Revolutionary War Records
Pennsylvania Revolutionary War Military Abstract Card File Indexes
Pennsylvania Militia Officers Index Cards 1775-1800
Pennsylvania Revolutionary War Battalions and Militia Index, 1775-1783
Pennsylvania: Valley Forge Muster Roll
Rhode IslandRhode Island Revolutionary War Records
South CarolinaSouth Carolina Revolutionary War Records
VermontVermont Men in the Revolutionary War (at Ancestry/requires payment)
Vermont Revolutionary War Records
VirginiaVirginia Memory – Military Service (e.g. Revolutionary War Bounty Warrants, Revolutionary War Rejected Claims, Revolutionary War Virginia State Pensions
Virginia Militia in the Revolutionary War
Virginia Revolutionary War Records
Virginia Revolutionary War Records
Virginia: Library of Virginia Online Military Records (e.g.Revolutionary War Land Office Military Certificates, Revolutionary War Public Service Claims, Culpeper County Classes, 1781 Virginia Military Dead Database)

Loyalists. About 20% (500,000) of the U.S. population during the Revolutionary war were Loyalists, individuals who supported or were sympathetic to the British government. Following the war, over 100,000 left the United States and moved to Canada, England, Florida, Jamaica, West Indies, and other British lands.  If you think your ancestor might have been Loyalist, do a Google search for “Institute for Advanced Loyalist Studies,” “United Empire Loyalists,” and “Loyalists and Patriots.”

Hessians. During the Revolutionary War, the kind of England hired over 30,000 German troops (mercenaries) to fight for the British.  After the war, 6,000 remained behind to live and establish families.  Do a Google search on “Johannes Schwam Historical Association” and “Hessian Descendants”
to start your research.
Hessian soldiers
Search the cemetery
Finding graves of your ancestors is really hit and miss, but there are a few resources that may provide value.

Department of Veterans Affairs National Gravesite Locator. Search for burial locations of veterans and their family members in VA National Cemeteries, state veterans cemeteries, various other military and Department of Interior cemeteries, and for veterans buried in private cemeteries when the grave is marked with a government grave marker using the Gravesite Locator.

Headstones Provided for Deceased Union War Veterans circa 1879-1903.  An act of Congress of February 3, 1879, extended the privilege of government-provided gravestones to soldiers buried in private cemeteries.  There are 166,000 cards recording these headstones has been reproduced on microfilm (NARA microfilm M1845-22 rolls).  You can find the film at LDS Family History Library/Centers and National Archives and regional record services. These records consist of 3-inch by 4-inch cards arranged alphabetically by surname, thereunder by first name. The cards include some or all of the following information about each soldier: rank, company, and regiment; place of burial, including the cemetery’s name, and the city or town, county, and state in which it is located; grave number, if any; date of death; name of contractor who supplied the headstone and the date of the contract under which the stone was provided. Most of the burials occurred in private cemeteries, probably in the county of the soldier’s last residence. Some occurred in cemeteries at National Homes for Disabled Volunteers Soldiers.

The following is an example of Revolutionary War headstone:

Revolutaionary War Symbolism Historical society headstone symbolism. Also be on the lookout symbols on graves of family members that were members of the historical societies: Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) and Sons of the American Revolution (SAR).  Knowing that family members were members of these societies provide clues that your family may have copies of the research and applications that were used to apply for membership or that one of your ancestors did fight the Revolutionary War and you should be searching for military records.  Each of the these organization required the person to provide genealogical proof that their ancestor did in deed fight in the Revolutionary War.

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