Genealogy: War of 1812 (1812-1814), Researching and finding military records

War of 1812By Barry J. Ewell
War of 1812 (1812-1814).  The War of 1812 was fought between the United States and the British Empire, including Great Britain, Canada, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland. The Treaty of Ghent, which became effective on February 18, 1815, ended the war. With the signing of the treaty the U.S. and Britain recognized the pre-war boundaries between the United States and Canada, and gave the United States fishing rights to the Gulf of St. Lawrence.  There were 286,000 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.

Search for the following records
Pension records. Pension records usually contains the soldier’s or widow’s application file, a statement of service usually provided by the Pension Bureau, and other papers prepared by the Third Auditor’s Office. The widows or minor’s applications contain the most genealogical information because the widow had to provide proof of marriage, including the date or place of marriage, and usually the maiden name.  Important data about marriages before 1815 found in some of the files may not be available anywhere else.  Also look for “remarried widow’s card index 1816-1860” shows the new remarried name of the veteran’s widow and the former veteran’s name. Even if your ancestor did not receive a pension, look to see if his pension request was denied.  Full pension files from NARA, M313 of RG 15 are being digitized. Some are available at These are being digitized and made available for free through the Preserve the Pensions project.  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. Bounty land warrants for service in the War of 1812 are based on acts of 1811, and 1812.  Surviving veterans also qualified for such benefits under the acts of 1842, 1850, 1852, and 1855. Veterans and later their widows and heirs could apply for bounty land.  They were entitled to 160 acres with some getting 320 acres (double bounties). Until 1842, the land lay within the states of Arkansas, Illinois, and Missouri.  Typical bounty land application warrant file contains the veteran’s name, age, unit, residence, period of service, and if applicable, the widow’s (or heir’s) name, age, and place of residence.  Many War of 1812 bounty land records are also interfiled with War of 1812 pension files. 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) or records of service (i.e., muster and 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.

Societies. Search for information and records provided by various societies related to the War of 1812 that include General Society of the War of 1812, National Society United States Daughters of 1812 and Military Society of the War of 1812.

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

  • War of 1812 Index to pension application files
  • War of 1812 bounty land applications OR warrants
  • War of 1812 service records
  • War of 1812 FamilySearch OR OR Fold3
  • National Archives War of 1812
  • War of 1812 societies
  • Georgia War of 1812 (Replace Georgia with the desired state)
  • Canada War of 1812
  • Great Britain War of 1812
  • United States War of 1812
  • War of 1812 history

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

War of 1812 5 War of 1812 2 War of 1812