CMSR and Pension Application -- independent?

Can enlistment dates on a CMSR and in a pension application file be considered independent pieces of evidence?

Submitted byEEon Wed, 02/24/2016 - 12:08

Annie, the short answer is yes. They are two different records, created independently by different individuals. However, we also need to consider the nature of those CMSR (aka CSR) files.

The Compiled (Military) Service Record file, a set of cards created for a volunteer soldier, is a derivative. Government employees went through old military payrolls and muster rolls and extracted out certain pieces of data to create the cards—one card per original record. As derivatives, those cards have a much higher error rate than most researchers anticipate, and the errors can be significant. As a case at point, see QuickLesson 3: Flawed Records, which analyzes one such file for a Revolutionary War soldier. For whatever data we find on the CSR cards, we need to seek the original records from which the data was extracted to ensure that we have the correct details for our person, that we have all the details that record gives for our person, and that we have the contextual information that we can also draw from studying the original.


Submitted byJadeon Wed, 02/24/2016 - 14:50

Editor, thank you for the reminder regarding the nature of the CMSRs.

Many do not realize that when they write to NARA for a copy of a veteran's military record, the CMSRs they get are not the actual military service record.  And NARA does not make much of an effort to explain the difference.

Sometimes they are helpful as an index for locating actual military records, but mistakes and omissions occur just as in any index or extract.

Thank you again,

Submitted byEEon Wed, 02/24/2016 - 18:10

You are so right, Jade. In our Citation Issues Forum, we occasionally have someone ask how to cite, say, a muster roll. When we probe a bit into their source, we discover that their record is not the actual muster roll. Instead, it's a CMSR card that carries a heading "muster roll" simply because the data on the card was extracted from a muster roll.

Some of the CMSR records I have received contain requisitions for supplies signed by the individual and, in a few cases, correspondence between an officer and his commanding general requesting leave. I have been citing these as separate documents and as original sources. They were created at the time or close to the time of the event by a person present observing events--lack of shoes, ammunition, etc.

Am I incorrect to evaluate these papers differently than I would a CMSR card?


Suzanne Matson

Suzanne, when we take data off a CMSR card, we are not using the original record. Regardless of whether the card refers to a muster rull, a payroll, a supply requisition, or any other type of document, you are not using that other type of document. All you are using is a CMSR card with a few details extracted from something else.  Our citation would identify the type of card, but we would still cite only the CMSR file.

Submitted bySuzanne Matsonon Thu, 02/25/2016 - 13:47

I'm sorry I didn't make myself clear. These are photocopies of the actual requisitions and actual copies of the correspondence. Some years ago when I requested this CMSR file from the National Archives, the packet sent to me included both the CMSR cards as well as photocopies of these documents. I did not take the information from a CMSR card. I understand that what is recorded on a CMSR card is not the original record and only refers to the original..


Now that is interesting, Suzanne. It's a situation that's never happened to me or to anyone else I know. You made your request with NARA itself, rather than a record agent, right?  Did NARA provide you with any type of citation for those document photocopies?


Submitted bySuzanne Matsonon Fri, 02/26/2016 - 10:32

Yes, I made my request by mail using form NATF80 in 1998. NARA did not provide me with any type of citation for the documents. And truthfully, I was too green genealogically speaking at that point to know to ask. Innocently, I thought that was what everybody received if they made a request.

I requested the military records of Thomas A. Holtzclaw of Co. H, Palmetto Battalion Light Artillery (Confederate). I received 16 CMSR cards plus approximately 35 documents. He was Captain of a company stationed near Charleston on Morris Island. Most of the documents are Special Requisition forms requesting various items needed by his company.

I did a quick search through my other military records requested using form NATF80. Only one other has documents. All of the others have only the CMSR cards.

Surely, the person working on the order didn't go searching for additional records. Could they have just been in his file? Now, you really have me wondering just how to untangle this and properly cite these documents that were sent to me as part of a CMSR file.


What a "mixed blessing," Suzanne!  You have these wonderful documents, whose provenance certainly seems legitimate, with no idea of the file, collection, series, or record group they came from. Do you know Craig Scott, the retired Naval officer who has spent many years working personally in NARA's military records and is, arguably, the most knowledgeable person about those records? He could give you better advice than I.

Based on what you have, if this were my problem, I would (in Layer 1) describe each document giving the three basic pieces of information for any kind of manuscript record: Name of Document Creator, "Header from Document" (or, without quotes, a generic description of document), and date of document. Then, I would add a semi-colon and (Layer 2) state how I got the document.

I don't know Craig Scott personally, but I have attended a number of his lectures over the years. Thank you for your suggested solution for a citation.

Just to keep things interesting, the relevant file on Fold3 has some documents I didn't receive in the CMSR from NARA and vice versa. I developed a master timeline covering both with each document noted as to whether it is Fold3 only, CMSR from NARA only, or both. I have kept the files separate but with the master timeline I can quickly locate any document I want in either file.


I contacted Craig Scott last night and received answers to my questions. If it is evident that documents were specific to a single individual, those documents were included in the CMSR. The original repository of the records was the War Department collection of captured records or those collected after the war. The source to be cited is the CMSR. I do think I will use your suggestion of a layered citation though since that specifies exactly which document I am referencing.


Submitted byJadeon Fri, 02/26/2016 - 14:27

In the Union Civil War CMSR files there can be a number of original documents, such as  forms containing parental consent for a minor child's enlistment and enlistment bounty money forms.

Good hunting,