Pension File Citation Question

 
 
 
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msualumni
msualumni's picture
Pension File Citation Question

I teach a class part-time here in Maryland, and I stress source citations. A
question arose with a student's learning assignment that I wanted to ask
your guidance on.

He was sourcing a Civil War pension file--more specifically, an affidavit
from the file. In the section on Pension Files in Evidence Explained, you
discuss the need to notate the application and/or certificate number the document
relates to. However (I ask because I had the same experience) in many
files, as you mention--there are numerous applications and certificates in one big file and it is difficult if not impossible to try to match the documents up with their proper application numbers.

In that case, my student thought he should just put all the numbers (from every application/certificate) in the source citation. What should one do in that case? Could we cite to the entire file--is that possible? Your feedback would be much appreciated.

Kind regards,
Robyn

 

EE
EE's picture

Ah, yes, Robyn, when a pension-file request to NARA generates a big packet with multiple files for the veteran and a widow's and orphans' file, as well, it does send us onto one wonderful ecstasy trip that shortly ends in a state of confusion!  (For Forum users who have not yet read EE 11.40, a soldier might file multiple times, each time representing a new application and a new file number, because Congress passed a new act that expanded his eligibility. NARA consolidates all of these disparate files into one bundle. Unless we are physically at NARA to do our own imaging, then we don't have the visual cues from the separate envelopes to help us determine what document belongs to which file.)

The key to properly sorting the contents of a bundle with multiple files is close attention to the dates that appear on each document—not just the date a document was created but also any internal reference or added notation that cites a date for the act that governed whatever the applicant is asking for. In complicated situations, it can help to create a spreadsheet, sorting the documents by date of the act that the document references and, thereunder, by date of the document itself. For documents that do not carry a reference to an act—say, an affidavit by an associate or a piece of correspondence—then we correlate the date of the document to the most-recent prior request of the applicant.

Yes, in a fit of frustration it's tempting to look for a shortcut to save ourselves all te time and mental sweat this exercise takes. We could just cite the document and say it is found amid a bundle of umpteen files numbered yada, yada, yada that all deal with veteran So And So. But that's not the approach EE would take. The point of the sorting exercise is not just so we can "properly cite" a document. Rather, this level of attention to detail will help us better understand what is going on in that series of applications and better understand the lives we are trying to reconstruct. It will also spotlight anomalies such as the many times that someone onsite at NARA has interfiled documents dealing with multiple individuals of the same name. (An example of that can be seen in EE's QuickLesson 3, particularly note 1, which covers the Revolutionary War pensioner William Cooksey, whose file includes the application of a widow he never had. See https://www.evidenceexplained.com/content/quicklesson-3-flawed-records.)

The Editor

Hiztorybuff
Hiztorybuff's picture

I have a slightly different twist concerning citations for the widow's pension application file. I received a copy of the pension file from another researcher who went to the National Archives; she did not cite the file or series number. The file contains several depositions, a certificate of disability for discharge, and a marriage certificate (!). There is no widow's certificate, nor any paper stating the application was rejected; however, the trifolded document was stamped "Abandoned." Would this file be contained in the Case Files of Disapproved Applications or somewhere else? It appears the pension application was subject to the Act of July 14, 1862, according to a request for evidence of service and death. The application is dated 2 Mar 1866, but the earliest date on the depositions is 7 Aug 1865. 

Also, since I did not obtain the file myself, what is the best way to indicate that someone copied and digitized the file and sent it to me?

Here is my attempt at a citation based upon EE 11.40:

Jane L. Lamb, widow's pension application no. 122,590 (abandoned); service of William B. Lamb (Pvt., Co. E, 168th New York Infantry Volunteers, Civil War); Civil War and Later Pension Files; Department of Veterans Affairs, Record Group 15; National Archives, Washington D.C. 

Thanks,

Hiztorybuff

EE
EE's picture

Hiztorybuff,

You've cited the file in good form for a file received from NARA--one that would typically carry on the back of a page a stamp with "RG15" penned on it and perhaps another cryptic note to identify the series. However, you also raise a valid issue in questioning whether you need to "indicate that someone copied and digitized the file and sent it" to you. Your statement that the "researcher who went to the National Archives [did not] cite the file" definitely calls into question the thoroughness of the researcher, in which case a cautious citation is wise.

One way to handle the situation (when citing a specific document from the file) might be this:

Marriage certificate, William B. Lamb to Jane L. Lamb, filed with Jane L. Lamb's widow's pension application no. 122,590 (abandoned); service of William B. Lamb (Pvt., Co. E, 168th New York Infantry Volunteers, Civil War); digital images provided by [name], [contact info], [date], without citation of file, series, or record group; typically, such files appear in Record Group 15, National Archives, Washington, D.C.

More broadly, there's a lesson for all of us here: When engaging a researcher to retrieve records from the National Archives, it's wise to tell the researcher in advance that we need a full citation for each document provided.

The Editor

Hiztorybuff
Hiztorybuff's picture

Thank you for your thorough explanation. One other question: was it common for such files to be stamped "abandoned?" I'm assuming, since there is no pension certificate, the application process was suspended for whatever reason. Is there another reason for it to be stamped as such?

Thanks.

 

EE
EE's picture

Hiztorybuff,

Regarding how common it is for pension files to be stamped "abandoned," you would get a much more reliable answer by asking someone who is an authority on military and pension records. One of the best--who had years of daily experience with those records during his DC years--is Craig Scott. His "Stump Craig" blog has been quiet for the past year, but try posting a query there and see if you get an answer.  The URL is http://stumpcraig.blogspot.com/

The Editor

Seekers
Seekers's picture

I am a researcher who pulls records at NARA.  Most of the clients I pull for are other researchers. When asked I will provide a citation, most do not ask. To make sure a request is complete I do copy both the pull slip and the envelope containing the pages. I have never seen a pension record with anything other than an envelope or folder as the container. Occassionally a pension file will be large enough to require two envelopes. I photograph both front and back of each page unless the back page is completely void of any marking.

My concern is, should I be looking for different "parts" of the file in order to provide the information you mentioned in the earlier post.  

EE
EE's picture

Hello, Seekers:

Thanks for your query. May we encourage you to provide a citation, even though "most" clients don't think to ask?

In response to your question in the last paragraph: If your client requests a simple "pull and copy," then no, that would not normally involve your "looking for different 'parts' of the file." You would simply copy whatever is in the file and leave it up to your client to do the analysis and interpretation.

What your clients need for a "pull and copy" are the citation essentials for NARA records bulleted at EE 11.1--specifically, bullets 2-6:

  • Item of interest, with relevant names, item description, dates, page numbers
  • File Unit Name (in this case, the soldier's ID and file number)
  • Series Name, with inclusive dates
  • Subgroup Name, with inclusive dates;
  • Record Group Name, inclusive dates & record group number
  • Archive & location

The first element of the citation, which I have grayed out above, is not one you have to deal with. Your clients, as researchers and writers, will assemble the info for the first bullet: each time they cite data from a specific document from the file, then they should identify that specific document.

You, on the other hand, are the one who needs to supply them with the data for the other five bullets. I realize that NARA will typically serve you the file without a citation. In that case you, as the professional, would know the archive and the record group you were using. You would also have at hand sufficient data to identify the file unit in standard form. You can then pull NARA's preliminary inventory to that record group to correctly identify the series and subgroup, according to the specific type of pension file that you have pulled.

Your clients will then bless you. Even the ones who don't know they need a citation will, eventually, be grateful that they engaged someone who understood what they needed even when they didn't.

Appreciatively,

 

 

The Editor

Twyrch
Twyrch's picture

I know this is an old thread, but I have a similar question, so instead of creating a new thread, I thought I'd append my question here.

I was recently at the National Archives and scanned 175 pages of my ancestor's Invalid Pension file, which also included the Widow's Pension file in the same envelope. He served in two units, but the pension office stored everything under the same pension file. This was my attempt at a citation. Any input would be appreciated on this.

 

1.      James Edwards, Invalid Pension file (private, 89th Regiment, Company C, Ohio Volunteer Infantry; private, 188th Regiment, Company K, Ohio Volunteer Infantry), Invalid Pension 318193, Certificate No. 734931; Widow Pension 708497, Certificate No. 497709; Pension applications for service in the US Army between 1861 and 1900, grouped according to the units in which the veterans served, Record Group 15; National Archives, Washington.

"Your history is sometimes a way of understanding your present...You are your history." - Terry Brooks

EE
EE's picture

Twyrch, have you had the opportunity to read EE 11.40, which discusses this issue?

The Editor

Twyrch
Twyrch's picture

No, I have your book "Evidence!" and I have ordered EE, 3rd Edition just today. I could wait for the book to be delivered next week, but I was hoping you could help me now. If not, I understand.

"Your history is sometimes a way of understanding your present...You are your history." - Terry Brooks

EE
EE's picture

Twyrch, in addition to 11.40 (which specifically covers these pensions for several pages, including files that contain auxiliary files as in your case), there are a couple of other issues involved in your citation above. In all, it makes for too many pages to get into here. When your copy of EE arrives, start with* 11.1-11.8, which give essential background on NARA sources and how they are organized--something we need to understand in order to cite them reliably.

*I put an asterisk here, because users really need to start with the first two chapters: Fundamentals of Evidence Analysis and Fundamentals of Citation. Those two chapters lay the groundwork for the record-type chapters that follow.  As you'll see, each of the chapters that focus on record types also have a background discussion at the start of the chapter, providing essential information for that particular class of records. Chapter 11 focuses on NARA and its holdings.

After you've read the relevant sections, I think you'll spot the tweaks you need to make--and understand why they matter. Then if questions remains, we can discuss those specific points.

Until then ...

The Editor

Twyrch
Twyrch's picture

Thanks for the additional feedback. Amazon tracking says the book was delivered today, so I'll read the additional chapters you mentioned and follow up as needed. Thanks again.

"Your history is sometimes a way of understanding your present...You are your history." - Terry Brooks

Twyrch
Twyrch's picture

Ok, I have had a chance to read the chapters and sections you mentioned and feel I have done a good job absorbing the information. I can see where I went wrong and have corrected it below:

1. Deposition of Claimant, 24 October 1899, Hester A. Edwards, widow's pension application no. 708,497, certificate no. 497,709; combined with James Edwards (Pvt., Co. K, 188th Ohio Infantry, Civil War) pension no. Inv. 318,193, Case Files of Approved Pension applications ..., 1861-1900; Civil War and Later Pension Files; Record Group 15: Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs; National Archives, Washington, D.C.

My only question now is, should I include his other unit here as well since both are mentioned in the file? I was thinking if I did, it would look something like this:

1. Deposition of Claimant, 24 October 1899, Hester A. Edwards, widow's pension application no. 708,497, certificate no. 497,709; combined with James Edwards (Pvt., Co. C, 89th Ohio Infantry, Civil War; Pvt., Co. K, 188th Ohio Infantry, Civil War) pension no. Inv. 318,193, Case Files of Approved Pension applications ..., 1861-1900; Civil War and Later Pension Files; Record Group 15: Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs; National Archives, Washington, D.C.

Do you have any thoughts on this?

"Your history is sometimes a way of understanding your present...You are your history." - Terry Brooks

EE
EE's picture

Twyrch, you've done well. If a pension file's jacket cites just one unit, that is normally the one we cite in our reference notes. If he served in two units and you want to cite both, that works also. If he was transferred between a half-dozen units, citing them all in a ref note would be cumbersome.

The Editor

Twyrch
Twyrch's picture

Ok, understood. Thanks for the help!

"Your history is sometimes a way of understanding your present...You are your history." - Terry Brooks