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The most under-utilized offline source you should try today

The original version of this post appeared on blog.jpgenealogy.com. All relevant posts are being migrated here in preparation for that blog to be closed.

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Where was he born?

Why isn't he in the 1860 census?

Is this record for the same man or a different man of the same name?

These are the questions every genealogist is constantly trying to answer. Would you spend an hour identifying a record that could answer these questions? Of course you would.
This offline source can answer many genealogy questions, only if you get a copy!

Read-on and make sure to get the free checklist to help make getting this record even easier (for every ancestor it applies to).

After spending an hour to identify this amazing record, would you then file away your notes for several decades and go look at some census records on Ancestry.com or check out some long-shot vital-record databases on FamilySearch?

That's what many genealogists do.

I'm going to have to use a word that's forbidden in our house. STUPID (yeah, I have a five-year-old, stupid is a four-letter word in our house).

You agree that it's stupid to find out about a record that could provide an unknown number of answers about an ancestor and then NOT obtain a copy. But far too many genealogists do exactly that.

They spend YEARS bumbling about on websites looking for the details to complete the picture of their ancestor. Sometimes those details are needed to move back to the next generation.

While a perfectly obvious option is sitting, waiting for them.

What's holding them back?

I don't really know, honestly.

The valid excuse: cost of genealogy records.

One excuse is cost. This is a valid reason not to plunge forward and order a lot of records all at once. I'll give you that. Let's quickly look at what you're really spending by "saving" the cost of this potentially research-changing record.

Currently (2017) I'd estimate the cost of this record to be $50. It is very possible to get it for less. It cost me less than $5 (my transportation cost) because I got the record when I was local. But $50 is a good number to have in your head as a budget point.

I don't just spend $50 here and there without thinking about it. I don't expect you to either so I'm not saying $50 is an amount you should be prepared to spend every time you identify a record that could help. If you do a lot of genealogy, that could easily be over $100 a day!

I am saying there's a much higher cost if you NEVER spend that $50. That cost is at least YEARS of time not finding what you are looking for. You may also be spending a lot more than $50 on other resources you don't need. Alternatively, those resources could be used on new research revealed by the clues in this record.

I made a wild suggestion in this post about how to save on your genealogy subscriptions. How many $50 records could you order with what you saved? (Hint: it's four or more per year, depending on how you apply my suggestion.)

OK, cost can hold you up. Save your loose change so you can go forward, even if it's slowly.

Now what's your excuse?

No more excuses!

There's not a valid one.

So what record have I been alluding to?

Bounty Land Warrant (BLW) applications. In particular, I want to talk about federal bounty land.

Federal Bounty Land Warrant Applications


The excuse genealogists use about obtaining these is it's too hard. I'm here to tell you it's not.

It's not as easy as plugging a name into a search engine but genealogy is not easy. You need to be able to do more than search the Internet. This is such an under-used resource that has gotten soooooo much easier to use in the last ten years.

BLW applications used to be fairly hard to identify. There was no widely available resource to identify them so it was kinda a shot in the dark when you went to obtain a copy.

You might have lived somewhere with easy access to the needed NARA microfilm but if not, you needed to make a research trip just to research the possibility of a BLW application from your ancestor.

I completely understand not wanting to spend $50 if you aren't sure a record even exists.

You don't need to do that anymore!

Before I tell you how easy it's become to identify BLW applications, let's do a skill check.

What is bounty land?

In a nutshell, bounty land was an incentive to get men to volunteer for military service and later a reward for veterans. There is federal bounty land (granted by the federal government) and state bounty land (granted by individual states).

If you want to quickly learn a few more details, here is a slightly longer, but still short, article from FamilySearch. Since I'm writing a blog post, not a book, I'm only quickly covering what federal bounty land is.

Luckily, there is a WONDERFUL book all about military bounty land in the U.S. Christine Rose's Military Bounty Land 1776-1855 is my favorite quick but comprehensive reference for this subject. You really need to check it out to find out what kind of bounty land records you might be missing out on for your ancestors. There's a lot more than I mention, here. She covers federal and state, really, check it out.

I constantly reference Christine Rose's book as a refresher. Bounty land records are too extensive for me to remember all the details for all the different options. This is one of those books you can read once and then reference over and over again. It's worth having it on your bookshelf if you have a lot of ancestors who lived in the U.S. between 1776 and 1855.

How to obtain BLW applications.

Let's get back to finding federal BLW applications.

Unfortunately, most bounty land is "unindexed" making it much more difficult to identify than pensions (note that there is a collection of BLW applications called "unindexed" which is what I'm referring to, more on the indexed collections, later). This is why so many genealogists, even in pre-digital days, avoided this particular type of record.

As a complication, you must know the ancestor's name and service for the unindexed land to be found by the NARA search staff. Sometimes slight variations in spelling may result in the request being returned as "not found" even though it exists. Having the BLW number (or application no. in the case of rejected applications) helps.

NARA is creating an index to the unindexed BLW applications (but it's still referred to as "unindexed" so don't let that confuse you). Initially, the index was only available on a single computer in the microfilm reading room at NARA I in Washington, D.C.

This index is now available at Fold3 . It is "Bounty-Land Warrant Applications Index." It covers A to L surnames as of October 2017 (and surnames listed as "[Blank]"). The indexing is a volunteer project and when I was at NARA in November 2016, I heard some mention of it being "resumed," soon. I have no idea if that actually happened. As of this writing, the Fold3 index was last updated in June 2016.

There is one major problem with the online version of the index (this doesn't apply to the database in the NARA microfilm room).

Initially, everyone was listed as serving in 1812. Some entries now show other years of service but it appears corrections have not been made to the entries that were entered incorrectly. I don't know exactly which entries are incorrect but it is at least A through G, possibly to K.

Here's an example. This is my ancestor and I've requested his BLW application previously, so I know what information is correct and how to successfully obtain the file.
Here is the (in-house) NARA request form I filled out (and received his BLW application).
successful Bounty Land Warrant request | genealogy record to help further your family history search

As you can see, most of the information is correct on the Fold3 index. The only issue is the "Service Year" which translates to item 16 on the request form, "War, or Dates of Service." This man served during the Cherokee removal (the Trail of Tears). That was nowhere near 1812!

The NARA staff member that goes to pull your request may still get you the correct file. You've got the warrant number, name, and other service details. It just depends on the staff member. Since this is a chronic problem with the most widely available index, conscientious staff will consider that the service may not be for the War of 1812.

Finding the correct service.

There is a FREE workaround to identify the correct service. You can use the BLM GLO website to find an image of the patent which should list the correct service details which you will need to request the file.

If the application was rejected, there won't be a patent. You then won't find a record on the BLM GLO website but you might find your ancestor in the application index once it's completed. (Tip: be organized. I would use a spreadsheet. A further description is in the free checklist.)

Here is what the service details look like for William's patent.
free, online image of a land patent issued from a bounty land warrant | genealogy record to help find military records about your ancestor
You can verify all the details here (tip: I always double check the warrant number). Here the service is correct ("Cherokee Removals"). The biggest issue I've had is the "war" is not always consistent. The best solution? Hire a researcher to obtain the record for you from NARA instead of ordering directly from NARA.

The best solution? Hire an independent researcher to obtain the record for you from NARA.

This is often cheaper and almost always much, much faster. An experienced researcher will likely know exactly what to put on the form. Even if you get someone cheaper with no experience in this type of record, they can ask the NARA staff how to correctly fill out the form based on the information you've provided.

It is absolutely possible to find a genealogist that will do the work for less if they want to gain this experience. NARA has so many records, it's hard to be familiar with them until you've used them. It's a lot faster to gain this experience by requesting records for others (because it takes time to find examples in your own research and some just won't exist in your family).

Note about using the BLM GLO website for service: It is possible the patent won't list the "war." There is another option but it's not fast. That is determining who was eligible for bounty land under that act. Doing this kind of research is how you become an amazing genealogist! This post is too short to to go into details but realize, researching the law is always an option. See Christine Rose's book to get you started.

Finding military records with land records.

You can also start on the BLM GLO website and then check the index to see if your soldier appears in it. Prior to this index being online, I always started with the BLM GLO website. I highly recommend checking both sites. That makes sure there aren't any typos and increases your chance for success.

Remember, rejected applications won't appear on the BLM GLO website. This is an index to the issued patents. If the application was rejected, no patent was issued. If no patent was issued for some other reason, it won't be in the BLM GLO index, either. Be organized so you don't miss an application simply because it's not found on this one website.

If your ancestor has a surname that hasn't been added to the index, you'll have to use alternative methods such as the BLM GLO website. If you are unfamiliar with the site, or haven't used it for "military research," you should.

Why bother with BLW applications?

In my personal research, most military service I know of is for the Civil War. Bounty land was granted for service prior to 1856. The example I provided above for William Godfrey, I actually identified from his Indian War pension.

Unfortunately for me, William's application was as basic as they get. The unique information it provided consisted of his name as well as his age and residence at time of application. The most valuable item was his original signature. The signature was not found in the pension because his widow has applied for it (i.e. he was dead).

Due to his particular type of service, his service details were basically boilerplate. Most of the regiment applied for bounty land together and they had all served during the same dates. There was no description of his service beyond captain's name and dates and places of enlistment and discharge. Not terribly exciting (remember, I already knew those details from the widow's pension) although I'm very glad to have the signature.

The only original signatures I've found in my personal research have come from NARA records. That's just a quirk with my family. Bound court records are almost always clerk's copies, including the signature which the clerk copied from the original.

Why do you care? If you have two original signatures, you can try to compare them to determine if you are dealing with the same man. Even someone who makes their mark might make a unique mark that can be compared.

Don't pass up the chance to find useful information just because it takes a bit of extra work.

There's more to be found than a signature.

When NARA was one of my local repositories, I wanted to take advantage of being able to easily request BLW applications. I also requested the applications for comrades mentioned in the pension.

One of them was a rejected BLW application made in the 1890's, 35 to 40 years after my ancestor applied. My ancestor's application was handwritten by the county clerk, this application was on a form.

Forms are good. Forms require specific information to be provided.

In lectures and articles about BLW applications, there is usually mention of potential gems like marriage certificates and Bible records. This is always a long shot, my ancestor's very standard file illustrates that.

This is one reason some genealogists don't bother with unindexed bounty land. Skipping a record just because it's not easy to get is a bad idea!

There is a lot of information between the basic application of my ancestor and the Holy Grail of a Bible record. The comrade's application illustrates how valuable information (but not something as amazing as a Bible record) OFTEN appears in BLW applications.

It contains two examples of this buried in the application form. The image below shows where question 8, residence since serving, and question 9, physical description at time of enlistment, appear.

Claim of Soldier for Bounty Land | genealogy record listing place of birth, age, military service, and more
Claim of Soldier for Bounty Land, 1 December 1892; Major Southerland (Pvt., Price’s Co., Ga. Vols., 1837), bounty land warrant application no. 337837 (Act of 1855, rejected); Case Files of Bounty-Land Warrant Applications Based on Service Between 1812 and 1855 and Disapproved Applications Based on Revolutionary War Service; Pension and Bounty Land Warrant Application Files, 1800-1960; Department of Veterans Affairs, Record Group 15; National Archives, Washington, D.C.
Below is question 8 and 9 enlarged.

detail of genealogical information from a rejected bounty land warrant application file

I wish my ancestor's application had included the detail of question 9. His place of birth at the county level (in this case a district in South Carolina) is given. How often have you only been able to find the state of birth (or country)? Maybe you have several counties of birth from different records. The more you identify, the more likely you'll determine the truth. No matter what, the extra detail is helpful.

For this applicant, question 8 is also useful as he moved from the place where he served but later returned. His answer, if correct, lets you know where to look for records about him during a specific time period.

This could be a situation where he appeared in Gilmer County, Georgia in 1850 and 1870 census and you have no idea where he was in 1860. I've seen this in many pensions and BLW applications I've read for people from this part of Georgia. Many of them moved shortly after the Civil War, in some cases they left for good, in others, they eventually returned.

This man left, spent the Civil War elsewhere, and then returned. The information on his application could lead to more military records about him or his children. Especially if you're dealing with someone with a common name, being handed a short-term residence can be more precious than gold.

So why bother trying to get a BLW application?

Simple. You really don't know what you'll find.

Applications made at different times may provide more or less information. Remember one man may be eligible for bounty land under different acts which would be separate applications, too. Widows could also apply and may have applied not knowing their husband already applied, resulting in yet another application.

Rejected applications are just as valuable as those approved. The example above is a rejected application. As a genealogist, you're interested in life details as much, if not more, than military details. Information is provided in the application, keep that in mind, it's an application. That means the applicant gives the information you want before it is approved or rejected.

It is possible an application is rejected because some information provided is wrong (i.e. someone lied). More often, there's another reason that doesn't relate to the validity of the information.

If your ancestor served prior to 1856, a BLW application is more likely than a pension. The details requested are extremely similar.

So far I've focused on "unindexed" bounty land. There isn't a collection referred to as "indexed" bounty land. Federal bounty land from the Revolutionary War is included with the microfilm for Revolutionary War pensions (and it's index, therefore). This is now available online at Fold3 (not just the index, the complete files).

BLW applications for the War of 1812 were often combined with the pensions (this is the general rule). However, few War of 1812 veterans survived long enough to get a pension so if you know or think your ancestor served in the War of 1812, bounty land is far more likely than a pension. If it was combined with a pension, the pensions are indexed. BLW applications not combined with a pension are part of the "unindexed" applications.

As with any large collection of materials, there are always exceptions. This is why Christine Rose's book is so helpful. It goes into far more detail while still simply explaining how to thoroughly search for military bounty land.

You can identify a local researcher through the D.C. area chapter of the Association of Professional Genealogists website, http://dcapg.org/membersx_4.php.

If you aren't ready for this step, yet, get a copy of Christine Rose's book Military Bounty Land 1776-1855 to learn more. It also discusses state bounty land.

Get my free checklist to get you started.

The pension images above are from:

Major Southerland (Pvt., Price’s Co., Ga. Vols., 1837), bounty land warrant application no. 337837 (Act of 1855, rejected); Case Files of Bounty-Land Warrant Applications Based on Service Between 1812 and 1855 and Disapproved Applications Based on Revolutionary War Service; Pension and Bounty Land Warrant Application Files, 1800-1960; Department of Veterans Affairs, Record Group 15; National Archives, Washington, D.C.

Find genealogy details and information about military service by ordering bounty land warrant applications. Free online genealogy indexes make this so much easier! | The Occasional Genealogist
Find genealogy details and information about military service by ordering bounty land warrant applications. Free online genealogy indexes make this so much easier! | The Occasional Genealogist

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