The Proof of the Pension Is in the Reading, by Michael John Neill

United States pension records are rarely just about the serviceman. These records may mention extended family members, neighbors, and other military comrades. This week we take a look at a pension from the American Revolution that shows a previously unknown maiden name and showed that a family was part of much larger migration chain that moved over a twenty-some-year time span.

The 1840-era Revolutionary War pension file for Elam and Katherine Blain in Delaware County, Ohio, was larger than most. We initially discussed part of this file in a previous article that is still available in the Library.

Fortunately, in this case, the soldier died before his wife and the widow could not find her marriage record. Genealogically this is an excellent situation¬–although the widow probably did not think it was so excellent.

Like any pension file, the statements were made with the intent of qualifying for the pension, not leaving an extensive genealogical record. In this case, the affidavits were testifying to Elam’s service, his marriage to his wife Katherine, and her subsequent need for his pension. Every piece of supporting evidence was given with the goal of proving one of those claims. The fact that a marriage record for the Blains could not be found added to the amount of testimony and paperwork within the file. It was unfortunate for the Blains—but once again, fortunate for me.

Son-in-law Abraham Wickiser gave some of the most genealogically relevant testimony in the file. His half-page statement indicates he married “the oldest daughter of Elam Blain…on the 7th of November A D 1802 & that his wife was then said to be a little upwards of 18 years of age.” Abraham is my wife’s ancestor and his statement was the first to indicate his wife’s parentage and date of marriage–a significant find.

There is a Katherine Wickiser who provides testimony as well. This Katherine never indicates in her testimony whether or not she is the same Katherine Blain Wickiser who was the wife of Abraham. The Katherine who provides testimony only indicates how long she had known the Blains and where she had known them. It is possible that the Katherine Wickiser who provided testimony was not the same Katherine Wickiser who was the wife of Abraham. However, a search of other Wickiser families in the Delaware County area for this time period did not reveal any other Katherines whose age was even close. So there appears to have been only one Katherine Wickiser. The pension file even provides testimony that the oldest Blain daughter was in fact named Katharine.

Katherine being the oldest Blain daughter, and having been at least eighteen years of age in 1802, was part of what the widow Katherine Blain used to estimate her date of marriage to Elam Blain. That is why the date of marriage and approximate age for Katherine Blain Wickiser were considered material information. But the file contains more than just information on a few marriages.

A Chain of Migration
This pension file also contains clues about the witnesses¬ whose relationship (if any) to the Blain family is not known.

Rebecca Mullin’s testimony from January of 1848 indicates that the Blains had moved into Delaware County, Ohio, about twenty-six years ago. Mullin is asked how she is certain of that year and
indicates that the Blains came to her neighborhood when her son William was one year old. She states that this son William is now twenty-seven years of age. (Mullin researchers would also get a clue here from the Blain pension.)

All the individuals who provided testimony had known the Blains before the Blains lived in Ohio. Some had known the Blains in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, and others had known the family even earlier in Hunterdon County, New Jersey. The sharing of residences over time hints at a chain of migration involving several families, likely including additional ones not mentioned in the pension file.

Sorting It Out
I was getting mixed up. To keep myself from confusing the names of the witnesses, I made a chart for each witness including their name, where they had known the Blains, and the first year they had known them. I found it helpful in distinguishing among the different individuals.

Working on the Chain
My research should not end with the pension. County and regional histories should also be read for additional information on this chain of migration, in all three counties¬–not just Delaware County, Ohio. These sources may provide additional background and potential reasons for the migration trail. Noting the path is one thing; learning about the likely reasons is another. Maps of the area should be utilized in tandem with the county histories to determine relative distances, major geographic features, likely paths taken, and other significant details.

How Accurate is This Information?
Much of the information contained in this pension file is secondary as the witnesses are discussing events that have taken place years before the statements are made. The fact that this information is secondary does not necessarily mean that it is incorrect. Like all secondary information, it should be used to locate primary information wherever possible. And this information should be fit together with other known information about the family to see if any inconsistencies are noted. While it does not appear so in this case, some pension files do contain outright lies and fabrications in an attempt to qualify for a military benefit.

Like many pension files, Elam Blain’s records gave me much more information about his family than it did about his military service. American Revolutionary pensions are at the National Archives and have been microfilmed 

Why Is This Pension So Important?
During this time period, tracking migrations can be difficult as records typically used are less detailed during the early nineteenth century. The data contained in this pension record may not be recorded anywhere else.

Even if your ancestor’s military career was run of the mill, the information contained in his pension file may send you running outside to do the genealogical “happy dance.” Just make certain not to misplace any papers in your excitement.

Some of the Blain Revolutionary War pension file can be viewed online here.

Click here for a printer friendly version of this article.

Michael John Neill is the Course I Coordinator at the Genealogical Institute of Mid America (GIMA) held annually in Springfield, Illinois, and is also on the faculty of Carl Sandburg College in Galesburg, Illinois. Michael is currently a member of the board of the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS). He conducts seminars and lectures nationally on a wide variety of genealogical and computer topics and contributes to several genealogical publications, including “Ancestry” Magazine. You can e-mail him at or visit his website at, but he regrets that he is unable to assist with personal research.

Michael John Neill will be presenting all-day workshops at events in the following locations:

  • 29 September 2007, Las Vegas, Nevada,
    Clark County Genealogical Society 
  • 20 October 2007, Saratoga Springs, New York,
    Heritage Hunters
  • 27 October 2007, St. Peters, Missouri
    St. Charles County Genealogical Society
  • 3 November 2007, San Antonio, Texas, San Antonio Genealogical Society
    Visit for
    Michael’s website for more information.

2 thoughts on “The Proof of the Pension Is in the Reading, by Michael John Neill

  1. One of the forms my great-grandfather had to fill out to get his Civil War pension was a list of all his children, living or dead, and their birth dates. Several of us had noticed that great-grandmother was listed as having had 12 children, 11 living in the 1900 Census but none of us knew the name of the twelfth child. She wasn’t listed in the family Bible. But there on that pension form was her name and birth date! she was born in 1868 and evidently died before 1870 as she never appears on a census.

  2. Yes, the pension files DO contain a lot more than pension information. Several years ago I discovered that the Civil War pension file for the second husband of my great-grandmother, Fred Weston, was in the National Archives, and for a small fee I received a copy of the entire file.

    Through this file I was able to get a fairly good picture of great-grandmother Friederike’s life after my grandfather divorced her in absentia in 1881. She lived with Mr. Weston in Albuquerque from about 1881, where he worked in the railroad shops. About 1894 Weston developed a double hernia from heavy lifting and had to stop working, even though he was only 52 years old.

    Friederike applied on his behalf for a Civil War pension in about 1897. She re-applied (to request an increase) several times after that before Weston’s death in 1906. In about 1902 he was moved to a home for disabled veterans in Sawville, CA, where he lived until his death. Meanwhile, Friederike finished raising their three children by taking in laundry.

    All this and much more I learned just from the Civil War pension file! Since the “official” family story was that Friederike had died not long after my great-grandparents’ divorce, this part of her life had always been a dark family secret. Thanks to that Civil War pension file, the story can now be told.

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