Researching the War of 1812 generation can be a challenge. Few records survive, and some, such as birth and death certificates, were never created. Genealogists have encouraged us over and over again to seek the neighbors. The technique known as “cluster genealogy” is a way to find our ancestors among their friends, relatives, and community. If your ancestor did not make a record that leads to the answer you are seeking, one of his neighbors may have done: in a deed, will, diary, family history, or court record.
Here are a few samples of how the newly digitized War of 1812 pension records are helping to fill in those gaps:
- Although only age thirteen at the beginning of the war, Samuel Dorris attested in 1879 to witnessing the 1820 wedding of Roxena Davis and Daniel McBride. On this document is his signature, which can be compared with other documents, but he also swore to his own birthdate and the birthdates of the bride and groom. In addition, he provided evidence of his own move from Livingston County, New York to upstate in Erie County between those years. This was my ancestor, and I had never heard of any relationship to the Davis or McBride families before.
- To help local resident, Ira Fancher, obtain his pension benefits, seventy-five men in the community signed an affidavit in 1839 that said “We the undersigners being personly acquainted with Ira Fancher (an aplicant for a pension) for many years past are fuley of the belief that the said Ira Fancher is a man of truth under Oath” [original spelling preserved]. All of the signatures appear to be original and some even indicate the signer’s occupation. What an opportunity to find not only a whole community but their original signatures as well!
- Silas Chatfield of the New York Militia Riflemen under Capt. John Richardson, who mustered out of Cayuga County, had an eighty-five page pension file that was unprecedented. Not only did he also have a signed document of many of his neighbors’ original signatures, attesting to his service and injuries – he had four! Four separate lists of neighbors, friends, and fellow soldiers with original signatures from his new home in McHenry County, Illinois (circa 1843-1846). If anyone is researching any family in the McHenry County area, this pension is a goldmine.
For most of these soldiers and their families, the money provided by these government pensions was the difference between survival and destitution. To us, they are a delicious peek into the families and communities that made up our ancestors’ world. Capt. Chatfield entreated the Office of the Pensions, “It is only to a grateful Cuntry and the ministers of its law that the wounded and other were disable Soldier and the intrepid defenders of its rights and honor can look for recompence of Valor and the reward of patriotism” [spelling preserved]. We can’t say any better than that.
These records are available for FREE forever on Fold3.com, thanks to continued contributions from our community. Make a donation today towards this effort to digitally preserve this incredibly valuable collection of American history.
 For a sample of cluster genealogy research, see: Elizabeth Shown Mills, “QuickLesson 11: Identity Problems & the FAN Principle,” Evidence Explained: Historical Analysis, Citation & Source Usage
(https://www.evidenceexplained.com/content/quicklesson-11-identity-problems-fan-principle : accessed 9 Jan 2016).
 Samuel Dorris affidavit, Daniel McBride (Pvt., Capt. Cook’s Co., NY Militia, War of 1812), widow Roxena McBride, WO 33726, WC 23130; digital images, fold3.com (www.fold3.com : accessed 9 Jan 2016), referencing Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty Land Warrant Application Files, Records of the Veteran’s Administration, RG 15; National Archives (NARA), Washington, D.C.
 Ira Fancher (Pvt., Capt. Eli P Robinson NY Mil., War of 1812), SO 14847, SC 9382, BLW 86140-40, widow Anna Fancher, WO 10712, WC 11036, War of 1812 Pension and Bounty Land Warrant Application Files, Records of the Veteran’s Administration, RG 15; National Archives, Washington DC; marriage certification, Baltimore County; digital images, fold3.com (http://www.fold3.com/image/311362386/ : accessed 9 Jan 2016).
 Silas Chatfield (Capt., Capt. John Richardson NY Mil., War of 1812), SO 24112, SC 3136, War of 1812 Pension and Bounty Land Warrant Application Files, Records of the Veteran’s Administration, RG 15; National Archives, Washington DC; marriage certification, Baltimore County; digital images, fold3.com (https://www.fold3.com/image/304386935: accessed 9 Jan 2016); for the four separate lists of community members, see: https://www.fold3.com/image/304387082, https://www.fold3.com/image/304386993 , https://www.fold3.com/image/304387010 ,and https://www.fold3.com/image/304387022.