War of 1812 Preserve the Pensions Project Ahead of Schedule

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[Editor’s NotePreserve the Pensions chair David E. Rencher gives a progress report on the digitization and fundraising efforts involved with preserving and digitizing the War of 1812 Pension File records at the National Archives.]

The Federation of Genealogical Societies is leading the effort to raise the money needed to digitize the Pension and Bounty Land files of the War of 1812. To date, nearly one-third of the money needed has been raised through the generous contributions of many individuals, society board matching gifts, non-profit and corporate sponsors. Midway through 2012, the project was able to add a second camera to accelerate the image capture.

The Federation is working in partnership with the National Archives, the Fold3 website, Ancestry.com, and FamilySearch to make these images available. Ancestry.com has generously agreed to match all donations with an equivalent number of images for each dollar. These records were a high priority project for the National Archives since they are one of most requested documents by researchers. Prior to this project, users were required to either examine the files onsite at Archives I in Washington, DC or apply for a photocopy of the file. Each photocopy request costs a researcher fifty-five dollars. Now, these images will be available for free to researchers throughout the world.

Digital camera operators at the National Archives are producing images of the War of 1812 Pension and Bounty Land files at a pace faster than anticipated. The files are stored in 3,619 archival boxes and in October 2012, the digital camera operators imaged an average of 10 boxes per week, 3 boxes faster than originally projected. November saw even greater gains in production with their image capture rate increasing to an average of 13 boxes per week. To date, they have imaged 580 boxes, or roughly 16%.

These documents have already been prepared for digital camera image capture by the National Archives staff and volunteers who painstakingly unfolded, flattened, and filed the individual pensions. This preparatory work is required prior to any project and actually takes longer than the camera work itself. This work has directly led to the success of the camera operators being able to increase their overall productivity.

The already imaged documents are freely available on the Fold3 website at: http://go.fold3.com/warof1812/. The files are alphabetically arranged in the National Archives and the project started with the letter “A” and the work is systematically moving through to the end. The files are searchable by the name of the pensioner. The software available on Fold3 allows researchers to add value to the indexes by identifying other names within the pensions, indexing and submitting those names to the searchable database. This “indexing on the fly” software provides a wealth of additional data for researchers. Many of the files contain testimony by members of the unit of the pensioner stating that they had first-hand knowledge that the pensioner served in areas or battles of the War of 1812.

In addition to vital information about the pensioner, the files often contain marriage information, record of service, and occasionally Bible pages. Many researchers often overlook the wide array of valuable information in these files because they don’t believe they have a direct line ancestor that fought in the war. An important strategy to researching in these pension files is to investigate the lists of members of the unit in which the pensioner served and to read the files of these associates. With the files going online, this research will become much easier.

To learn more about the project or to donate to the capture of these images and making them freely available, go to www.preservethepensions.org . Each dollar donated to the project preserves two images. Ancestry.com has generously agreed to match all donations dollar-for-dollar, so in fact, each dollar preserves four images. Please add your contribution of $25, $45, $100, $250 or $500 today!

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