Researching War Of 1812 Veterans

by Kathleen Brandt | Jun 12, 2012

This year marks the bicentennial of the War of 1812. Perhaps your ancestor was one of the 286,000 American soldiers who served between 1812 and 1815. Researchers often find tracing land battles and conflicts at sea to be challenging. However, service records and impressed seamen papers will assist in uncovering your veteran's contribution to this "Second War for Independence."

Understanding The War

The War of 1812 is often known for iconic events like the Battle of New Orleans, the burning of the White House, and for inspiring the lyrics to the Star Spangled Banner. But, many events led the United States Congress and President James Madison to declare war on Great Britain 18 June 1812:

  • Halting the impressment of U.S. seamen and privateers into the Royal Navy
  • Restoring America's rights of neutrality on the seas which was at stake with Britain's ongoing war with France and the commercial embargos that interrupted U.S. trade.
  • Discouraging British support of Indian raids on the frontier

Throughout the war territories switched hands often. This battle for borders was complicated by America's military attempt to invade Canada. Ultimately, along with sea conflicts, land issues were resolved through the Treaty of Ghent where Ontario was restored under British control; and nearly 10 million acres were returned to America spanning from the Great Lakes, Michigan and Maine to the Pacific coast. Britain paid $350,000 in lieu of returning the runaway slaves that claimed their freedom in British territory.

It is important to understand that the War of 1812 continued after the Treaty of Ghent was signed in 1814. You may find your veteran's service records dated as late as 1815.

Service Records

Compiled Military Service Records. Original service records can be located at the National Archives (NARA): Index to the Compiled Military Service Records for the Volunteer Soldiers Who Served During the War of 1812 Record Group (RG) 94. Files contain data on the 600,000 service men to include names, company and rank. Searchable indexes are available at familysearch.org or ancestry.com . Full service records of Lake Erie and Mississippi War of 1812 veterans have been digitized on Fold3.

This collection also holds service records for the black soldiers serving in segregated regiments. In Louisiana the Battalion of Free Men of Color, made up of black landowners, was formed September 1812. This regiment did not see action until 1815. Amongst My Best Men: African Americans and the War of 1812, by Gerard T Altoff, is an excellent resource on this topic.

Discharge Certificates. To locate Regular Army soldier be sure to check the Discharge Certificates and Miscellaneous Records Relating to the Discharge of Soldiers from the Regular Army 1792-1815, M1856 files. Miscellaneous records include pay vouchers and death certificates. These records do not include militia or volunteer soldiers.

Miscellaneous Canadian Records. There were about 7000 British and Canadian soldiers stationed in Canada. As many of 3500 Native Americans were serving with the Canadian forces. Many free Blacks also joined the Upper Canada Militia to prevent an expected invasion by the United States. One such "African - Canadian" regiment was The Coloured Corps from the Niagara region. To begin your Canadian and British War of 1812 research, visit Ancestry.com's War of 1812: Miscellaneous Canadian Records.

State Records. Be sure to check the various State and local collections. Missouri records can be found at War of 1812 - World War I. An index of 40,000 Virginia service men may be found at the Library of Virginia website: War of 1812 Pay Rolls and Muster Rolls.

Several states have dedicated Find-A-Grave searches for war veterans. Maryland Soldiers in the War of 1812, as of now, has a listing of eighty-five veterans. For your New York soldier visit the War of 1812 Cemetery.

Pension Files

Wounded or disabled veterans, widows or heirs may have applied for pension. Full pension files from NARA, M313 of RG 15 are being digitized. Some are available at Fold3.com. (NOTE: these are being digitized and made available for free through the Preserve the Pensions project).

The Index to the War of 1812 Pension Application Files (M313) and the Old War Index to Pension Files (T316) will assist in your research efforts. Digitized index may be found on Ancestry.com's Index to War of 1812 Pension Application Files.

Bounty Land Records

As with other wars, many veterans or their survivors were granted bounty land warrants in exchange for military service. These warrants were often applied toward a land patent or your ancestor may have sold or surrendered his Bounty Land Warrant. Applications for warrants and patents hold genealogical treasures. Veteran's age, rank, and place of residence are usually included. Researchers may also discover a widow's maiden name or marriage information. Digitized land patents may be found on the Bureau of Land Management website: For More Information visit Newly Released War of 1812 Land Records by Jim Dane.

Adjutant General Records

Adjutant General records held at the NARA, RG94 may be of interest.

  • Letters Received by the Adjutant General. General, 1805-1821 are available on Fold3. This collection contains correspondence regarding appointments, recruitments, discharge, pay, promotion and more.
  • Index of the Records Relating to War of 1812, Prisoners of War, M1747 on Ancestry.com will lead researchers to the microfilmed Prisoner of War (POW) records, M2019. Expect to find a list of POWs, place, battle captured, and death information if died during imprisonment.

Seamen Papers

Protecting US seamen on American ships from impressment into the British Navy became a contributing factor of the War of 1812. Perhaps your sailor or privateer was one of the 10,000 impressed seamen who served between 1802 and 1812.

Approximately fifty thousand mariners filed for a U.S. Seamen's Protection Certificates, 1792-1868. This included the African American Seamen who accounted for fifteen to twenty percent of the US Navy. Although originals certificates are held in the US Custom Service, RG 36, a searchable database is available at Ancestry.com. Seamen's age, birth place, residence and a physical description provide genealogical hints.

Reference the following for additional information:

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