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August 25, 2016             Is It Worth It?

That was the question a blogger I follow posted recently regarding canning your own vegetables. I have asked myself this question in my genealogy research many times. Obtaining certified copies of documents can be very expensive. There are many ways to obtain information, but I have always wanted to obtain the most reliable, certified documentation possible and it is never free.

There is an ancestor in our family that no one knew very much about. He had a very popular name, John W. Booth which there are thousands of John W. Booths living in the same era he did. There was confusion about what the W stood for and some thought it was Wilkes. I wanted certified proof of exactly what his name was and find everything I could about him. Researchers from other lines of his family provided the proof I needed that his middle name was William, not Wilkes. That made sense since his grandfather was John William, his grandson was named John William and he had a nephew named John William. This followed the naming conventions that were followed in families.

Distant cousins had stated that he served in the Union Army during the Civil War, but there were several John Booths’ from Illinois that served in the Union Army, how was I to know which one was our ancestor? Did I just “go along” with the regiment they claimed he served in or did I spend the money to obtain his military service records? If I spent the money (no refunds would be given), would I get the right person’s records? So I am back to the original question, Is It Worth It?

I decided that since I had exhausted all other areas of research, I had to spend the money to get the military records through the National Archives. Since I was going to request the documentation, I decided to request the complete file using the Form NATF 85D which costs $80.00. This would include the complete pension application and all other official or personal information in the file up to 100 pages. This should leave no questions unanswered!

Was It Worth It?

Thankfully, when the packet arrived it was for the right person! But would it include any new information? As I began to read, there was so much information that I was not able to obtain any where else or that anyone else knew:

1. Original pension application from John. It included a letter for application for a pension on behalf of John’s widow, Mary E. Booth. It also included a copy of the envelope the letter was mailed in that contained her mailing address.

2. A letter from the Commissioner requesting proof of death or divorce from John’s first wife, Julia. If she had remarried and the date of the birth of their child, Jennie Ann. WHAT?? No one had known he had been married prior to Mary Ellen and had a child with her. Documents in the file requested more documented proof, witness statements, etc. One document was written in John’s handwriting provided explanations about what happened with Julia and daughter Jennie Ann.

3. Physician’s Records. These records revealed that John received disability payments after the war for injuries he received while serving. There were complete medical records that gave a physical description of height, weight, and a complete description of the injury and the progression and effects it had on his life. Witness statements from two of his neighbors were also included.

4. John’s complete military record states that he had been a prisoner of war held at Andersonville Prison. I have searched all records at Andersonville Prison and he is not listed at all. The military records stated the following: To Atlanta, GA Sept 17, 1864; paroled as POW at Rough & Ready, GA Sept 18/22, 1864; listed as Prisoner of War on Pension Rolls on Aug. 31, 1864; listed in Medical Records as missing July 22, 1864. Mustered out of service with his unit, 111th Illinois, Co. C in Washington D.C. on June 6, 1865.

Determination of Worth?

Priceless! It was the most expensive documentation I have ever paid for, but in return I received far more information than I had ever hoped. My “brick wall” is now my most well-known ancestor.

If you decide to spend the money for this kind of documentation I encourage you to first, make sure you have explored all other resources first. Second, make sure you are requesting information for the correct person providing all information possible on the request form. Third, fill out the request forms, properly following all rules the National Archives require.

To request military records, go the National Archives webpage at:


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