We have just past the bicentennial of the War of 1812 so in this article we will look into our ancestors of that time period. We may all have at least one soldier that served during this time, probably in a militia unit rather than in a military unit. In 1800, the United States only had about 1000 soldiers in the regular army so this is where the militia units come into play. These volunteers were very important to the protection of the nation at this time in history.
The best way to begin is to found some of your ancestors that might fall in the 16-60 age range during the time period of 1812 to 1815. Now you can limit your search to each of these persons in your efforts to gather information. The first source that needs to be consulted is the 1840 Census.
The 1840 Census lists the veterans receiving a pension from the American Revolution service as well as the War of 1812. The veterans name is given with their age at the time. They may or may not be listed in their own household, especially a veteran of the Revolution because of their age. You may want to check to see if they are living with a son or daughter. Finding this information also helps in establishing other connections as well. Double check the age at the time as it had only been 28 years since the War of 1812, so the younger the age, the more likely they are in this conflict. The American Revolution was fought from 1775 until 1783 which is 58 years prior to the census.
The next best place to look will be in the Federal service records for the war. Not all veterans applied for the pensions even though they had every right to do so. When a man served in a militia unit, they may have fought and even been wounded in battle, but the records are frequently lacking to prove their service. Militia units were local units and their record keeping was neither standard nor well-kept through the years.
Most of the federal records can be found in many large local libraries and are on micro-film or in book form. In fact, Virgil D. White has produced a number of large collections of most of the early conflicts in the country especially with the Service Records. Many larger libraries will have this set. The Revolutionary War series is eight volumes broken down into two different collections, one for the Service Records and the other for the Pension Records. These are a must to gain a quick introduction to the subject.
Once you have checked the 1840 Census and the federal records, do not overlook such things as death certificates, obituaries and even tombstone records. Then look in local histories and local historical societies records where many times, the locals have dug deep into their history and have found tidbits of information that are not easily found by outsiders. These societies usually try to maintain listings of the various conflicts involving their members’ families.
You may also want to check Bible records and diaries which can prove service in the various conflicts. If you are lucky enough to get your hands on the family Bible, make sure that you very carefully look at each page and not just the ones between the Old and New Testament or where ever the data is located. Families are noted for clipping newspaper articles and the like and just sticking them into the family Bible. Many times the families never dated or indicated the source on newspaper clippings, but they are still worth reading and gathering the information found there, you can figure out the date in time.
In Tennessee, we have another source for service in the War of 1812 that most states will not have. We have a series of Federal Government documents on the Court Martial of several companies of West [now Middle] Tennessee Volunteers titled the 1814 Court Martial of Tennessee Militiamen . The night before the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, these soldiers left the field and came home. Their statements were all the same, they said they volunteered for three months and their time was up. Andrew Jackson stated that they had volunteered for six months and charged them with desertion. The court found the men guilty and some were shot for mutiny while many others were sent home in disgrace for disobedience of orders. The rosters in the latter half of this piece are the most important entry in the whole document. They list the men who served from this area and give the military service records of these men. Since they were all court martialed they could not apply for pension, and therefore, do not appear in many of the listings for the soldiers of the War of 1812. The surname index includes over 7000 names.
Keep digging for information on the War of 1812 veterans. There may be a great story in their efforts to preserve America and free them from the British a second time in history.