New National Archives Video Gives an Inside Look at the Volunteer-Supported Civil War Widows’ Pension Digitization Project
Press Release · Friday, April 27, 2012

Washington, DC

A team of more than 60 volunteers led by professional staff at the National Archives has crossed the 100,000 mark in a project to digitize Civil War widows' pension files and is featured in a new National Archives video short. The National Archives holds 1.28 million case files of the dependents of Civil War Union soldiers who applied to the federal government for pensions. A new video short in the ongoing series "Inside the Vaults" describes the project. Running 5:43, "The Civil War Widows' Pension Digitization Project at the National Archives" can be viewed at:

The "Inside the Vaults" film series is free to view and distribute on our YouTube channel at These videos are in the public domain and not subject to any copyright restrictions. The National Archives encourages the free distribution of them.

The files are an astonishing compendium of Civil War history. Testimony in these files from fellow soldiers, widows, children, siblings and bereaved parents describe their deceased comrades, husbands, brothers and sons and often the circumstances in which they died. The effect of the war on family members left behind is also brought to light in great detail.

Volunteers are painstakingly preparing the documents for digitization while creating a searchable index. The index and images are available at, a research website in partnership with the National Archives. A second partner, FamilySearch, provides volunteers who create the digital images.

Archives specialist Jackie Budell, who is overseeing the project, says the volunteers range in age from 19 to 90 and come from a variety of backgrounds. Collectively they devote more than 700 hours each month to the effort. “The volunteers are helping to shed light on a large aspect of the Civil War that many historians and sociologists have had little readily-available primary source material to go on – the effect of the war on families back home who were left behind after the soldier’s death,” said Budell.

While making these valuable files more widely available, the volunteers have discovered more treasures in the National Archives’ holdings – personal mementos that became “evidence” when sent to the Pension Bureau long ago and not seen since: for example, the video includes images of some of these newly-discovered tintype images.

Background on “Inside the Vaults”

“Inside the Vaults” is part of the ongoing effort by the National Archives to make its collections, stories, and accomplishments more accessible to the public. “Inside the Vaults” gives voice to Archives staff and users, highlights new and exciting finds at the Archives, and reports on complicated and technical subjects in easily understandable presentations. Earlier topics include the conservation of the original Declaration of Independence, and the 1297 Magna Carta, the hundredth anniversary of the Titanic, and the National Archives’ online launch of the 1940 Census. The film series is free to view and distribute on our YouTube channel at

Created by a former broadcast network news producer, the "Inside the Vaults" video shorts series presents “behind the scenes” exclusives and offer surprising glimpses of the National Archives treasures.

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For Press information, contact the National Archives Public Affairs Staff at 202-357-5300.

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