The Overseas Pension Project: How Technology and Archives Increase Access to Historical Data

Welcome to The Overseas Pension Project, a big cultural data project stemming from the collaboration of historical societies, universities, and individuals.  We are a team of archivists, historians, genealogists, and information managers with a common mission: exploring data trapped within 200 year old archival documents.

Following the Revolutionary War, soldiers received compensation from the Federal government for injuries incurred while in public service.  If the soldier died as a result of his injuries, his widow, minor children, mother, father or other person dependent on the soldier for a living could apply for a pension.  While some pensioners remained in the United StatesPension Bureau Bldg - Front, others returned to their country of origin or moved somewhere else outside of the United States.  In order to ensure proper payments of money, the U.S. Pension Bureau kept extensive rolls of pensioners and where they lived, including those who moved abroad.  These pensioners served in conflicts after the Revolutionary War, including the Mexican War, the Civil War, the Spanish American war; it also includes military personnel injured or killed during peace time while on active duty.  This documentation comes from records of various agencies, in particular the Bureau of Pensions, the War Department, the Department of State and the Department of the Treasury.  Each agency kept its records slightly differently so they come in an assortment of types; there are correspondence files, narrative and statistical reports, pension files, lists of names, and financial records.

Currently, the project is focused on records housed at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) in College Park. Over the past year, teams of archivists have ventured to NARA to digitize and/or index relevant records, increasing access and citizen interaction with the documents. The DCIC team at the University of Maryland is now in the process of extracting statistical and financial data with archival techniques and software.  In the coming months the team will expand that work to other information.

Utilizing digital curation tools, the Overseas Pension Project aims to release the rich genealogical and historical data contained within these digitized records. Historians and historical societies can access correspondence dating back to 19th and 2oth century. Genealogists and families can explore databases and documents pertaining to family members or Civil War figures. Economists and sociologists can quickly navigate significant immigration and economic data to conduct statistical studies about this period in American history. The possibilities are endless when everyone can access their public records.

Follow our team as we investigate historical sources, archival practices, and modern technology to extract the historical narrative following the Civil War.

Welcome to our project!