Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Pension File Stories: The Mystery of the Missing Bible

Last month, in my first installment of pension file stories, I introduced you to my great great grandparents, Louisa Ish Smathers and Henry Smathers. Their story was a sobering account of life in the aftermath of war. But not all information found in a soldier's pension file requires such somber thought. Sometimes you come across a piece of family history that will cause a smile. Take the case of the missing family Bible.

Henry had several brothers who served with Union forces. Two of those brothers, Reuben and Franklin, served, like Henry, in Company E 53rd Infantry Regiment Ohio.

Henry enlisted November 21, 1861, followed by Reuben on January 6, 1862, with Franklin enlisting on February 29, 1864. According to their military records, the brothers were 23, 20, and 18, respectively, on their dates of enlistment.

Congress passed one of several pension acts in 1907, specifically the Act of February 6, 1907, setting the monthly pension payments for veterans of both the Civil War and the Mexican-American War based on the age of the veteran. At age 62, provided the veteran met the other requirements of this act, he would be entitled to $12 a month, while at 70 the amount increased to $15 and at age 75, the amount topped out at $20 a month.

On April 1, 1909, Reuben applied for an increase in monthly pension, claiming that he had turned 70 earlier that year in February. One problem — he had stated his age at enlistment as 20 years old in January of 1862. A February birthday would mean that he would have been born in 1841 and therefore was only 68 years old in 1909. According to the pension papers, Reuben's testimony was:

He was born in (the) Month of February in year 1839, and the way I fix the date of my birth is that I voted my first time for Abraham Lincoln for President of the United States in the fall of 1860.

There was a family record of my birth but it has long since been lost, and I know of no public record of my birth.

Was baptized when quite a small child but am not able to give a record of it as it has been so long ago.

It seems that the Officers made a mistake in my age when I enlisted in the Army and I thought it not necessary to ever have it corrected, and can only make affidavit that I am positive I am over 70 years of age.
The pension board was not content with Reuben's testimony and on April 27, 1909, his brother, Lawson Smathers appeared in neighboring Athens County and testified to Reuben's age. The following statement is found in Reuben's pension file derived from Lawson's (whom the record listed as Losen Smathers) statement.

He is a Brother of the above named Reuben Smathers, of Co. E. 53rd, Ohio Volunteers Infantry. And that he is the youngest of the Smathers Family and that the family record was left in his care and that his children got hold of it through some means and destroyed the records. And that his brother Reuben Smathers was born in the month of February 1839 in Clarion County, Penn.

In truth, Reuben probably was not certain himself of his actual age. In the 1850 census, his age is listed as 10. The 1860 census has him as 21. The 1870 census finds him at 28. In the 1880 census, he is listed at 39. The 1900 census shows him at 54 and in his final appearance in a census, he is listed as 71 in 1910. It's interesting to see that he aged 16 years in the 10 years between 1900 and 1910.

Franklin Smathers, the younger brother, also makes a statement about the family Bible in his application dated October 30, 1915. He states that there is no public or family record that proves his date of birth, which Franklin states was January 20, 1846.

Affiant further alleges that his brother, Lawson at one time put a sum of money in the family Bible and during the night season the house was burglarized and the said family Bible together with the money was taken and never recovered.
Same brother, same record, different story. Maybe family Bibles were hot commodities for thieves at the turn of the century, but my hunch is that if the Bible had indeed ever existed, the first version of the missing Bible would probably have been closer to the truth.

Though my goal in poring over page after page of pension file papers is that of finding some vital statistic to add to the family tree, these well-mined anecdotal nuggets are the true reward. They fuel the imagination and add to the “color” of my family portrait. For each unexpected find, I am always delighted and grateful.

Until Next Time - Happy Ancestral Digging!


1. Reuben Smathers (Pvt., Co. E, 53rd Ohio Inf., Civil War) pension no. 414111, certificate no. 509149, Case Files of Approved Pension Applications, 1863-1934, Civil War and Later pension files, Dept of Veteran Affairs National Archives, Washington D.C.
2. Franklin Smathers (Pvt., Co. E, 53rd Ohio Inf., Civil War) pension no. 896663, certificate no. 676404, Case Files of Approved Pension Applications, 1864-1934; Civil War and Later pension Files; Dept of Veteran Affairs National Archives, Washington, D.C.
3. 1850 US Federal Census, State of Pennsylvania, Clarion County, Madison Township, v 1319, Head of Household, Jacob Smathers, online digital image, Ancestry.com.
4. 1860 US Federal Census, State of Ohio, Vinton County, Clinton Township, v 498, Head of Household, Jacob Smathers, online digital image, Ancestry.com.
5. 1870 US Federal Census, State of Ohio, Jackson County, Milton Township, v 238, Head of Household, Reuben Smathers, online digital image, Ancestry.com.
6. 1880 US Federal Census, State of Ohio, Jackson County, Milton Township, v 284, Head of Household, Reuben Smathers, online digital image, Ancestry.com.
7. 1900 US Federal Census, State of Ohio, Jackson County, Madison Township, v 90, Head of Household, Reuben, Smathers, online digital image, Ancestry.com.
8. 1910 US Federal Census, State of Ohio, Jackson County, Madison Township, v113, Head of Household, Ruben (sic) Smathers, online digital image, Ancestry.com.


Note this post first published online, April 22, 2008, at Desktop Genealogist Blog at The News-Messenger Online http://www.thenews-messenger.com/apps/pbcs.dll/section?Category=BLOGS02

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