Veterans’ Burials – Researching Applications for Government Headstones

Recently The Washington Post, along with many other newspapers, has printed an ongoing series of articles reporting irregularities surrounding burials at Arlington National Cemetery. The latest in this series of investigative reports (Friday, June 24, 2011, page B3) described the discovery of “sixty-nine boxes of copied burial records containing personal information of people buried in Arlington National Cemetery… at a private storage facility in Northern Virginia.” These records, originally destined to be digitized, were discovered only when the facility’s manager was cleaning out the storage unit following non-payment of rent. Despite the fact that these records were copies, not the originals, this type of news does not make genealogical hearts beat faster. It did, however, prompt my interest in records pertaining to veterans’ burials, particularly those in national military cemeteries.

First, let me be clear that national military cemetery records are available online. You can query the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Nationwide Gravesite Locator and locate information quickly. This site, launched in 2004, provides access to millions of records that identify veterans’ burial sites in cemeteries under the jurisdiction of the VA. Information is also included for burials in state veterans’ cemeteries (those that use the VA database to order government headstones and markers), as well as burials in Arlington National Cemetery (operated by the United States Department of the Army) from 1999 to the present. Records in the Locator include the veteran’s name, dates of birth and death, period of military service (example: Vietnam), branch of service and rank, the precise location of the grave within the cemetery (often with a link to a cemetery map) as well as a link to the cemetery’s home page when available. Records are updated each evening with information on burials from the previous day. You can also browse specific cemeteries on findagrave.com, but an individual’s grave information will be available only if previously submitted. I checked both sites for my late husband’s information at Culpeper National Cemetery in Culpeper, Virginia. I easily located his information using the National Gravesite Locator, but found no information on findagrave.com (clearly I need to add it in the near future). Please note that grave location information is less detailed than interment records, which are available only to immediate family members when visiting a specific national cemetery. For earlier records, Ancestry.com provides access to Headstones Provided for Deceased Union Civil War Veterans, 1879-1903, a database which cites “Card Records of Headstones Provided for Deceased Union Civil War Veterans, ca. 1879-1903” (NARA microfilm publication M1845, Records of the Office of the Quartermaster General, Record Group 92).

It may be tempting to stop after such a simple online search. However, searching a database online, while often fruitful and certainly very quick, does not provide a detailed description of why or how a group of records came to exist. Such knowledge is crucial if one wants to acquire a deeper understanding or sophisticated research methodologies. I find that even though it requires more effort to use microfilmed records and to read their associated descriptive pamphlets, the information and experience gained is well worth both time and effort.

First, it is important to understand the evolution of national military cemeteries, a particularly timely topic given our observance of the Civil War sesquicentennial.

Technically, Civil War commanding officers were charged with creating burial records, but combat responsibilities and the unprecedented number of deaths meant that record-keeping was often neglected. Consequently, the Cemetery Branch was established within the Office of the Quartermaster General soon after the cessation of hostilities, with General Montgomery C. Meigs undertaking an extensive project to locate the hundreds of thousands of Union troops who had died in scattered locations throughout the South, identify them if possible, and re-inter them in a network of national military cemeteries. By 1870, General Meigs personnel had designated seventy-three such cemeteries and re-interred approximately 300,000 soldiers. On 3 March 1873, Congress passed legislation (17 Stat 605) granting “burial rights in national military cemeteries to all honorably discharged veterans of the Civil War.” Six years later, in 20 Stat 281 enacted on 3 February 1879, soldiers buried in private cemeteries were granted the right to government headstones and the Secretary of War was tasked with preserving “in the records of this department the names and places of burial of all soldiers for whom such headstones shall have been erected by authority of this or any former acts.” By 1906 (34 Stat 56), this privilege was extended to Confederate soldiers and sailors “who died in Federal prisons and military hospitals in the North and who were buried near their places of confinement.” In 1929 (45 Stat 1307), headstones could be placed on the graves of soldiers who “served in the Confederate army” and who were “buried in any place.” Finally, in 1948, following the end of World War II, 62 Stat 1215 granted a government headstone to all members of the United States armed forces who died in the service or who were honorably discharged. Even as the legislation changed, responsibility for granting government headstones was placed, at various times, with the Graves Registration Service, the Cemeterial Division, the Memorial Branch/Division, the Office of the Chief of Support Services within the Department of the Army, and the U. S. Army Memorial Affairs Agency, finally being transferred to the Department of Veterans Affairs by the National Cemetery Act of 1973 (87 Stat 75; 38 USC §2306).

My search through the records of headstone applications was very interesting. I chose to review records contained in “Applications for Headstones for U.S. Military Veterans, 1941-49,” (NARA microfilm publication M2113). I selected these as they represent the more contemporary military records that figure frequently in much of my recent client work. In reading the descriptive pamphlet for M2113, I was amused when the description warned that these records suffered from “occasional minor alphabetical disarrangement.” Such a lovely phrase, promptly illustrated by my finding the surname “Benson” in the middle of the listing for “Barber.” This anomaly points out why online searches may be more effective in locating specific information.  While most entries in this series are for veterans who died between 1941 and 1949, some World Wars I and II, and even Civil War and earlier veterans are included, depending upon the date of application for the headstone. Entries included name; rank; company; regiment; state or vessel of origin; division (WW I); date of death; name of cemetery; city and state; and often name and address of person to whom the headstone was to be shipped; the applicant’s address and signature; and the inclusion of a Christian or Hebrew religious symbol. Depending upon the dates of service, enlistment and discharge dates and pension numbers may also be included, as well as the choice of granite or marble stone, upright or flat stone installation, or a bronze marker. Headstones for previously unmarked graves in private cemeteries were shipped and “the stone…furnished and delivered at the railroad station or steamboat landing…at Government expense, freight prepaid.” The applicant or consignee then agreed to “promptly accept the headstone at [its] destination, remove it and properly place same at decedent’s grave at my expense.” Given that each stone was four-inch thick marble or granite, “standing thirty-six inches long for cemeteries south of Washington’s latitude, and forty-two inches long for more northerly latitudes,” this consignment required the expenditure of considerable effort and money by the recipient. (I am assuming that the taller northern stones allowed for the required twelve-inch reveal to be maintained even in snowy conditions.)

Applying my standard Barclay/Barkley search, I located records for:

  • Beulah I. Barkley, born 20 July 1908; enlisted 29 Mary 1943, serving in the Army Nurse Corps stationed at the 36th Evacuation Hospital. She died 27 July 1944 and was buried in the I.O.O.F. Cemetery in Monroeville, Indiana. A headstone was requested by Elva M. Barkley of 703 North 2nd Street, Decatur Indiana. The record listed a pension number: 181712.
  • James W. Barkley, born 20 November 1921; enlisted 27 October 1942, serving as a Sergeant in the 456th Bomber Squadron, 15th Army Air Corps. He was killed in action on 14 September 1944 and received the Air Medal. A headstone was requested to be shipped to J. H. Barkley, 26th Avenue Street and Avenue H, to be placed in Snyder Cemetery, Scurry County, Texas.
  • Carl A. Barclay, born 3 September 1895; enlisted 1 July 1916, serving as a wagoner in Company E, 109th Ammunition Train, 34th Division. He was discharged 18 January 1919 and died 9 May 1948. A flat granite headstone was shipped via the “nearest railroad station” to Mrs. Eileen Barclay of 3450 West LeMoyne Street, Chicago, Illinois. The stone was to mark Carl’s grave in St. Joseph Cemetery, River Grove, Illinois. Additional information noted his enlistment in the National Guard of Iowa.
  • James Morrison Barclay, born 4 May 1921; enlisted 19 December 1941, serving as a BM/2C in the United States Navy aboard the USS Talamanca, President Jackson and Adirondack. He died 10 December 1947 and a headstone was requested by Susannah M. Adams Barclay of Box 24, Okahumpka, Florida, on 18 December 1947 for erection in Richmond Cemetery in Okahumpka.

Also included in this publication are Indian Scouts who served not only in World War I or later, but also in the nineteenth-century Trans-Mississippi West. These individuals are grouped after the surname “Ince.” These records are interesting as they may provide both Indian and English name (“or former name if the current name is different”). My favorite name was “Fat Warrior,” a private in the Indian Scouts from 1876 to 1877, pension number 12,415, who was buried in Sacred Heart Cemetery in Norris, South Dakota. Such a name certainly paints a picture of the individual! Other entries included:

  • Arrow Points, alias Joseph Owl Eagle, born in 1863 on the Dakota Reservation; enlisted 1 June 1891 at Fort Bennett, South Dakota, serving as a private in the 3rd Cavalry Regiment; discharged 31 August 1894. His pension number was SO1492256. He died 7 April 1940 and Kate Spotted Eagle applied for a headstone for his grave in the Episcopal Cemetery in Wanblee, South Dakota.
  • Dick Washakie, Indian name KoGuah or CoCoShe; enlisted 14 October 1876 in Wyoming, serving as a private; died 7 July 1944; a headstone was to be shipped to Marshall Washakie, at Fort Washakee, Wyoming, for Dick’s grave in the military cemetery there. His old certificate pension number was 11,597.
  • Eunice L. Quick Bear, born 17 March 1923; enlisted 29 April 1944, serving as a private in WAC Detachment 1489, Service Command Unit; discharged 27 June 1946; died 24 November 1946; headstone requested by Virginia and Philip Quick Bear to be erected in St. Paul Cemetery, Norris, South Dakota.
  • Sits-Down-Talking (Sa-Suy-atanka), born 16 November 1864; enlisted 1 June 1891, serving as a private in Troop L, 3rd Cavalry; discharged 31 August 1894; died 13 April 1924. A headstone was requested, consigned to Mr. Jonah Long of Howes, South Dakota, to be installed in St. Joseph Catholic Cemetery in Cherry Creek, South Dakota.

In addition, to online sources and microfilmed records, several print sources further research opportunities.

Register of Confederate Soldiers, Sailors and Citizens Who Died in Federal Prisons and Military Hospitals in the North, 1861-1865, National Archives, 1973. (Also available as NARA Microfilm publication M918).

U.S. Quartermaster’s Office. Roll of Honor (volumes 7-27 published in 9 volumes), Genealogical Publishing Company. [Note volumes 1-6, published in 1 volume, is currently out of print; remaining volumes are currently on sale.]

Reamy, Martha and William, Index to the Roll of Honor Genealogical Publishing Company, 1995. [Currently out of print.]

Honoring Our War Dead: the Evolution of the Government Policy on Headstones for Fallen Soldiers and Sailors” is a detailed article on the topic by Mark C. Mollan, first appearing in Prologue 35, no. 1 (Spring 2003).

Recently The Washington Post, along with many other newspapers, has printed an ongoing series of articles reporting irregularities surrounding burials at Arlington National Cemetery. The latest in this series of investigative reports (Friday, June 24, 2011, page B3) described the discovery of “sixty-nine boxes of copied burial records containing personal information of people buried in Arlington National Cemetery… at a private storage facility in Northern Virginia.” These records, originally destined to be digitized, were discovered only when the facility’s manager was cleaning out the storage unit following non-payment of rent. Despite the fact that these records were copies, not the originals, this type of news does not make genealogical hearts beat faster. It did, however, prompt my interest in records pertaining to veterans’ burials, particularly those in national military cemeteries.

First, let me be clear that national military cemetery records are available online. You can query the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Nationwide Gravesite Locator and locate information quickly. This site, launched in 2004, provides access to millions of records that identify veterans’ burial sites in cemeteries under the jurisdiction of the VA. Information is also included for burials in state veterans’ cemeteries (those that use the VA database to order government headstones and markers), as well as burials in Arlington National Cemetery (operated by the United States Department of the Army) from 1999 to the present. Records in the Locator include the veteran’s name, dates of birth and death, period of military service (example: Vietnam), branch of service and rank, the precise location of the grave within the cemetery (often with a link to a cemetery map) as well as a link to the cemetery’s home page when available. Records are updated each evening with information on burials from the previous day. You can also browse specific cemeteries on findagrave.com, but an individual’s grave information will be available only if previously submitted. I checked both sites for my late husband’s information at Culpeper National Cemetery in Culpeper, Virginia. I easily located his information using the National Gravesite Locator, but found no information on findagrave.com (clearly I need to add it in the near future). Please note that grave location information is less detailed than interment records, which are available only to immediate family members when visiting a specific national cemetery. For earlier records, Ancestry.com provides access to Headstones Provided for Deceased Union Civil War Veterans, 1879-1903, a database which cites “Card Records of Headstones Provided for Deceased Union Civil War Veterans, ca. 1879-1903” (NARA microfilm publication M1845, Records of the Office of the Quartermaster General, Record Group 92).

It may be tempting to stop after such a simple online search. However, searching a database online, while often fruitful and certainly very quick, does not provide a detailed description of why or how a group of records came to exist. Such knowledge is crucial if one wants to acquire a deeper understanding or sophisticated research methodologies. I find that even though it requires more effort to use microfilmed records and to read their associated descriptive pamphlets, the information and experience gained is well worth both time and effort.

First, it is important to understand the evolution of national military cemeteries, a particularly timely topic given our observance of the Civil War sesquicentennial.

Technically, Civil War commanding officers were charged with creating burial records, but combat responsibilities and the unprecedented number of deaths meant that record-keeping was often neglected. Consequently, the Cemetery Branch was established within the Office of the Quartermaster General soon after the cessation of hostilities, with General Montgomery C. Meigs undertaking an extensive project to locate the hundreds of thousands of Union troops who had died in scattered locations throughout the South, identify them if possible, and re-inter them in a network of national military cemeteries. By 1870, General Meigs personnel had designated seventy-three such cemeteries and re-interred approximately 300,000 soldiers. On 3 March 1873, Congress passed legislation (17 Stat 605) granting “burial rights in national military cemeteries to all honorably discharged veterans of the Civil War.” Six years later, in 20 Stat 281 enacted on 3 February 1879, soldiers buried in private cemeteries were granted the right to government headstones and the Secretary of War was tasked with preserving “in the records of this department the names and places of burial of all soldiers for whom such headstones shall have been erected by authority of this or any former acts.” By 1906 (34 Stat 56), this privilege was extended to Confederate soldiers and sailors “who died in Federal prisons and military hospitals in the North and who were buried near their places of confinement.” In 1929 (45 Stat 1307), headstones could be placed on the graves of soldiers who “served in the Confederate army” and who were “buried in any place.” Finally, in 1948, following the end of World War II, 62 Stat 1215 granted a government headstone to all members of the United States armed forces who died in the service or who were honorably discharged. Even as the legislation changed, responsibility for granting government headstones was placed, at various times, with the Graves Registration Service, the Cemeterial Division, the Memorial Branch/Division, the Office of the Chief of Support Services within the Department of the Army, and the U. S. Army Memorial Affairs Agency, finally being transferred to the Department of Veterans Affairs by the National Cemetery Act of 1973 (87 Stat 75; 38 USC §2306).

My search through the records of headstone applications was very interesting. I chose to review records contained in “Applications for Headstones for U.S. Military Veterans, 1941-49,” (NARA microfilm publication M2113). I selected these as they represent the more contemporary military records that figure frequently in much of my recent client work. In reading the descriptive pamphlet for M2113, I was amused when the description warned that these records suffered from “occasional minor alphabetical disarrangement.” Such a lovely phrase, promptly illustrated by my finding the surname “Benson” in the middle of the listing for “Barber.” This anomaly points out why online searches may be more effective in locating specific information.  While most entries in this series are for veterans who died between 1941 and 1949, some World Wars I and II, and even Civil War and earlier veterans are included, depending upon the date of application for the headstone. Entries included name; rank; company; regiment; state or vessel of origin; division (WW I); date of death; name of cemetery; city and state; and often name and address of person to whom the headstone was to be shipped; the applicant’s address and signature; and the inclusion of a Christian or Hebrew religious symbol. Depending upon the dates of service, enlistment and discharge dates and pension numbers may also be included, as well as the choice of granite or marble stone, upright or flat stone installation, or a bronze marker. Headstones for previously unmarked graves in private cemeteries were shipped and “the stone…furnished and delivered at the railroad station or steamboat landing…at Government expense, freight prepaid.” The applicant or consignee then agreed to “promptly accept the headstone at [its] destination, remove it and properly place same at decedent’s grave at my expense.” Given that each stone was four-inch thick marble or granite, “standing thirty-six inches long for cemeteries south of Washington’s latitude, and forty-two inches long for more northerly latitudes,” this consignment required the expenditure of considerable effort and money by the recipient. (I am assuming that the taller northern stones allowed for the required twelve-inch reveal to be maintained even in snowy conditions.)

Applying my standard Barclay/Barkley search, I located records for:

  • Beulah I. Barkley, born 20 July 1908; enlisted 29 Mary 1943, serving in the Army Nurse Corps stationed at the 36th Evacuation Hospital. She died 27 July 1944 and was buried in the I.O.O.F. Cemetery in Monroeville, Indiana. A headstone was requested by Elva M. Barkley of 703 North 2nd Street, Decatur Indiana. The record listed a pension number: 181712.
  • James W. Barkley, born 20 November 1921; enlisted 27 October 1942, serving as a Sergeant in the 456th Bomber Squadron, 15th Army Air Corps. He was killed in action on 14 September 1944 and received the Air Medal. A headstone was requested to be shipped to J. H. Barkley, 26th Avenue Street and Avenue H, to be placed in Snyder Cemetery, Scurry County, Texas.
  • Carl A. Barclay, born 3 September 1895; enlisted 1 July 1916, serving as a wagoner in Company E, 109th Ammunition Train, 34th Division. He was discharged 18 January 1919 and died 9 May 1948. A flat granite headstone was shipped via the “nearest railroad station” to Mrs. Eileen Barclay of 3450 West LeMoyne Street, Chicago, Illinois. The stone was to mark Carl’s grave in St. Joseph Cemetery, River Grove, Illinois. Additional information noted his enlistment in the National Guard of Iowa.
  • James Morrison Barclay, born 4 May 1921; enlisted 19 December 1941, serving as a BM/2C in the United States Navy aboard the USS Talamanca, President Jackson and Adirondack. He died 10 December 1947 and a headstone was requested by Susannah M. Adams Barclay of Box 24, Okahumpka, Florida, on 18 December 1947 for erection in Richmond Cemetery in Okahumpka.

Also included in this publication are Indian Scouts who served not only in World War I or later, but also in the nineteenth-century Trans-Mississippi West. These individuals are grouped after the surname “Ince.” These records are interesting as they may provide both Indian and English name (“or former name if the current name is different”). My favorite name was “Fat Warrior,” a private in the Indian Scouts from 1876 to 1877, pension number 12,415, who was buried in Sacred Heart Cemetery in Norris, South Dakota. Such a name certainly paints a picture of the individual! Other entries included:

  • Arrow Points, alias Joseph Owl Eagle, born in 1863 on the Dakota Reservation; enlisted 1 June 1891 at Fort Bennett, South Dakota, serving as a private in the 3rd Cavalry Regiment; discharged 31 August 1894. His pension number was SO1492256. He died 7 April 1940 and Kate Spotted Eagle applied for a headstone for his grave in the Episcopal Cemetery in Wanblee, South Dakota.
  • Dick Washakie, Indian name KoGuah or CoCoShe; enlisted 14 October 1876 in Wyoming, serving as a private; died 7 July 1944; a headstone was to be shipped to Marshall Washakie, at Fort Washakee, Wyoming, for Dick’s grave in the military cemetery there. His old certificate pension number was 11,597.
  • Eunice L. Quick Bear, born 17 March 1923; enlisted 29 April 1944, serving as a private in WAC Detachment 1489, Service Command Unit; discharged 27 June 1946; died 24 November 1946; headstone requested by Virginia and Philip Quick Bear to be erected in St. Paul Cemetery, Norris, South Dakota.
  • Sits-Down-Talking (Sa-Suy-atanka), born 16 November 1864; enlisted 1 June 1891, serving as a private in Troop L, 3rd Cavalry; discharged 31 August 1894; died 13 April 1924. A headstone was requested, consigned to Mr. Jonah Long of Howes, South Dakota, to be installed in St. Joseph Catholic Cemetery in Cherry Creek, South Dakota.

In addition, to online sources and microfilmed records, several print sources further research opportunities.

Register of Confederate Soldiers, Sailors and Citizens Who Died in Federal Prisons and Military Hospitals in the North, 1861-1865, National Archives, 1973. (Also available as NARA Microfilm publication M918).

U.S. Quartermaster’s Office. Roll of Honor (volumes 7-27 published in 9 volumes), Genealogical Publishing Company. [Note volumes 1-6, published in 1 volume, is currently out of print; remaining volumes are currently on sale.]

Reamy, Martha and William, Index to the Roll of Honor Genealogical Publishing Company, 1995. [Currently out of print.]

“Honoring Our War Dead: the Evolution of the Government Policy on Headstones for Fallen Soldiers and Sailors” is a detailed article on the topic by Mark C. Mollan, first appearing in Prologue 35, no. 1 (Spring 2003).

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