06 March 2007 by Published in: General News 4 comments

I received the following e-mail from Mark Dunkelman today. Mark is THE authority on the 154th New York Infantry, and someone whose work I admire.

Dear Eric,

A matter has come to my attention that is of importance to the Civil War community. I hope you’ll see fit to spread the news via your blog.

Since 2000, folks have had two options in ordering Civil War pension files from the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). They could order a “Pension Documents Packet” consisting of eight documents containing genealogical information for a fee of $14.75. Or they could order the “Full Pension Application File” for $37.

By far, most people chose the Full Pension Application File option. In FY 2006, NARA completed 7,700 orders for full files, compared to approximately 2,600 orders for the packet.

Now NARA is proposing fee increases for reproductions of all sorts of records, including Civil War pension files. The cost of a Pension Documents Packet will rise to $25. The cost of a Full Pension Application File will rise to a whopping $125!

The $37 fee for a complete pension file was determined by NARA’s estimate that the average page count per Civil War pension file was 40 to 50 pages. Now, a NARA study has found that files can include “up to 200 pages or more.” Hence the gigantic fee increase.

Pension files can indeed run to 200 or more pages. But many do not. My great-grandfather’s complete file, for example, includes 29 pages. A flat fee of $125 for a complete file will be grossly unfair to many people ordering their ancestors’ pension records. Because of the wide range of page counts in Civil War pension files, the fairest fees would be per-page and not fixed.

For the complete proposal in the Federal Register, see:


Note that NARA has invited comments on the proposal, which must be received by April 27, 2007. I hope the Civil War community will raise a loud voice in protest of this unfair fee increase.

I hope you’ll see fit to blog on this subject, Eric. Thanks for your consideration.

Yours truly,

Mark Dunkelman


This sort of thing concerns me a great deal. I spend enough money on my research. Making it astronomically expensive to get pension records will be a REAL disincentive to tackle major projects.

My letter goes out tomorrow.

Scridb filter


  1. Scott
    Wed 07th Mar 2007 at 6:37 pm

    Unfortunately, we will only see this trend continue. Expect to see increased user fees and user fees where you never saw them before at all levels of government. As a government financial manager, I can say that we are seeing exponential cost increases to deliver necessary services to the public, roads, public safety, schools, etc.. at all levels of government that are fast outpacing the growth of revenues. This will only get worse as the baby boom generation retires and Federal budget “busts” under pressure from Medicare, Social Security, and collapsed corporate pension funds. Cowardly Politicians have learned that it is easier to have the bureaucrats administratively implement user fees than to raise taxes through the political processes.

  2. Wed 07th Mar 2007 at 7:20 pm


    They’ve got a monopoly so they can charge whatever they want unfortunately. Recently, the NARA made a similar price increase in microfilm (it’s now $65 for a single roll of film!). This stuff all needs to be digitized and available self-service at a fraction of the prices you mention above.

    Not to toot my own horn too much, but fixing this broken process is what I’m trying to do with the CSRs. The Florida microfilmed CSRs are scanned, tagged and available over the web — NC / GA are coming hopefully soon (I’ve got my own high speed rollfilm scanner now — watch out!). I could offer digitized pension records as well — if I had unfettered access to the rollfilm and didn’t have to pay tens of thousands of dollars to bring up a new state.

    — Jim

  3. Wed 07th Mar 2007 at 10:50 pm


    Sadly, you’re correct. That’s why Jim’s project is so important. Keep up the good work, Jim, and please keep us posted as to the progress of your efforts.


  4. Tina R.
    Sat 05th Jan 2013 at 1:29 pm

    I just found this website today by accident. I am researching my family history & have been wanting to purchase a Civil War Pension File. A complete file is now $80. I noticed someone on this site mentioned a Pension Documents Package at a lower price and it would contain 8 pages pertaining to genealogical information. I finally made up my mind to order the $80 complete file,only to find out I can’t get that one thru NARA because my soldier died in 1936. I have to go thru the VA,Military Personnel Records,St Louis,MO. Called them & they informed me they will do a search for unk. fee & if the file is found that will also be an unk fee….fee to be determined by how long it takes to locate the file & how large it is. If my wait for them to answer the phone is any indication of the cost of the file I will have to take out a small loan. In looking at Ancestry ,the Pension Index files,housed at NARA, all 3 of my soldiers are on the film T288_365. So which file would be best? I have also seen on another website you can hire a professional genealogists to copy the file for you at a much cheaper cost… Where do you find one of those you can trust?
    It would be very nice to have all 3 files, so I can further my research of my families history. Any suggestions from experienced people getting these files?

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