Terminology for Military Records

Bounty Lands — grants of land issued to veterans in return for military service. Issued from the time of the Revolutionary War through 1855.

Bounty Land Warrants — Veteran had to apply for a warrant and then use the warrant to apply for a land “patent.” The land patent is the document which granted him ownership of the land. Applications for warrants contain similar information to applications for Pensions. The applicant had to submit proof of identity and military service.

See: Revolutionary War Bounty Land Grants (Genealogy.com)

Compiled Military Service Records (CMSR) — records compiled from other sources, such as muster rolls, returns, and pay vouchers.  Record consists of an envelope (“jacket”) containing card abstracts of the sources. Typically includes rank, unit, basic biographical information, medical information, dates mustered in and mustered out. Compiled for volunteers only.

Muster — to call troops together, as for an inspection. Also used as a noun to mean the group that is assembled.

Muster in — to enlist
Muster out — to be discharged

Muster Roll — a record of the members of a company at a particular time. Includes who was present or absent. Includes other information as appropriate, such as who was sick, promoted, or discharged.

Pension — payment awarded to veterans. Laws about payments and who qualifies have changed dramatically through the years. Some veterans or claimants applied for Bounty Land instead of a pension.

Pension payment records — typically a ledger with payment notations. Contains very little genealogical information.

Pension Application records — to qualify for a pension, the claimant had to document identity and service. Information submitted may include birth certificate, marriage certificate, death certificate, narratives of events in service, witness narratives or depositions, discharge papers, family letters, or other documentation.  Claimant may be veteran, widow, or heirs. A rich source of genealogical information on an ancestor and sometimes on a relative of an ancestor.

Records at National Archives cover 1775 to 1916.

For Revolutionary War and War of 1812, many bounty land application files have been combined with pension files.

Returns — monthly records of military organizations. The returns report the stations of companies, names of company commanders, unit strength, including men present, absent, sick, on extra duty or daily duty, and in arrest or confinement.

“Old War” series/records — name given to wars after the Revolutionary War and before the Civil War. Includes: War of 1812, Indian Wars, and Mexican War.

USCT — United States Colored Troops. Name used for African-American Soldiers who served in the Union Volunteer forces in the Civil War.

Volunteers or regular army


Regular — regular army authorized in 1776. Military service records (CMSR) not compiled for Regular Army personnel.

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