18 June 2012

Boston's connection to the War of 1812

USS Constitution
Docked at the former Charlestown Navy Shipyard, the USS Constitution is Boston’s most iconic symbol of the War of 1812. Built at Edmund Hartt’s shipyard in Boston, the three-masted heavy frigate was launched in 1797 to provide U.S. Navy protection for American merchant ships. Although made with a wooden hull, the Constitution earned its nickname as Old Ironsides during the War of 1812. During the three-year war, the frigate defeated five British warships—HMS Guerriere, Java, Pictou, Cyane, and Levant—and captured numerous merchant ships.

In 1881, the ship was retired from active service. In 1907, the Constitution was designated a museum ship and restored in 1931. Today, it is a fully commissioned ship, with 60 Navy officers and sailors offering tours and providing historic insight into the Navy’s role during wartime and peace.

USS Constitution Museum

Opened in 1976, the USS Constitution Museum literally allowed Old Ironsides to clear its decks of display cases so visitors could experience the ship as a sailing vessel. Housed in Building 22 (the old pump house for Dry Dock #1) and two adjacent buildings, the museum offers hands-on exhibits, stories of the 1812 crew, workshops, online exhibits, and a research library. 

Although the web site states its library and manuscript materials have “limited genealogical information,” if you have a connection to the USS Constitution, the War of 1812, and/or the U.S. Navy, you may find something of value. The museum contains almost 1,700 artifacts and more than 7,000 rare books, manuscripts, and archival materials. Of special interest are ship logs and personal journals, correspondence, broadsides and posters, impressments and pay certificates, photographs, scrapbooks, pamphlets, rare books (instructional manuals, Bibles, biographies), printed media, and even poetry. 

War of 1812 Genealogy Records

If you're looking for genealogical records for your ancestor who served in the War of 1812, start by reading articles on the National Archives site. Then check out the National Archives in Boston branch (located in Waltham), which holds the following collections: Index to War of 1812 pension files (M313); Index to Remarried Widows Pension Applications, 1815-1861 (M1784); Old War Pension Index (1784-1861) (T316); Index to compiled service records (M602); War of 1812 bounty land warrants (M848); Index to War of 1812 Prisoner of War (M747); and Records relating to War of 1812 Prisoners of War (M2019).  

Fold3 provides free and paid access to U.S. military records, often not available on other web sites. For the War of 1812, the collection includes War of 1812 Service Records; Pension Files; Prize Cases, Southern District Court, NY; and Letters Received by the Adjutant General 1805-1821.

FamilySearch offers free access to the index to the War of 1812 to Pension Application Files 1812-1910 and an index to the War of 1812 Service Records 1812-1815. Also check if records have been added or updated in the historical record collections since volunteers around the world are indexing records all the time.

You can help make more War of 1812 records free of charge. Preserve the Pensions is a $3.7 million project between the Federation of Genealogical Societies, the National Archives, and the genealogical community to digitize the War of 1812 pension files and make them available for free. A $25 donation will digitize 50 images.

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