Great Things Found in Civil War Pension

01 Feb

About 3 years ago, I did some research for Carol Yenne (one of the followers of my blog). Her ancestor, David Vance; was a bit of a mystery. We were having a difficult time following David; and finding out about his family.

What We Knew When We Started

When I began this research for Carol; we knew her ancestor, Amos Vance; was the son of David Vance and Sarah Smith. David and Sarah had married in Randolph Co., IN, in 1833. David was found in Randolph Co. on the 1840 and 1850 census records. In 1860, he was found nearby, in Mercer Co., OH.

It was a struggle finding David after 1860. However; once we learned that he had served during the Civil War; I recommended to Carol that we obtain his pension file. I’m sure neither of us were expecting a 299 page pension file! And…. I know that neither of us expected to learn so much about David, through his pension file.

David had enlisted for service, in 1861; in Grant Co., IN. After that; things were very fuzzy. However; his pension file revealed much!  The widow of David; per his pension file, was Rachel. David and Rachel had married in Mercer Co., OH; in 1878. However; David had appeared on the 1870 census; in Madison Co., IA; with a wife, Mary; and 2 small children. Interesting; since David’s first wife did not die until 9 Feb. 1876. Mary; was referred to as “Dena” or “Sardina” in most records.

The depositions given by some of David’s daughters, revealed a lot about David. In October of 1904; David’s daughter, Margaret Vance Rhoads; gave a deposition for the pesnion of David’s widow, Rachel. Margaret states “I am the oldest daughter of David Vance and Sarah Vance. My father David Vance was not married after the death of my mother, which occurred Feb. 9, 1876, until he married Rachel Crawmer. I was present when my mother Sarah Vance died, but was not present when my father died. They were never divorced, although father and mother did not live together for a number of years.”

So…. according to David’s oldest daughter; David and Sardina (Mary on the 1870 census) were not married. Yet; they have children per the 1870 census.

The deposition of another daughter of David’s; Martha Vance Harris; given in Jan. of 1906; reveals much more information about David’s initial disappearance. She states… “I am a daughter of David Vance” etc. etc…” My mother was Sarah Smith when she married him and she was his first wife as I always understood. He was only seventeen years old when they were married and she was twenty three.” “They did not live together after I was eighteen years of age.” (This would have been about 1863). “He had been home from the Army some three or four years when they separated. We were then living in Jalepia (?) Ind.” (Grant County). “I remember the circumstances w ll when he left home. They had had no quarrel at all and were getting along all right. My father played the fiddle and I remember he picked it up and said to my mother that he was going to Ashland to rent a house and she advised him not to take his fiddle but he did so and he never came back. We did not know where he went to and my mother never heard from him as long as she lived. My mother died at Coon Rapids, Ia.” etc. etc. “There was a girl, a country girl in the neighborhood named Sardina Connor who turned up missing at the same time my father disappeared and it was supposed that they had eloped together. That suspicion arose because just a few days before they disappeared he was seen with his arm around her. This woman was a soldier’s widow and she was only seventeen years old. I can’t remember the name of her husband, Connor, but he died in the war. Her maiden name was Cox before she married Connor. I was well acquainted with her. I knew her and Connor in Salina, Mercer Co., O. before they were married and we used to go to school together. After she became a widow she followed us out to Jalapia, Ind. where we had moved and she staid there with her sister, Mrs. Tame (John) Marks.” etc. etc. “My sister, Margaret Rhoads, has been in correspondence with this claimant (Rachel; widow of David) for some years and she has written Margaret that she has heard where father was during the time he was gone after leaving my mother, saying that he was living with Sardene Cox or Connor, and that they had three children, two girls and a boy, and these children were some place in Michigan. I do not know where. I never saw those children, and I never saw Sardene after she was supposed to have gone away with my father. I have an uncle, George Vance, at Blue Vail, Neb. and he wrote me once some seven or eight years ago that my father had been there with a woman who was rather young and he wrote and asked me if she was his wife and I wrote and told him I did not know whether she was or not. As I understood it my father lived there at Blue Vail with this woman some six or seven years. My mother was not dead at that time. If my uncle is alive he still lives there; if not alive his boy, William, still lives there. My father never wrote to me at any time and I never kept in touch with him at all. Sometime after he married, or is supposed to have married this last woman, Rachel, he came to Oakfield to see me and staid two or three days. He did not bring her with him; she had not come from Indiana yet, and he was staying with my sister Margaret at Coon Rapids at the time. They lived there for a while after the claimant came there, a few years and then moved back to Indiana where they lived till he died. Those are the only three woman my father ever had that I know anything about and I don’t know as he was married to any of them except my mother. I know one thing, he was never married lawfully to the first one” (referring to Sardene) “or mother would have received notice of his bill if he had secured a divorce, and I know she never heard anything about him getting a divorce, and I know my mother never applied for a divorce from him.

In another deposition given by David’s daughter, Elizabeth; she states “I have no way of tracing up his history between the time he left my mother and the time he married this claimant (Rachel). I never heard from him and don’t know who would know anything about. He had completely dropped out of site during those years. Well, I had heard talk to the effect that he went off with another woman when he left my mother but I know nothing about that. I believe I heard he went off with a woman named Dene Cox but I never saw her and know nothing about her, who she was beyond that, or who her relatives are, and I do not know what became of her, or where she is now.

What We Learned from the Pension File

David’s pension files also give many details about his various illnesses; and there were many. I won’t try to go into those. But; this pension file provided so much information about David; revealing 3 children whom he had had with a young Sardena Cox; whom he had apparently left his wife and children for, soon after he returned from the war.

David’s pension file also provided us with some great clues as to his early life; and clues as to where to search for his parents. His pension file provided us with information that he had been born in PA and had apparently come to Preble Co., OH, when he was small. We also learned of a brother, George; as well as another brother; whose name was William. We also learned about the circumstances surrounding his disappearance from his wife and children, shortly after the war.

I decided to write about the above in order to point out the importance of Civil War pension files. If you have an ancestor who served; and received a pension; you certainly should obtain a complete copy of his pension. The information provided in these pension files often provides much more than just details about their time in the war; and their illnesses. They often provide tons of family information; with depositions often times, by close friends and family members.

I do hope everyone has enjoyed reading this little bit about David Vance.


Posted by on February 1, 2012 in General Genealogy


3 responses to “Great Things Found in Civil War Pension

  1. Sue Hilfiker

    February 2, 2012 at 12:31 am

    What a great article. I agree that Civil War Pension files have a ton of info in them. Keep up the good work.

    • Rex Bertram

      February 2, 2012 at 12:35 am

      Thanks for the kind words. I hope others find the article interesting as well. My intentions have been to try to make my posts both interesting and also to provide some genealogy tips at the same time.

  2. Jamie Vans

    February 11, 2012 at 4:50 pm

    Thanks, that’s immensely useful to me. Hello,

    I’m collating the English, Scottish, Irish, American and other overseas Vances in the hope of finally sorting out the connection between them and my family of Vans of Barnbarroch.
    My aim is to collect every (!) recorded Vance family and try to piece together the entire picture, using all the available sources and taking into account the genetic data.

    All the data I collect is freely available online at or direct from me and you are, of course, welcome to any information that I have.

    I’d also like to draw your attention to the DNA test program at which is telling us a great deal about the origins and relationships of various branches of the Vance family. For this, we always need to find as many living male Vances as possible who are willing to take the test; are you in touch with any descendants of David?

    I hope very much to hear from you.

    Best wishes,



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