Clues hiding in plain sight
Did you know there are two versions of the pension index cards online? Ancestry has one version and Fold3 has another. Between the two, there may be enough information to help narrow down some of those common named soldiers.
For example, the pension card on Ancestry will give the name of the widow (if there was a widow left behind), and Fold3's version will often give the date of death of the soldier. That may be enough to know if this is your relative.
Both cards will give the date that the pension was applied for. In the example pictures below, John Bird applied for an invalid pension in 1887. Because of that, we know that he was alive at that point. If the John Bird that you were looking for died before 1887, you can rule this one out.
In the same way, the widow’s filing date can be used to get an approximate date of death. It’s not an exact science, but many widows applied for benefits shortly after the soldier died. It’s a strong possibility that John Bird died in August 1916, based on the filing date (the actual death date on Fold3's card confirms this).
Another clue is the state that the pension was filed from. Ancestry’s version show that both John and his wife Mary filed for their pension while living in Ohio.
Finally, don’t overlook the middle initials that the soldiers used. Many common named soldiers did us all a favor and also used their middle initial in the records!
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