Monday, September 15, 2014

Civil War Pension Application ~ William Wallace Bruce

I was recently exploring Civil War Pension applications at and found 29 pages for the husband of a second great grand aunt of mine. Although he is not a direct ancestor, this pension file had information that answered some long-time questions that I have had about him.

Some background: my third great-grandfather, Thomas Cutler Whitman, was born in Guysborough County, Nova Scotia, to parents who were Loyalists who fled to Nova Scotia after the Revolution. It looks like he was father of nine children, some of whom came to New York, some who came to New York and returned to Nova Scotia, and possibly some who remained in Nova Scotia. It is a challenge to keep track of this family.

His oldest daughter was Esther Abigail Whitman, who married James Pyle.

The second (I believe) daughter is found in records as Maria Whitman, Maria E. Whitman, Maria Bruce, and Ella M. Bruce, though in only one census record do I find her with her likely husband, William Bruce (born about 1831), and that is in the 1860 U.S. Census, which you can see here.

In the 1900 U.S. Census (the image is here), which was taken in June 1900, I find Ella M. Bruce, of the right age, in the same household as Esther Pyle, sister, (and Harriet Bliss, sister). All three of these women were born Whitman. Esther Pyle's husband had just died five months previously.

"Case Files of Approved Pension Applications of Civil War and Later Navy Veterans (Navy Survivors' Certificates), 1861-1910.", digital image, The National Archives (, Fiche Number: 20510; Certificate Number: 21256. Record for William W. Bruce, page 07: Pension application questions.
William W. Bruce started his pension application in November 1891 and received pension payments from 1892 until his death in 1895.

The following is a partial transcription of one very useful page of the application:

Handwritten entries are in blue; my comments are [bracketed].

                           Invalid [Person who is sick or disabled]
                      Department of the Interior
                           Bureau of Pensions
Wm. W. Bruce
U.S. Navy, Washington, D.C., Jan. 3, 1892

Please return this circular at your earliest convenience, with answers to the following questions:
1. Are you a married man, and if so, what is your wife's full name, and what was her maiden name? Ans. No, Am a Widower. Wife died in March 1886. [Since I know Ella / Maria was still living in 1900, I originally wondered if I had the right man.]
2. When and where were you married? Ans. Jersey City, N.J. on Agust 16th 1880.
3. What record of marriage exists? Ans. Recorded in Jersey City N.J.
4. If you had been previously married state the name of your former wife and the date of her death or divorce. Ans. Married on December 25th, 1855 in Guysborough, Nova Scotia, to Maria E. Whitman at the age of 17 years. Divorced in New York City in 1876. [YES - this is the kind of information I was looking for!]
5. If you have any children living state their names and ages. Ans. Three living. James P. Bruce in Prescott, Arizona; Age 31 years, Wm. W. Bruce aged 25 years. Ansia E. Bruce Aged 28 years (New York State)  [Again, YES - I only knew of James.]
This information is desired for use in the pension claim above referred to.
Very respectfully, Green B. Rauin, Commissioner.
Wm. W. Bruce
475 Canal St.
N.Y. City

This pension file also gave me William's date of death: June 24, 1895, since the government had to know when to stop paying his pension. With that date, I was able to find his name in a Connecticut death index.

I also found out about his service in the U.S. Navy between August 1864-July 1865, as a Landsman, the lowest rank in the U.S. Navy at this time. It appears that he injured his back during his naval service and in several places he indicates that he is unable to work due to: "Heart disease, bronchitis, injury to back, defective eyesight, general debility."

Not only can I add some names and dates to my tree, but I get a sense of William's life, AND that of his first wife, my second great grand aunt. I have never been able to find her family in the U.S. Census in 1870 or 1880 and I wonder if she returned to Nova Scotia for a couple of decades before returning to New York to be with her widowed sisters.


  1. Lately, I've been spending a lot more time with the records of the sisters & brothers of my ancestors (so my 'aunts' & 'uncles'). There is so much we can learn from these! And, even if it doesn't reveal information about your direct ancestor, you are learning more about their loved ones! What affected these siblings affected our ancestors! (And their parents, of course!)

    Glad you found the information you were after!

    1. Dana, yes, now that I know William and his wife (my 2nd gr-grandmother's sister) were divorced, I really wonder about what was going on there and how it affected the family!

      Thanks for reading and commenting.