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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Ethel Williams Received A Civil War Pension


Ethel Williams was a great-uncle that I never knew. In fact, I didn't  know he existed until I found a book titled:  A HISTORY OF WILLIAM WILLIAMS AND HIS DESCENDANTS by Isaac Williams. When I found this book in the library at Anderson, Indiana, it was about 1980. I had been researching my Dad’s family for a few years and could only go back as far as his grandfather, Newton E. Williams. This little book opened up a whole new world of Williamses for me!
My great-great grandfather, Jesse M. Williams, was born in Madison County, Indiana. He was a Civil war veteran, serving in the 47th Indiana Infantry, Company E. He received a medical discharge in late 1862 due to severe heart problems.

Jesse and his family moved to Shelby County in the mid-1880s. They lived in Fairland, where Jesse and his son Newton established a brick factory, then later a grain elevator. Newton stayed in Shelby County, raising his family in Fairland, while his parents Jesse and Margaret Cottrell Williams, later moved to Indianapolis and opened a grocery store.

Jesse’s son (Newton’s brother), Ethel (yes, an odd name for a male) was born 22 October 1874. When he was very young, he contracted diphtheria which left him an invalid for the rest of his life. It is written in his pension papers that he was partially paralyzed and could not speak. In fact, he was referred to as “idiotic”. It must have been a sad life for this Williams family.
After Ethel’s parents passed away, he lived with his niece, Margaret Williams Fox, in Wannamaker. In 1952, the family learned that Ethel was eligible for a “death benefit” pension because his father had been in the Civil War. I received all of Ethel's pension papers quite by accident when I ordered the pension papers for his father, Jesse M. Williams.

I ordered these pension papers from the National Archives. To my surprise, the Archives sent me a letter saying that the pension papers for Jesse were not in the Archives. To get them, I had to fill out forms from the Freedom of Information Act, which I had never done before. After submitting the required forms, I received a short letter telling me that the pension file was being copied and would  be sent from the Department of Veterans Affairs in Oakland, California. I thought all of this was very unusual. I had ordered several Civil War Pension records prior to ordering Jesse’s and never had an experience like this.
It took quite awhile, but when the pension papers finally arrived, they were very interesting. I was totally surprised that Jesse’s son, Ethel, had lived to be 89 years old and that he was receiving a Civil War pension at the time of his death – in 1964!

Another surprising fact was found when I researched Ethel’s death: I learned he was living on N. Pennsylvania Street in Indianapolis when he passed away. It was a nursing home then, in 1964. When I received this information, in 2007, my cousin Jon was living on N. Pennsylvania St. just one block from the former nursing home. He took a photo of the house for me – now a lawyer’s office. It is a lovely old house. I hope Ethel was happy there and not suffering.
While this is certainly a sad story, it is of great interest.  Ethel lived for such a long time and was still receiving a Civil War pension nearly 100 years after the war ended.

Recently, I saw an article on the internet that said there are two people in the U.S. who are still receiving Civil War pensions. After reading this, I did a little research and found that only invalid or disabled children of veterans are eligible for this type of pension. Ethel’s papers indicate that these pensions were approved by Congress as late as the 1950s for the children of veterans of the Civil War.
If anyone else has a similar story to share, or more details about these Civil War pensions, I would appreciate hearing from you. AND if anyone in the family has a photo or more information about Ethel, I would really love to hear from you.  I think Ethel was a very special ancestor.