One of the most overlooked records for researchers looking for American ancestors in the pre-1900 era are federal benefit records. A significant proportion of American citizens received some sort of benefit during this time period–usually through military service. For service before the American Civil War, those benefits were generally land warrants although some later veterans did receive pensions. For service in the Civil War, pensions constitute the majority of these benefits. Spouses were often included and other family members may be named.
Of course affidavits were given with the intention of maximizing the probability that the applicant received the benefit. It was not unheard of for someone to exaggerate their financial situation–not all, but a few. The affidavits can be analyzed on their own, but should also be utilized for clues.
They are one of our favorite items to analyze in Casefile Clues.