The Veteran’s Indigent Widow

John Peter Kingery and Elizabeth Jane Murnahan, my great-great-grandparents, married in Lawrence County, Ohio on 5 September 1861. The United States had been at war with itself for just a few months, and there was still hope that the war would be over soon.

John managed to stay out of the war until August 1864. He might have been drafted or he might have voluntarily enlisted, which would have given him a small bounty. He needed the money. He and Jane (as everyone called her) had one baby and another on the way. John wouldn’t see his daughter Mary until she was almost a year old.

Jane was fortunate that John returned home from serving in the 173rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry, healthier than many of his comrades. But John wasn’t “healthy.” He had spent two months in hospitals in Nashville and Cincinnati from a fever that caused his legs to swell “to unusual size” and his hair to fall out. The pain was severe.

John and Jane’s family grew, but their fortune did not. They had no land and no personal property of value in 1870. In 1900 and 1910, they lived in rented houses. John was a day laborer, a term used in the census to indicate someone who worked for others in an unskilled profession.

After John’s death in 1917, Jane received a pension based on John’s service and disability. Though her file doesn’t mention the amount, it was likely $8 – $12/month. Clearly, Jane wasn’t going to become wealthy — or even financially secure — based on this pension.

In 1884, Ohio passed a law allowing county commissioners to pay for the burial of honorably discharged Union veterans who “died without leaving means sufficient to defray funeral expenses.” Later, this law was amended to include veteran’s widows. It was under this law that the Lawrence County Commissioners paid for Jane’s funeral and burial.

Jane Kingery's Burial Record

Jane Kingery’s Burial Record

“…after a careful inquiry into and examination of all the circumstances in the case, do find and report that the said Jane Kingery died on the 12 day of May A.D. 1921; that we have caused her to be buried in a decent and respectable manner in Kingery Cemetery; that the occupation of said decedent while living was Housewife, that the said decedent died in indigent circumstances, that his [sic] family is unable to pay the expenses of the burial…”

We often don’t think about the families of the veterans. What would Jane’s life have been like had John not served or had not become disabled?

John Peter and Elizabeth Jane (Murnahan) Kingery

John Peter and Elizabeth Jane (Murnahan) Kingery


  • Kingery, Jane. Indigent Soldiers Record of Burial. Briggs Lawrence County Public Library.
  • Kingery, John P. Civil War pension file. 173rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry. Application 574110, Certificate 428276.
  • Kingery, John. 1870 U.S. Census. Windsor Township, Lawrence County, Ohio. Page 604.
  • Kingery, John. 1900 U.S. Census. Mason Township, Lawrence County, Ohio. ED 71, sheet 1B.
  • Kingrey, John. 1910 U.S. Census. Windsor Township, Lawrence County, Ohio. ED 107, sheet 6A.
  • Revised Statutes of the State of Ohio, Including All Laws of a General Nature in Force January 1, 1890. Volume II. Cincinnati: Robert Clarke, 1894. (Page 2535, downloaded from Google Books.)

[EDIT: I’ve added a new story that I teased out from John’s pension record, “John, This Is Your Daughter.”]

4 thoughts on “The Veteran’s Indigent Widow

  1. Jade

    Thank you for this story (and the next) about this couple’s travails.

    You speculated that Jane probably received $8 to $12 per month. It is true that the pension files themselves often lack the monetary specifics, but in many cases they can be discovered in United States Veterans Administration, _Bureau of Pensions and Veteran’s Administration Pension Payment Cards, 1907-1933_, National Archives and Records Administration Record Group 0317P, Micropublication 850.

    Images of these cards have been uploaded at They arranged alphabetically as the microfilm rolls were created, and the waypoint links are here:

    They were microfilmed and digitally imaged in pairs (top and bottom). The two are fronts or backs of individual cards, such that images of the backs of each follow the images of the front.

    Jane’s card logging payments is here (images 42 and 43 on this microfilm roll) as Elizabeth J. Kingery, widow of John P. Kingery:

    John’s card is at images 60 and 61 in the same alphabet group.

    The first image on each roll is the FHL microfilm number. The fourth image is usually of the NARA Micropublication number and the roll number.

    Jane received more than you thought!

    1. Amy Johnson Crow Post author

      Thanks for the info, Jade! I didn’t know that the payment cards were on FamilySearch. (Must make time to go search for some more!) Most of the pension files that I’ve looked at have some indication somewhere of what the veteran or the widow is being paid. (Usually not as detailed as the payment card.) I was disappointed that Jane’s file didn’t mention it; the payment card is a great source!

      Glad you’ve enjoyed the stories. Thanks again for the info!

  2. Barbara Henry

    Thanks for the story and information Amy – I am a Buckeye also, living in Logan County, Ohio. I did not know about the 1884 Ohio law regarding burials of soldier and ultimately their widows! Good information…….

    1. Amy Johnson Crow Post author

      Hi Barbara! Always good to see a fellow Buckeye :)

      Some of these records are still in county courthouses, others have been moved to the regional archives, like at the Ohio Historical Society or at Bowling Green. They are neat records to go through.


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