As already mentioned in the comment by AndyW, there were "contesting widows" -- cases where two women applied for the pension of the same veteran. One article examining these cases is Beverly Schwartzberg's article, "Lots of Them Did That": Desertion, Bigamy, and Marital Fluidity in Late-Nineteenth-Century America" in the *Journal of Social History, *Volume 37 (Spring 2004)
Issue 3, which is abstracted on several websites, including here at George Mason University.
The abstract says, in part:
This study of "contesting widow" applications, where two wives applied for a single soldier's pension, in Civil War pension files demonstrates these fluid marriage patterns among working-class couples.
The article demonstrates and illustrates the common use of alias names, the importance of geographical mobility, the practice of informal divorce and separation, the uses of deception, common understandings and uses of family law, the prevalence of bigamy and serial marriage among men and women, and the economic circumstances of abandoned wives. Pension records help reveal significant marital histories that are otherwise hidden from view.
But before you run out to find this article in a library near you, or order the pension file to see what's in it, it might be easier to step back and address one of the other questions you posed, namely:
Did great granddad have a second family no one knew about?
The same-name, same-place problem
I'd like to caution you that even with what you might think is an unusual surname, it is possible to have more than one person with the same name, married to a woman with the same first and middle name. Many of us who have studied family history for a while have collected examples of "frankenfamilies" where we or others have muddled records belonging to multiple people and put them all together as if they belonged to just one person, or one husband and wife.
So before you conclude from reading one index card that your great-grandfather was a bigamist or that the other widow is committing pension fraud, consider this:
Are you sure that the George W. Heffelfinger in this record is your grandfather? If so, how you do know? What evidence do you have that this card refers to your G.W.H. and not someone else in the same place with the same name? Have you investigated Malon(e) Buchert?
Maybe you've already done all the legwork -- we can't see that because all you mention in your question is this one index card. If you haven't already, do a review of your previous research. Make a timeline for your great-grandfather and his family, and any known siblings, friends, neighbors, and associates. List all the source records you have, and re-evaluate them.
Next, take any of the records you have and learn more about the history of the record itself. When we write a source citation, it's not simply to remember where we found something, although that's important. We also need to understand what we're looking at so we can understand what it is we're looking at. Do you know who created the record, and for what purpose? If you saw the record online, do you understand the sequence of steps that happen in between the original record in its repository, and the online database that brought it to you? If this is all new to you, then take a look at Elizabeth Shown Mills' QuickLesson 17: The Evidence Analysis Process Map. If you and the 3 x 3 are old friends, then dive in at the US National Archives' site to learn more about pension files, so you'll know what these index cards refer to. The easy way to answer the question would be to order the pension file and see what's in it, but before you spend that money, here are some things you could look into.
Pension files and the application process
Claire Kluskens, a senior reference and projects archivist at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) in Washington, DC, has written many articles on the records pertaining to Civil War veterans held at NARA. In “Anatomy of a Union Civil War Pension File.” NGS NewsMagazine (National Genealogical Society) Vol. 34, No. 3 (July-Sept. 2008): 42-47., which was one of the handouts from her presentation at NARA's sixth genealogy fair (2010), she writes:
The pension file will contain records for all claims relating to one
veteran—the soldier’s, the widow’s, the minor children’s, and the
dependent father’s or mother’s. If a Civil War widow later became the
widow of a second Civil War veteran, all records relating to both
veterans may be consolidated in one file.
Her article explains all the documentation which might be found in a veteran's pension file, depending on when the claim was submitted (the requirements changed over time, depending on what the law was, which is why you see so many references to the law and their dates on the index cards).
She says that widows had to prove their legal marriage to the veteran, and if either had been previously married, they had to prove the divorce or death of the other spouse. Competing claims were investigated by Special Examiners -- to learn more about their work and some of the kinds of cases they examined, see Kluskens' article “Special Examiners: Records of the Bureau of Pensions’ Efforts to Combat Waste, Fraud, and Abuse, 1862–1933.” in Federal History Journal (Society for History in the Federal Government) Vol. 8, pp. 109-120. That documentation should be in the applicant's pension file.
Both of these articles plus other publications by Kluskens on records pertaining to Civil War veterans and other records of the period are worth reading in their entirety so you can get a sense of the "big picture" and better understand the information contained inside, even for something as simple as a humble index card.
In the "anatomy" article, Kluskens refers her audience to two series of index cards available online:
NARA Microfilm Publication T288, NARA Microfilm Publication T288, General Index to Pension Files, 1861–1934, online at Ancestry.com as U.S., Civil War Pension Index: General Index to Pension Files, 1861-1934 (database dbid=4654) and at FamilySearch as United States General Index to Pension Files, 1861-1934 (collection 1919699) described in United States, General Index to Pension Files (FamilySearch Historical Records) in the FamilySearch Research Wiki.
NARA Microfilm Publication T289, Organization Index to Pension Files of Veterans Who Served Between 1861 and 1900 (765 rolls), images online at fold3.com and indexed at Familysearch.org as United States Civil War and Later Pension Index, 1861-1917 (described in United States, Civil War and Later Pension Index (FamilySearch Historical Records) and Organization Index to Pension Files in the FamilySearch Research Wiki).
These indexes will yield the pension file numbers relating to a veteran’s file. While both indexes will indicate the unit in which the man served, only T288 identifies the man’s widow. Although the index card in T288 and T289 will show that the file was assigned several different numbers over the years, there is only one file. When the veteran applied for a pension, his
file was filed under a Soldier’s Original (SO) number; when it was approved, it then was filed under a Soldier’s Certificate (SC) number; when the widow applied, it was filed under a Widow’s Original (WO) number; when it was approved, it was filed under a Widow’s Certificate (WC) number, and so forth. Longer-lived veterans later had their files renumbered to C- or XC-file numbers. Files with numbers assigned to dependents, such as minor’s original (MO), and minor’s certificate (MC) were, as a practical matter, interfiled
with WO and WC files. The last number used by the pension office for a file is the number under which it is filed.
But there is another series of index cards which is worth looking at (it may not have been available when Kluskens wrote her article). That series is from RG 15, NARA Microfilm publication M850, Veteran's Administration pension payment cards, 1907-1933. available at FamilySearch, described in United States, Veterans Administration Pension Payment Cards (FamilySearch Historical Records) in the FamilySearch Research Wiki.
The card for Malon Buchert / George W Heffelfinger gives details of payments to widow Catherine F Heffelfinger (certficate 962090) up until her death (Dec 27th, 1929), which was reported to the VA on Jan 11, 1930, according to this card.
Some cards in this series contain the street address the payments were sent to; that information can be compared to other records to help confirm the right family. I try to collect all the index cards from each series and gather all information I can from the veteran's compiled military service record (CMSR) and other records, so I can make sure the records I've gathered belong to my research subject and not someone else with the same name.
- Did your Union Army Civil War ancestor apply for a pension? by Marie Varrelman Melchiori, CG, CGL, and Claire Prechtel-Kluskens, NGS Magazine, Vol. 40, No 3, pages 39-43 (July-Sep 2014) [This is part of a longer series -- it has a good introduction of T288, T299, A1158, and M1785, the Remarried Widows' Index and how they can be used to locate the pension file you want.]
- Video, handout and Presentation slides from NARA's 2013 Genealogy Fair, session 9 by Claire Kluskens, "Union Civil War Pension Files"
- Civil War Online Guide to Military Records at NARA
- Reference Information Paper 109, Military Service Records at the National Archives
- Family Tree Friday: Pension Indexes Examined, posted on December 31, 2010 on Narations, the blog of the US National Archives, by katherinevollen
- Microfilm Publications and Original Records Digitized by Our Digitization Partners an online guide from the US National Archives
Records pertaining to this question can also be found at FindMyPast from the record sets listed below:
- M686, General Correspondence Of The Record And Pension Office, 1889-1904
(two search results, one from an investigation in 1896, another in 1901)
- T288, United States Civil War Pension Files Index 1861-1934 (as discussed above)
- M850, Veterans Administration Pension Payment Cards, 1907-1933 (as discussed above) for both the veteran himself and for the widow's pension
I like to collect the same information and images from all possible sites because the image quality and information about the collection can vary depending on the website. More information about the microfilm publications is also available at archives.gov and in The National Archives Catalog. If a website gives you the National Archives' catalog ID number, you can find out more about the scope and content of each set of records by looking at its catalog description.