Beth gave me very good help on a difficult project. She was organized, accountable, stayed within budget and very knowledgeable. I very much appreciated that she left me with a plan of action so that I could continue on my own.
— Carol Williams
I’ve written a few times about the importance of using timelines to better understand not only your ancestor’s life, the world in which he lived, and the records you’ve accumulated. Timelines are an essential organizational and analytic tool.
One component of a good timeline are the historic events that occurred in your ancestor’s life. Our ancestors no more lived in a historic, cultural, or technological vacuum than we do. Their lives were often dramatically shaped by the world around them.
So, where do you go to find out what was happening “then?”
There are any number of great historical websites and reference books each of which you can glean a portion of the story whether it be wars, natural catastrophes, political events and so on.
But there is one very neat site that offers a one-stop shop for all historical events, and it can be customized to the life of your ancestor! OurTimelines.com is a wonderful free website, on which you can easily find yourself playing until the wee hours of the morning.
It’s a free site, no accounts, usernames or passwords are even needed. So you can be up and running creating timelines in seconds. Simply go to the home page (www.ourtimelines.com) and scroll down the page to the link at the bottom that says “click here” to get started.
Enter the name of your ancestor so it will appear on the top of the report. Enter his or her birth and death years. (You can make a timeline just for a period of his life, such as his War years, or his time overseas. You don’t have to be limited to birth & death date parameters.)
Click “Generate Timeline.” It’s that easy. In a couple of seconds it will return with a customized timeline for your ancestor. It will include historic events, “leadership” or who’s the President, King or other ruler, technology events, and disasters.
Timeline for Richard Watson
Further, you can create your own custom events, i.e. marriage dates, children’s births, military service, and it will weave those into the timeline.
With each event it creates for your timeline it will annotate the line item with the age your ancestor would be at the time. For example, my dad was two years old when movies first had sound. Neat.
Some of the events are underlined or hyperlinked. If you click on that the site will take you to a further description of that event. Not sure what the Abyssinian War was all about? Just click to learn more!
Finally, you can print a web page image of the timeline. The site provides directions under the FAQs.
The site is really neat, but I do have a couple caveats you should be aware of. I’m not a big fan of the black background and neon type faces. It’s hard to read and looks a bit cheesy. Secondly, it would be wonderful if this could be exported into an Excel file or csv format. It would be a lot easier to work with the data.
But, for free, it is a great tool and fun to play with.
The 2nd Annual GenealogyKC event will be March 21st & 2nd at the LDS Meeting House known as the Liberty Missouri Stake Center at 6751 NE 70th Street, Kansas City, Missouri. The two-day event features twelve lecture tracks (simultaneous presentations) including a series of genealogy classes for “youth.” There’s something for everyone!
I am pleased to be invited back this year to offer several lectures and the opening keynote address. A number of fellow professional genealogy speakers from throughout the Heartland will also be presenting, making this a content-rich event. Additionally, sessions from world-reknown genealogists speaking at Roots Tech in Salt Lake will be broadcast.
And the best part – it’s free.
You do have to register online, which includes selecting the classes you’ll be attending. I understand several are already “sold out.” If the event is on the schedule, but not among the choices when you register, you know it is “sold out.” There are complete descriptions of the classes, directions, FAQs and more on the website. So, hurry and make your plans now.
If I were told my ancestor was a “servant” I would form a very distinct impression of him, his state in life, his lifestyle, and maybe even his prospects to succeed professionally. If, alternatively, I was told he was a “farmer,” the impression would be very different. Isn’t it amazing the many layers of meaning we can attribute to about someone from a single fact?
But that’s what the records said!
I had that very exact experience when recently a fellow researcher shared with me the long sought after passenger manifest of my great, great-grandfather, Vincent Smarsh. Every record I had ever encountered regarding him said he was a “farmer.” Then I was given the typed transcript in the much-hailed series Germans to America co-authored/edited by William Filby (former State of Maryland Archivist). In this series Mr. Filby, or more accurately, his team of researchers extracted “German-like” names out of presumably zillions of passenger manifests, and dutifully transcribed them into a twenty+ volume series.
Wenzel SCHMYRSCH (Vincent Smarsh) listed his profession as a “servant.” There it was clear as day in black and white.
Vincent Smarsh Ship Manifest – transcript
My heart just sank. This was the earliest known record I had of him and the only one that tied to the “old country,” so my head was just spinning. What happened? What must his life have been like in Austria? What kind of servant was he? What kind of unusual traditions did they have in 19th Century Austria that would lead a man into being a servant? I’d always believed he was a relatively successful farmer, so why is he a servant? But, again, there it was – “servant.”
Perplexed in Kansas City
Mystified, I turned to a higher power. My genealogy-friend, Bob, who in my humble opinion knows all things Czech, was quickly in my “to:” box as I crafted an email. Bob, too, was taken aback, but he offered a couple of theories. Maybe his family was running out of farmland to support the children. Unlike England Czech didn’t have the laws of progenitor, where the eldest son inherits all. Instead the farms got increasingly smaller generation by generation. Maybe he sold everything including any land to afford passage to America. Still not convinced he was on the right track, Bob asked for the original.
Do you hear yourself saying, “But why get the original? It’s extra effort and maybe money. You have the record.” That’s what I said, but I got the original anyway.
There it was – clear as day in black and white
I obtained the originals – digitized, microfilmed documents – a bit grainy, handwritten, but readable. I didn’t even look at them a second time. I just forwarded them to Bob. He speaks the language. He’ll be able to make sense of it….I hoped.
It didn’t take long before Bob emailed me back. Beth, I think there was a transcription error, he wrote. The occupation for the passenger listed above Vincent was clearly “farmer,” and it had an implied “ditto” line below and through the next dozen passengers. I know I didn’t see it the first time I looked at the original. I assumed that it would be the same information as found on the transcription., so why bother. Big mistake.
Vincent Smarsh Ship Manifest – original
It seems then that Wenzel SCHMYRSCH (Vincent Smarsh) was indeed a “farmer.” And there was the answer – clear as day, in black and white, waiting for the researcher to take the time to look – really look – at the original documents to know the truth.
It was a dramatic lesson for me about the importance of always checking the original. Aside from the additional information that is usually available on an original over and above a transcript or index, there is always the possibility of an honest transcription error. In this case it turned out to be a change in occupation for my ancestor.
My great-grandfather, Joseph Smarsh, was born on a farm in Pennsylvania then raised, lived and died on a south-central Kansas farm. He was a farmer through and through. He, like the majority of our agrarian ancestors, did very little that we would today consider “newsworthy.”
But then we forget what constituted “news” 100+ years ago.
“Buys Land Cheap – Joseph Smarsh Buys a Farm for $1,500″
This was the headline of a newspaper article in The Wichita Eagle dated Saturday Morning, April 20, 1901. Seriously, my great-grandfather apparently got a deal on some land, and it made the morning news! I can’t even begin to imagine a similar headline crossing the pages of a modern newspaper or even a digital news outlet. Who would talk about the price they paid for land to a reporter?
What’s even more amazing is the detail to which the reporter indulges in crafting a full narrative of Joseph Smarsh’s good fortune. Maybe Joseph had a good shot of whisky and was happy to have an audience with which to relate his tale. We won’t know, but we do learn a tremendous amount about this business exchange from the story. Here are a few fun tidbits that help illuminate the life of an ancestor, whom I never met and preceded my presence on this Earth by 100 years.
Great Detail About Joseph Smarsh
He lived in the “prosperous German settlement northwest of this city (Wichita).” Really? St. Mark’s Kansas was considered prosperous? It looks like any other farm community sans stop signs or stop lights to me!
Apparently, the locals, including Joseph Smarsh, “have a great faith in the country (Arkansas Valley)” that exceeds those “back east.” This gives the locals an ability to buy out easterners at a great bargain.
Joseph pulled up to a “high stool at a Main Street (Wichita) restaurant and ordered a porterhouse steak” as he laughed and began to share his story to the reporter. He ate a porterhouse steak at a restaurant! He’s doing well for himself, and maybe treated himself to celebrate his good fortune.
The story of how he got the deal on the land goes something like this, “(he) was in town a couple of days ago when Michael Block (a real estate agent?) told him that a mortgage company back east told him to sell a half-section of land in Reno County [that's near Wichita, specifically Hutchison if you are familiar with the area] for $1,500. That was less than $5 an acre.” You see even in 1901 the prevailing price for good farm land was $40/acre. If the land was good, it was indeed a heck of a price!
Joseph “went up to Reno County and found that it was all good for pasture and half of it good farm land.”
“Mr. Smarsh did not tarry in Reno County,” we learn. “He turned his horses heads for Wichita and when he came across the Douglas avenue bridge, a policeman threatened to run him in for fast driving, but Joe said he was going after a doctor and the cop let him pass.” OMG! He was busted for speeding and lied his way out of a ticket! Is that not priceless!
“He drove his team to the West End Livery Barn and ordered them rubbed down and fed.” Good job, Joe! Take care of your horses.
“He then went to Mr. Block’s office, counted out $300 and said, ‘I’ll take the land as you priced it to me. I will pay you the balance when you give me the deed’.” He had $300 cash on him! I’ve never in my life had $300 in cash on me, then again, Joseph probably didn’t have a checking account!
That’s something. As genealogists we quickly turn to newspapers for obits and marriage records, but I must say I didn’t expect to find a jewel of a story like this.
Where did I find it?
I’ve written about newspapers in this forum before, so you may recall my mentioning the Chronicling America database on the Library of Congress website. Honestly, I was looking for an obit when I came upon this article. I simply chose “Kansas” and searched the last name, “Smarsh.” Would you believe I got 52 hits? What’s extra nice about this feature is if you view the results as a “gallery,” it will highlight the name/search term (Smarsh) on the page, so you don’t have to fish through 2,000 words on a newspaper page to find the reference to your ancestor. For some reason if you view the results as a list of hyperlinks, it doesn’t highlight the names.
Check it out! Hopefully you’ll find a great article that adds life, color, and texture to your anscestors’ stories.
In my last post, I shared the tale of how finding the godparents of my ancestor’s children, then researching their naturalization records led me to find the naturalization records of my great, great-grandfather, Vincent Smarsh.
When last we “talked” I requested by email the naturalization records of Anthony Harenrader, Joseph Strousse (godparents) and Vincent Smarsh (ancestor) from the Lancaster County Courthouse.
The Mail Arrived
I can’t tell you how impressed I am with the Lancaster Pennsylvania County Courthouse. Not only did they have the naturalization records indexed online, the archivist responded in minutes to my email inquiry, but I received the paper copies in just a couple of days!
Here’s what arrived in the mail:
Paper copy from microfilm of Vincent Smarsh’s Naturalization Record
Paper copy from microfilm of Vincent Smarsh’s Declaration of Intent form, AND what looks like a log or registry entry with the same information as the Declaration of Intent.
Anthony Harchenrader’s Naturalization Record
Joseph Strousse’s Declaration of Intent log or registry entry.
and an invoice for $5.88 to cover postage & copies! That’s it! A steal at twice the price!
What Have We Learned
According to the naturalization records all three gentlemen (Joseph, Anthony & Vincent) were from different countries! Joseph was from the Grand Duchy of Warsaw (Poland!). Anthony was from the Kingdom of Bavaria, and Vincent was from Austria! So much for my theory of co-migration! This also goes to show that the original documents are key to certainty. Vincent said he was from Austria, Bohemia, Germany or Switzerland…depending time and place he was recording the information. I’m going with the naturalization record as as close to definitive as I can get. Note: see updated information below
Even though they didn’t co-migrate, they must have made “quick” friends. Maybe the Germanic roots, similar languages and their Catholic faith were the common denominators that transcended nationalities. Because Joseph is Anthony’s sponsor/witness on his naturalization papers. This also tells us Joseph was the first to arrive. And as mentioned in the last post Joseph and Anthony were Vincent’s children’ s godparents.
The New Clues
Vincent Smarsh’s naturalization record did offer up a couple interesting nuggets of information.
First, on the same document we see him use both the “old world” and the “Americanized” versions of his name, namely “Wenzeslaus Smerz” and “Vincent Smarsh.” I’ve never seen both on the same document before, and it confirms that they are one in the same person. This also tells me that as early as 1856 (Declaration of Intent) he was using “Vincent Smarsh.” This also gives me first person documentation of his “old world” name and spelling.
We now know that the Declaration of Intent was completed in 1856. And the rules were that you had to be in country for at least two years to submit this form. This provides further evidence that his supposed year of immigration 1853 – gathered from the census records – is probable.
And finally, we learn that his sponsor for naturalization was Henry Strunk, to which you may say “so?” I would agree that this would be a “nothing” find if it were an unfamiliar name to the Smarsh history. However, it isn’t. The Smarshes ultimately migrated to St. Mark’s, Kansas (just west of Wichita, Kansas) to help settle that German farming community. Guess what OTHER families settled St. Mark’s? The Strunks. Indeed, the Strunk’s married into the Smarsh family. This can’t be a coincidence.
The Strunks in St. Mark’s are, according to my research, from Germany, and migrated straight from Germany to Kansas. And unfortunately I don’t have a “Henry Strunk” among them. But I’m not giving up on this. There could be another line of the family that stayed in Pennsylvania, or maybe the Strunks of Germany weren’t far geographically from the Smarshes of Austria. Who knows?
And on we keep searching. Isn’t that how it goes? You find one answer and it opens up more questions? That, my friend, is the joy of genealogy.
Since the publication of this post, I’ve learned more about the Austrian Empire from my friend, Robert Bee. He tells me that “Bohemia and Moravia were part of the Austrian Empire from about 1630 to 1917. ”
Really? The Kingdom of Bavaria was part of the Austrian Empire at the time Joseph, Anthony & Vincent migrated. And while Joseph & Anthony referenced “Bohemia” on their naturalization papers and Vincent reference Austria, they could very well be from the same area – the Kingdom of Bavaria WITHIN the Austrian Empire. It makes perfect sense that they would or could have referenced different entities. I tell people I’m from Kansas or the United State depending on the situation.
My friend, Robert Bee, goes on to tell me that during the Austrian Empire the Czech towns were given German names. No wonder it is so confusing! Is the town Austrian, Czech or German?
One of my perennial brick walls has been the point of origin and/or means and method of immigration of my great, great-grandfather, Vincent Smarsh (b. 1804 somewhere in Bohemia or Austria or Germany).
Yesterday I had a breakthrough using a technique called “FANs” or friends-associates-neighbors. The concept is to look to your ancestor’s associates as possible links to information about your ancestor. They like your ancestor created records – maybe records which reference your ancestor. And those records may get you over that infernal brick wall.
Let me tell you what happened.
The Brick Wall
Vincent Smarsh settled in Elizabethtown, Lancaster, Pennsylvania not long after he immigrated in 1853. Interestingly, I have the year of immigration because in the 1900 Census, he lists his son, Chris’s place of birth as “ocean,” 1853. Imagine that – having a child en route and on shipboard to America. But his place of origin has been very fuzzy at best. He has listed “Austria,” “Bohemia,” “Germany,” and even “Switzerland” on various documents. Given the fluid nature of the State boundaries in Europe at the time, it’s not terribly surprising.
And this is where my research has been stuck for at least 10 years.
Dateline c. 1850s, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania
Vincent, and his wife Maria, had several children while in Elizabethtown. And they duly had each one of them baptized at the Catholic Church. A year or so ago, I wrote to the church and asked for the baptismal records. While they couldn’t send copies, presumably because the records were too frail, the secretary was kind enough to transcribe them for me. Not only did this give me the baptismal (birth) dates of the children and the location – I now know the family stayed in Elizabethtown for almost a decade before moving West – I have the names of the godparents.
Which leads us to our FANs. The Smarshes, still pretty new to America, enlisted the help of Joseph Harchenrader, Anthony Harchenrader, and Joseph & Maria Strousse to be the godparents of their children. If you were new to America – or any community – who would you ask to be the godparents of your children? Maybe people who migrated with you? Maybe people from “the old country?”
If I can’t find the golden passenger record for Vincent Smarsh, maybe I can find one for one of the godparents, which may at least point me to the right country of origin.
I dug in and did the research on the Harchenraders and Strousses pulling census records, find-a-grave records, etc.. As it turns out both families are from “Bohemia.” Ah ha! Maybe that’s Vincent & Maria’s home country?
Then I stumbled on a naturalization record for Anthony Harchenrader on a family tree built in Ancestry. Anthony Harchenrader in this declaration of intent disavowed his allegiances to King Maximillion II of the KINGDOM OF BOHEMIA. Fabulous, we’re getting somewhere. Vincent’s presumed friend, Anthony, is from Bohemia. Unfortunately, the researcher didn’t list his source and it was a fuzzy copy. But, fortunately, at the top of the document it read “To the Lancaster County (Pennsylvania) Court of Common Pleas…”
Lancaster County Court Offices
I wanted to write to the Court and ask for a better copy. Frankly, I wasn’t sure how to do that or who exactly to write to, so I did a little fishing. I found the Lancaster County Court Website, which was awash with links to things 21st Century people need from a courthouse. And I just felt certain that a call to the office asking for a 150 year-old document would be met with, well, tried patience. So, I took a chance and used the search box on the site and searched “naturalization records.”
Unbelievably, the good people at the courthouse have indexed the old naturalization records and put that index in pdf form online. God Bless the courthouse staff. And all you have to do is pick out your ancestor from the list, write down the indexed page numbers and email the magic “archives@” email address. I say it again, is this a wonderful country or what?
So, I held my breath and started to scroll down the list looking for Anthony Harchenrader. Yes! He was there.
Okay, I thought this is too good to be true. I’ll look for Joseph Strausse. Bingo! He was there, too!
All right, I’ll cover my eyes and hold my breath and scroll around to see if Vincent Smarsh could possibly, possibly be there. A negative find wouldn’t surprise me as elusive as this rascal ancestor has been.
But, YES! He was there! His Declaration of Intent AND his Naturalization Files were just waiting for me.
I couldn’t type fast enough my email request to my new best friends at “firstname.lastname@example.org.” I ordered the papers for Anthony, Joseph, and Vincent, then sat back pleased as punch and braced for a several week wait as is not uncommon with government offices.
Then no more than 15 minutes later my phone went “ding.” Greg at the Archives had already found my papers, made copies and politely asked for my mailing address to mail the copies and inform me that it will be about $3.00 for copies and postage.
THREE BUCKS! ONLY THREE BUCKS!
(Don’t tell Greg, but I would have paid a lot more for that. LOL)
So there you have it. I don’t know the answer to my question, yet. Maybe Vincent isn’t from Bohemia as I suspect. In fact, in the index he is listed with “Austria” as his home of origin. So maybe my theory that he came from whence his associates came proves false, BUT, but the research into his associates pointed me to a document I would never have found otherwise.
I’ll keep you posted, and let you know what happens when the documents my friend, Greg from the Lancaster County Courthouse, arrives!
I first touched on the subject of the New Madrid Earthquake (1811 – 1812,) New Madrid, Missouri) in a blog post not long ago. It’s a fascinating multi-layered story with the themes of personal trial, community dislocation, unprecedented geographic phenomenon couched with the backdrop of the War of 1812.
Today I will share with you a few reflections on a book that brings the story to life on a very personal level.
What Feldman presents to us in this book is a compelling, context-rich look at the state of the region, the people, and the events that were shaped by the New Madrid earthquakes of 1811-1812.
Feldman tells the story largely through the stories of a few notable people who were caught up in the events of the day, including:
• Tecumseh, the Shawnee leader who is said to have prophesied the earthquakes while seeking to form an alliance among the native groups to fight the United States.
• His brother Tenskwatawa, also known as the Prophet, who took up a role of religious leadership in the pan-tribal movement.
• Lilburne and Ishum Lewis (brothers and nephews to Thomas Jefferson), slave owners whose murder of one of their slaves was uncovered by the earthquake, causing a scandal and the dissolution of what had been one of Virginia’s foremost families.
• George Morgan, a Revolutionary War figure and land speculator, and also the founder of the settlement at New Madrid.
• James Wilkinson, a General in the US Army, a traitorous double agent in the pay of the Spanish crown, and a nemesis to Morgan.
• Nicholas and Lydia Roosevelt (relatives of Theodore Roosevelt), who took the steamboat New Orleans on the first voyage under steam power down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, surviving the earthquake and the reversal of the river’s flow while aboard.
• William Henry Harrison, the future president, and his involvement in the Battle of Tippecanoe.
The book is as much a history of the War of 1812 as it is of the earthquakes. While there are no doubt much more detailed accounts of the war to be found, Feldman’s encapsulation of the war within the context of this natural disaster lends an interesting angle to the familiar stories about the war.
Though this is not a book about genealogy, there are several reasons why genealogists may find this book interesting: Feldman places the event within the larger context of national and international events. His characterizations of the early 19th-century frontier provides a good idea of how this frontier was different from the “wild west” of the late 19th century, and may aid genealogists in tracing the movements of ancestors during this period, or at least give a better idea of the cultural and economic forces that motivated their movements.
Beyond its uses as a source of context or event-related information, When the Mississippi Ran Backwards is a page-turner. Feldman provides clever, surprising, and enlightening anecdotes from a wide variety of sources. While making my initial look through the book, I often found myself reading rather than skimming, as the mixture of historical context along with stark, yet believable depictions of the various larger-than-life historical figures continually caught me up in wanting to know what happened next, sometimes in cases where I already knew the broad outline of the events described.
When the Mississippi Ran Backwards: Empire, Intrigue, Murder, and the New Madrid Earthquakes. Free Press, 2005. 307p. (Simon & Schuster imprint) Author: Jay Feldman
Internet Archive: No
Index: 7 pages.
Endnotes: Extensive. 31 pages.
Bibliography: Organized by type of publication – useful for amateur researchers. Extensive at 20 pages.
If you’ve attempted military research or genealogy no doubt you’ve run headlong into the many descriptive names of military units. And maybe you, like me, have come away scratching your head.
I know I had to take a big step back from my research to first understand what the different types of units were and what that meant for my ancestor’s experience in the war.
Today I offer a brief description of some of the key terms you’ll find in hopes of making your journey through this vocabulary and your research a little easier. Make sure you check out the additional references listed below.
Now known collectively as the National Guard, the local militia unit is the oldest type of military force in the American armed forces. As early as 1636, militia units were organized and administered by colonial towns and counties. Able-bodied male citizens between the ages of sixteen and sixty were organized into companies to defend against Natives, foreign powers, criminals, and pirates.
During the Civil War, militias were increased in size, but still generally stayed within the boundaries of their local jurisdictions.
Militias vs. “state guards” and “home guards”:
Similar units, known variously as “state guards” or “home guards” were created for service within the borders of their own state. Such units, often composed of those outside the normal parameters for enlistment such as age and health, were generally meant to serve as last-resort defenses or for rounding up deserters from army units, especially in the Confederacy.
In some cases, all men not already enlisted in a militia or volunteer unit were required to sign up with the home or state guard. These units sometimes ran into problems of conflicting loyalties – either to the state governor or to the Confederate or Union government. Also, in some states home or state guard units were raised by both sides, as was the case in Missouri.
Most Civil War regiments were made of volunteers raised by the states. Volunteer units were often formed within the soldiers’ neighborhoods, states, or territories of residence, lending decidedly regional compositions to those units. Some enlisted in the Regular Army or were assigned to Regular Army units as well. And some who had emigrated westward enrolled in units formed at their place of birth or previous residence.
President Lincoln’s April 15, 1861, proclamation called for 75,000 militiamen from the loyal states and territories to suppress the rebellion in the southern states. Subsequent proclamations and Congressional Acts increased the size of the Regular Army and Navy, and also called for additional volunteers and militiamen.
States and territories met the requirements by activating the militia, calling for voluntary enlistments, and instituting drafts. The majority of Volunteer units were organized by the states, but a few Volunteer units were organized by the federal government as well. Volunteer units were usually put under the command of Army officers and served alongside Regular Army units. The Federal Draft system, created by Congress in 1863, superseded the state and territorial draft systems.
The various draft systems were often inequitable and disorganized. There were many ways to be exempted from the draft, including reasons that are still in place, such as physical or mental disability, or familial obligations. Other reasons may seem outlandish now, such as the exemption of the planter class in the Confederacy. Even for those who were called to service, there were ways out, such as sham medical examinations. Additionally, many who were called up simply disregarded the summons. Others would hire someone to take their place, as was allowed under the laws of the time. This led to a decidedly lower-class characterization of the average draftee and contributed to the negative views of draftees among many other servicemen. In the Union Army, only about 8% of the 2,100,000 soldiers were brought in via the draft, and three quarters of those were paid substitutes, meaning only 2% of the fighting force were drafted themselves. Confederate conscription was more widespread. It was resisted by citizens on both sides.
The Regular Army is also known as the Standing Army or simply the Army. This is the professional force that originated as the Continental Army, later known as the Legion of the United States, and eventually took the name United States Army in 1796. During the Civil War, regular units in the Union Army were designated with the suffix USA.
Thanks to Stephen J. Buffat, genealogist, for initial research on this topic.
Additional Sources: Web Sources:
The Civil War Archive – Regimental Index
National Park Service – Searchable index of military units and more
Minnesota History Center – Info on military organization
Chambers II, John Whiteclay, ed. The Oxford Companion to American Military History. Oxford & New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.
Escott, Paul. Military Necessity: Civil-Military Relations in the Confederacy. Westport, CT: Praeger Security International, 2006.
Geary, James W. We Need Men: The Union Draft in the Civil War. DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 1991.
Leach, Jack F. Conscription in the United States: Historical Background. C.E. Tuttle Publishing: Rutland, Vt., 1952.
Moore, Albert Burton. Conscription and Conflict in the Confederacy. New York: Macmillan, 1924.
My sister-in-law, Sandi, passed away suddenly shortly after the New Year at age 60. Sad and tragic as this was, it was what happened after her passing that gave me a genealogical pause.
Sandi chose to be cremated and her ashes scattered in the Pacific Ocean…some in California and some in Hawaii (a favorite vacation spot). So there will be no headstone, no cemetery, no section records to mark her remains. There will be, however, a record with the Neptune Society, which takes care of the spreading of ashes for those interested in a “burial at sea.”
No doubt many people are cremated, and some portion have their ashes scattered. I’m sure it is a very personal, private choice. I must say, that’s not my choice. I like the idea of being somewhere that can be found, should anyone be looking. I like the idea of having a place loved ones can visit. And though I strongly believe my parents are in Heaven, I still like visiting their graves on occasion, placing flowers, and honoring their time here on Earth.
Back to Sandi. Her husband, Bruce, made the decision to not have an obituary published for Sandi. Since she died suddenly, I’m sure they never discussed it, and the decision was left to him. As a genealogist, I took a double-take on this one. Again, I’m sure Bruce had his reasons, but I just can’t imagine not having an obituary.
To me it seems like a last opportunity to let the world know, “I was here.” “I mattered.” And should the next generation come looking for me, here’s what I want you to know.
I know I took great pains and pride in writing an obituary my mother would be proud of when she passed away last year. ( I was very careful to include every maiden name, too!)
Mom and Sandi led normal, humble lives, which never gave rise to any public awareness through mass media. There names were never in the paper, they were never on t.v. Their obituaries – or lack thereof – was the last opportunity, in my humble opinion, to say to the world, “I was here. Thanks for the great life.”
I’m sure everyone who knew and loved Sandi will treasure their memories of her in their hearts. I can only hope the next generation will hear of her through word of mouth, if not through her headstone or her obituary.
Maybe it is the holiday season. Maybe it is the long, cold, winter days inside. Or maybe it is just that time in my life that finds me reflecting on what “family” is. I don’t typically use this forum to share personal musings, but I hope you’ll indulge me today.
Why Do Genealogy?
I suspect the reasons for doing genealogy are as many and varied as the genealogists themselves. Some enjoy the history. Some are called to the duty to preserve the family history and its archives. Some like the detective work. Others may be organizational experts (that’s NOT me!), who find great satisfaction in putting all of the family facts and artifacts in their proper order.
For me, the reason I have come to believe genealogy has played such a personal and profound role in my life is that it is filling a hole. The hole is that of “family,” or what I thought a family should give me in my life. I don’t mean to imply that I have or had a tragic story of “family lost.” Indeed, about a year ago I heard Loretto Dennis Szucs, genealogy expert, recount her very sad story of a childhood filled with separation, longing, and confusion. Mine is not her story. I had a very typical, suburban, family with two, loving parents and a brother, who was seven years my senior. My childhood was filled with school, church, after-school events, and an occasional family vacation.
Yet, something was missing. We just weren’t a close family.
It was through genealogy that -
I sought connections,
I filled a need to remember those who came before me,
I still try to make a mark on this world that I might be remembered.
You see, my dad passed away when I was twenty – the Summer of my sophomore year in college. And as Oprah says, “that changed the trajectory” of my life. I realized very early on that life was short, that mortality was real, and that if you wanted to leave a legacy of your time on this Earth, you have but a limited time to do it. If I was looking for connections I had to do it now. If I wanted people to remember my dad – and I very much did – I had to take up the call. And If I wanted to be remembered, I had to do something worth remembering – today. Genealogy seemed to fit the bill.
The Trans-formative Moment of 2013
Which brings me to today. Often we’re doing genealogy for the benefit of the next generation. We are saving stories and pictures for the interest and understanding of our children and grandchildren.
But this year I had a different experience. This year afforded me the opportunity – maybe once in a lifetime opportunity – to have a real, substantive, dare I say life- changing impact on the someone of this generation.
You see, my mother passed away in March after a long illness. And in her box of “family papers” were the expected vital records, military certificates, and estate papers. But also included were my brother’s adoption papers. Respecting the very personal nature of the papers, I handed them to him unopened. A few months later he called. ”Beth, can you look into this person listed as my birth mother?”
I had never been so excited about a project in my life. With a little luck and some good genealogy research, I found her. I found my brother’s birth mother. I was able to share with my brother the story of his birth, the family to which he is biologically connected and where they came from, the “happily ever after” story of his birth mother, the unbelievable parallels between her life and our family, and with a little more digging a picture.
I sent my brother a picture of his birth mother.
He was profoundly moved by the experience. I can only imagine the “hole” this information filled in his understanding of family. I was profoundly moved by the experience. I can’t think of a better application of what genealogy skills I may have.
Last night was New Year’s Eve. I got a very unexpected call. ”Hey Beth…just thought I’d call and say “‘happy holidays.’” A family connection made.