Monday, May 27, 2013

Four Civil War Soldiers in the Family

I wish I had a Civil War veteran in my family tree!...  But my ancestors came from Sweden and Germany quite a few years after the Civil War ended.  My husband is more fortunate in that regard—I’ve found two of his direct ancestors who fought for the Union.  But one of my clients turned out to have four!  Peggy (not her real name) hired me in 2011 to do a binder on her mother and a binder on her father. 

·       Walter Blanchard (1807-1863), pictured above, was a probate judge who fought in the 13th Illinois Infantry, rising to the rank of Captain.  He was fatally wounded in Georgia during the Battle of Ringgold Gap in November 1863, and he died seven days later.  He is buried in Downers Grove, Illinois.

·       Charles Carpenter (1833-1910, not pictured) also fought in the 13th Illinois Infantry as a private.  At the Battle of Chicasaw Bayou he was captured by the rebels when his unit was ordered to retreat, but he was too far forward to hear the command.  After his release he returned home to Illinois to marry his sweetheart—then returned to his unit to serve out the rest of his three-year term of enlistment.

·       Arthur Ducat (1830-1896), pictured above, was an Irish immigrant, but better educated than most.  He was a civil engineer before the war, whose hobby was to read every book he could find on military science and the art of war.  (Source:  Biographical Sketches of the Leading Men of Chicago by Carbutt & Meredith.)  When war broke out, he volunteered in the 12th Illinois Infantry and eventually rose from the rank of private to the rank of Brigadier General.  He was said to be an excellent soldier, organizer, tactician, and negotiator.  After the war he became a very successful insurance agent and authored a book on Fire Underwriting.  Arthur outlived his first two wives, and had children with all three.

·       James Edward Larkin (1832-1911), seen in this tintype,  rose to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the 5th New Hampshire Infantry.  His unit fought in some of the worst battles in the war, including Antietam, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, and Cold Harbor.  Somehow, he survived his three-year enlistment and went home to his trade as an ornamental painter, and he later became the local postmaster.

What a wonderful heritage!  And how fortunate that so many records are online for me to find!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Love and Marriage in the 1800s

Recently I found the 1848 Ohio marriage record for my husband’s 2nd great-grandfather, John Garver (1821-1901) and his wife Mary Ann Overly (1829-1890).  Often I give these types of records a cursory glance, looking for the names and dates I need—but this time I read the old, handwritten record closely, and it gave me pause.

Here is what the marriage record said:
“I, John Garver, do solemnly swear that I am over twenty one years of age, that Mary Ann Overly is over eighteen years of age, a resident of Crawford County, and not nearer of kin to me than first cousin; that she has no husband, and I have no wife; and that I know of no legal impediment to our intermarriage.”  Hold on, wait a minute, run that by me again…

·       “…not nearer of kin to me than first cousin.”  Wow!  What’s closer than a first cousin?  Only a brother or sister!  So we’re talking about a very loose standard here.  But with England’s reigning monarch of the time, Queen Victoria, happily married to her first cousin Albert, who would think anything of it?  (Even today, believe it or not, first cousin marriages are still legal in about 25 states.)

·       “…that I am over twenty years of age…”  As far as being old enough to marry (without parental permission)—that would have been on the honor system, since births weren’t even recorded in most places, not by the civil authorities, until the early 1900s—and so no one would have had a birth certificate to show, or any other form of portable identification, for that matter.  I wonder how many brides or grooms lied about their age?  I’ve certainly seen plenty of questionable ages given in the records I’ve researched.

·       “…that she has no husband, and I have no wife…”  How easy it would have been, back in those days, to get away with lying about that one!  I wonder how many people, with divorces so hard to obtain in those days, just moved away and started over?  It would have been a simple matter of moving to a county or state where no one knew you—and then making sure you kept your mouth shut.  If you could get past the part of the wedding ceremony where the officiate asked, “If any person can show just cause why these two may not be lawfully joined together, let them speak now or forever hold their peace”—then you were probably home free!...  I’ve found a few cases that looked bit like polygamy in the course of my research, but I’ll bet there were a lot more.

It gives a person food for thought.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Mystery Monday: George Wendell Phillips - the Rest of the Story

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about George Wendell Phillips, and I was full of questions.  Thanks to two readers (kudos, Deb and Lindy!) and some further digging, I now have some answers.

To recap, George was born in New York in 1887, and by 1920, he had met and married Francis Norton of Miami, Florida.  They had a daughter in 1921 and a son in 1924—by which time George was off the radar, never to be seen or heard from again—at least, not by his wife and children.  A granddaughter hired me to find out more.

We will probably never know what caused the split between George and Francis, but we now know much more about George’s life around the time they met and married, and in the years after they split.  It turns out that George was in the U.S. Marine Corps and was stationed at the air field at Miami, Florida—thus answering the question of how he and Francis met.  

After their wedding in 1920, they made a trip that spring to visit George’s mother in New York.  She was a widow who had remarried by then and moved from Salamanca to North Tonawanda.  Her new husband, J.J. Patterson, was a wealthy man, and they had a houseboat on the Niagara River.  In 1921 a daughter was born to George and Francis in Pennsylvania—how they came to be there remains a mystery.  By 1924 they were back in Miami—and Francis was the single mother of a daughter and a new baby son.  

We now know that George stayed in Florida for at least a few more years; he appears in various records there until about 1929.  After that, he apparently moved back to New York, living in various places, working as a hotel cook.  By 1938 he was living in the Veteran’s Hospital in Bath, New York, where he died on March 2, 1941 of pneumonia.  His death certificate says he suffered severe bronchial asthma (as does my client), and also heart problems (which also run in her family), and he’d had at least one heart attack by the time he died at age 53. 

George evidently never remarried or had any more children; and by the time he died, his parents were both gone, as was his only sibling, a twin who died at one year of age.  George was buried at the Bath National Military Cemetery, probably unmourned and unremembered—until now.  My client says she hopes to travel to New York and place a flag on his grave.  That, dear readers, is what we call “closure.”

Monday, May 13, 2013

A Big Brother's Urgent Plea

I am fortunate enough to have the letters my father wrote home during World War II.  One of the most powerful is this one, written from a field hospital in France about a month after he was badly wounded.  I’m going to present it without comment; nothing I could say would add anything.

France - November 13 [1944]

Dear Folks:

Paper is kind of scarce right here at present, so I’ll write on this stuff.  While I have the leisure to write, here in the hospital, I have a matter I want to expound on.  Concerning Dick [my brother].  I assume he will get out of high school in May.  He will be 18 in June.  Between the time he graduates, and before he is 18, he must join the Navy.

I write about it at this early date, because it may be necessary to lay some groundwork.  Have it fixed so he can step right out of high school and into the navy.  It sometimes takes a month or so to get joined up etc., and delay in this case might result in being drafted into the army.  Perhaps they will not take 18 year old volunteers except thru selective service.  Avoid having to register at all by joining when you are still 17.  By all means, make every effort to get into the Navy.

Dick, you might think differently, and have decided that you would rather take the army since you have waited so long.  If so, just pick a night when it is sleeting, take a shovel, and go out and dig a hole in the cornfield 2 feet wide, 5 feet long, and 5 feet deep, pour 6 inches of water in it, and lie down and sleep in it.  You can take the shotgun with you to add atmosphere, but remember, you must clean it before you go to sleep or it will rust.  Of course you must watch out for your buddy while he sleeps, so you don’t get to lie down until 2 a.m.  Have 2 or 3 grenades in your pocket when you lie down.  Also stick your trench knife in the ground beside your head, where it will be handy.  Pull your .45 out of its holster and stick in inside your jacket, and go to sleep with your hand on it. Of course your buddy and you will have to be awake before dawn, ready for a counter-attack.  No, the Navy is much nicer...

I heard over the radio where they are starting a fund to rebuild churches in Italy and Germany.  Don’t give anything to that.  I have been shot at too much by snipers in church steeples... 

I’m still in the hospital.  Feeling much better, and suppose they’ll let me go back [to the front lines] soon... I haven’t had any mail since I left the outfit, so don’t know the news.  Just keep writing and it will catch me.  Don’t worry, I’m O.K.

Love, Bob

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Grave Hunting in the Heartland

It was my Grandma Wallin who first took me to a graveyard—as a recreational activity—when I was about eight. I’ve liked graveyards ever since.

Recently my husband and I were traveling to Holmes County, Ohio, and I thought we might as well visit a few graveyards on the way. His maternal ancestors are buried in a string of graveyards stretching from northern Indiana to central Ohio. So, armed with my “graveyard kit,” we spent a day hunting tombstones.

First stop: Eddy Cemetery, DeKalb County, Indiana—resting place of Charles and Elizabeth Alwood, my husband’s great-great-grandparents. Charles was a private in the Indiana Volunteers during the Civil War. He left seven children at home, the oldest a boy of twelve. His unit fought its way through the south, eventually ending up in North Carolina, where they occupied Raleigh and then cooled their heels waiting for the war to end. After it did, but before he could get back home, Charles died of typhoid in an army camp there. Elizabeth lived forty more years as a widow, running their farm as well as she could. We left a flag at his grave.

Second stop:  Independence Cemetery, Defiance County, Ohio—resting place of John Jr. and Mary Ann Garver, my husband’s great-great-grandparents.  There we had the great pleasure of meeting up with the woman who cared for this church cemetery along with her husband.  We had corresponded with her ahead of time and determined that her husband is a distant cousin of my husband, and she surprised us with an envelope of photographs which were ours to keep.

Third stop:  Florida Cemetery, Henry County, Ohio—final resting place of Jacob Heilman and his family—once again, my husband’s great-great-grandparents.  Jacob, an immigrant from Bavaria, was in the 68th Ohio Infantry in the Civil War, and theirs is an incredible tale.  His unit fought in every Confederate state except Florida and Texas, and during the course of the war, he marched over 7,000 miles and rode trains or steamboats another 6,000.  He lived to tell the story, going on to have twelve children—six before the war and six after—and he died at 88.  After taking some photographs, we put a flag on his grave and were on our way.  We had a long drive to our next stop.

Fourth stop:  Walters Cemetery, Morrow County, Ohio—final resting place of John Garver Sr. and his wife Elizabeth—my husband’s great-great-great grandparents.  John Sr. was born in 1795 and died in 1879.  He fought in the Pennsylvania Militia in the War of 1812, and was given a 40-acre piece of government homesteading land (“bounty land”) for his service and a pension in his old age.  Three of their daughters predeceased them and are buried with them—all three died in the 1840s, at ages 20, 16, and 2.

Not every husband would spend an entire day finding cemeteries and cleaning gravestones for his wife, especially on vaction...  Kudos to mine for being such a good sport!

Monday, May 6, 2013

One Girl’s Childhood During the Great Depression

Memories of life on an Illinois farm, as dictated by my mother, Adra Erickson Wallin (1922-2010)...

“I was born at home (all four of us were), at the farm at Barbers Corner on August 18, 1922, at six in the morning.  A nurse and a doctor came—Dr. Ludwig—but I was born before he got there!  My mother got a “hired girl” to help her take care of us for a few weeks.

We lived on three farms when I was growing up.  My father grew corn, soybeans, oats, wheat, alfalfa, and hay for the animals.  We had six horses, two cows, pigs, chickens, turkeys, and sheep...  The Depression was hard on our family.  When I was twelve, in 1934, we lost our farm and had to move.  Everybody was poor then.  We had a phone when I was little, but not later—no electricity, no running water—and we were seven miles from town.  We had lamps and we would carry them to our rooms to study by.

In the summer, we would have droughts—we’d get small crops those years.  We’d also get chinch bugs and grasshoppers on the corn (our biggest crop).  We’d sit in front of the fan to stay cool, or go down to the river, which was cold.

We had an outhouse at every home I lived in.  We called it “the privy.”  They were terrible—just a board across with two holes.  There was also a board with a smaller hole for kids!  It was hot and had bees in the summer.  They were far from the house, too, because of the smell.  We used a Sears Catalog for toilet paper, because we liked the thin sheets.

Chores I had as a child included bringing in the “split wood” for the kitchen stove.  Geraldine brought in the “chunks” for the big stove in the dining room (our only heat), and little sister Audrey brought in the cobs (to start the fires).  Also, I’d gather eggs every day after school. 

I remember my first day of school—I walked downhill, across a creek, and uphill, half a mile...  There were a lot of kids—first through eighth grades all in one room.  There were smaller seats for the younger kids.  I would help my sister Audrey—we sat in a double seat.  We didn’t have all the subjects every day—not with eight grades.  At recess we played baseball, tag, hide and seek, hopscotch, and swinging—we had a rope swing in a tree.   

I walked to Barbers Corner school, but at Higgins four of us rode in a pony cart.  Bob would drive the cart, put it in a shed, hook it back up at night, and drive us 1½ miles…  When I was in high school, my brother drove us in the car.  He needed to get home to help on the farm, so he couldn’t do sports.

My favorite times with my mother were sitting on the front porch at night on the swing.  Her best advice to me: Don’t get married too young!  My favorite times with my father were going for buggy rides with our horse, Bess.  In the winter he would take us in the bobsled—a big wooden box on runners.  I remember sometimes being worried about being an orphan and being sent to an orphanage. 

My mother was scared to death of thunderstorms, so I was, too!  She’d get us out of bed and get us dressed and take us down to the basement.  When my mother was younger and teaching school, there was a storm and lightning struck the barn and set it on fire.  She and the family she was boarding with had to go out in their nightgowns and save the animals, and she never forgot that—that’s why she got us up and dressed whenever there was a storm.

When I was nine I went to the 1931 World’s Fair in Chicago, and when I was ten I went again.  I was visiting a friend of the family.  He would turn all five of us kids loose for the whole day there—and I was the oldest one!” 

Thanks for the stories, Mom.  My, how times have changed!