Gettysburg Address: Abraham Lincoln’s Monumental Speech

On the afternoon of 19 November 1863, President Abraham Lincoln stood to address a crowd of about 15,000 people gathered for the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. He followed the main speaker of the day, famed orator Edward Everett, who had just finished delivering a two-hour address that was well-received by the audience. Then President Lincoln spoke for only two minutes, delivering his ten-sentence “Gettysburg Address” that has gained enduring fame as one of the greatest speeches in American history.

photo of President Abraham Lincoln, 8 November 1863, 11 days before delivering the Gettysburg Address

Photo: President Abraham Lincoln, 8 November 1863, 11 days before delivering the Gettysburg Address. Credit: Alexander Gardner; Wikimedia Commons.

Gettysburg Ceremony of 1863

The ceremony that day was in honor of the dead who had fallen at the Battle of Gettysburg the first three days of July 1863, an incredibly bloody battle during the Civil War that ended the Confederacy’s invasion of the North, highlighted by the ferocious attack on the third day known as Pickett’s Charge. More than 7,500 military men and thousands of horses were killed during the three days’ fighting, and their rotting corpses stank in the hot July sun.

The deceased Civil War soldiers had been hastily buried in shallow graves on the battlefield, but 17 acres were later set aside for a proper cemetery, and the bodies were being transferred—Union dead only—to the new cemetery. (The Confederate dead were left in their battlefield graves until 1870-1873, when they were transferred to cemeteries in the South.)

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Now, four and a half months after the Gettysburg battle, the cemetery was being dedicated and Lincoln delivered his surprisingly short speech. He had been invited to “set apart these grounds to their sacred use by a few appropriate remarks” and Lincoln’s remarks were few indeed—yet powerful.

photo of the Lincoln Address Memorial, designed by Louis Henrick, with bust of Abraham Lincoln by Henry Kirke Bush-Brown, erected at the Gettysburg National Cemetery in 1912

Photo: The Lincoln Address Memorial, designed by Louis Henrick, with bust of Abraham Lincoln by Henry Kirke Bush-Brown, erected at the Gettysburg National Cemetery in 1912. Credit: CJC47; Wikimedia Commons.

Lincoln’s Famous Speech

It is impossible to know exactly what Lincoln said that day. There are five known manuscripts of his speech, but they have differences. Additionally, several newspapers reported the president’s speech, but these accounts all have variations as well. We will also never know how the crowd reacted to his speech. Accounts vary from no applause at all, to only polite applause, to long sustained applause.

Here is how the Albany Journal reported the dedication ceremony and Lincoln’s speech. Its account was based on the reporting of a New York Times reporter; that Republican-leaning paper was careful to note that Lincoln’s short speech was interrupted with applause five times, and claimed it was met with “long, continued applause” at its conclusion. It is interesting to note that not a word of the featured speaker Everett’s speech is quoted, but President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address is quoted in its entirety.

article about President Abraham Lincoln delivering the Gettysburg Address, Albany Evening Journal newspaper article 20 November 1863

Albany Evening Journal (Albany, New York), 20 November 1863, page 2

The 1800s news article reported:

“Gettysburg, Nov. 19

“The ceremonies attending the dedication of the National Cemetery commenced this morning by a grand military and civic display, under command of Maj. Gen. Couch. The line of march was taken up at 10 o’clock, and the procession marched through the principal streets to the cemetery, where military formed in line and saluted the President. At a quarter-past eleven the head of the procession arrived at the main stand. The President and members of the Cabinet, together with the chief military and civic dignitaries, took positions on the stand. The President seated himself between Mr. Seward and Mr. Everett, after a reception marked with the respect and perfect silence due to the solemnity of the occasion, every man in the immense gathering uncovering on his appearance.

“The military then formed in line, extending around the stand, the area between the stand and military being occupied by civilians, comprising about fifteen thousand people, and including men, women, and children. The attendance of ladies was quite large. The military escort comprised one squadron of cavalry, two batteries of artillery, and a regiment of infantry, which constitutes the regular funeral escort of honor for the highest officer in the service.

“After the performance of a funeral dirge by Birgfield by the band, an eloquent prayer was delivered by Rev. Mr. Stockton.

“Mr. Everett then commenced the delivery of his oration, which was listened to with marked attention throughout.

“Although a heavy fog clouded the heavens in the morning during the procession, the sun broke out in all its brilliancy during the Rev. Mr. Stockton’s prayer, and shone upon the magnificent spectacle. The assemblage was of great magnitude, and was gathered within a circle of great extent around the stand, which was located on the highest point of ground on which the battle was fought. A long line of military surrounded the position taken by the immense multitude of people.

“The marshal took up a position on the left of the stand. Numerous flags and banners, suitably draped, were exhibited on the stand and among the audience. The entire scene was one of grandeur due to the importance of the occasion. So quiet were the people that every word uttered by the orator of the day must have been heard by them all, notwithstanding the immensity of the concourse.

“Dedicatory Speech of the President.

“The President then delivered the following dedicatory speech:

“‘Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth upon this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. (Applause.) Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We are met to dedicate a portion of it as the final resting place of those who here gave their lives that that nation might live.

“‘It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But in a larger sense we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here have consecrated it far above our power to add or detract. (Applause.) The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. (Applause.) It is for us, the living, rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work that they have for us so far, nobly carried on. (Applause.)  It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us, that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion, that we here highly resolve that the dead shall not have died in vain (applause); that the nation shall, under God, have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish from the earth.’ (Long continued applause.)

“Three cheers were here given for the President and the Governors of the States.

“After the delivery of this address, the dirge and the benediction closed the exercises, and the immense assemblage departed at about 4 o’clock.”

Historical newspapers are not only a great way to learn about the lives of your ancestors—they also help you understand the times your ancestors lived in, and the news they talked about and read in their local papers.

Did any of your ancestors fight in the Battle of Gettysburg or meet Abraham Lincoln? Share your family stories with us in the comments.

Related Abraham Lincoln Articles:

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Researching Old Military Records & War Stories in Newspapers

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott searches old newspapers for articles about his ancestors’ military service and records—just in time to help you research your military ancestors during this Memorial Day weekend.

As we commemorate Memorial Day this weekend, honoring the men and women who have died while in military service, you might feel inspired to research your veteran ancestors.

In our genealogy work, we frequently find ourselves having to use a wide variety of techniques to ferret out an obscure clue when we are working on our family histories. Often, this is especially true when we are working on the military service history of our ancestors.

One technique I have found to be especially valuable is searching GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives for articles that relate to my military ancestors. It can be a very successful genealogy strategy, as well as introducing you to some valuable history and stories.

Researching My Civil War Ancestor

painting of the Civil War Battle of Five Forks, Virginia, showing a charge led by Union General Philip Sheridan, by Kurz & Allison

Painting: Civil War Battle of Five Forks, Virginia, showing a charge led by Union General Philip Sheridan. The author’s ancestor was killed during this battle. Credit: Kurz & Allison; Library of Congress.

Recently I was researching one of my ancestors, Captain James Ham. I decided that rather than simply search on his name, I would search on the military unit he had enlisted in during the United States Civil War: the Pennsylvania 17th Cavalry. My first newspaper archive search on the “Seventeenth Pennsylvania” returned some very interesting results, such as this 1862 article from a Pennsylvania newspaper.

The newspaper article is headlined: “The Camps at Harrisburg. A Visit to Camp McClellan.” Initially, the reporter gives us a detailed, firsthand account of what conditions were like at Camp McClellan, such as: “Mud and slush seem to be the main characteristics…”; and, “These are cavalry men. But few of them have yet received their horses. They are but novices in the art and science of soldiery; but yet the men of Camp McClellan are remarkably well-disciplined.”

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List of Calvary Regiments

Then the news article continues on to list the three new Cavalry regiments, one of which was the 17th. I was delighted to find this newspaper article contained every officer of the regiment—and listed as a first lieutenant was my ancestor James Ham.

article about the roster of the Seventeenth Pennsylvania Cavalry during the Civil War, Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper article 21 November 1862

Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 21 November 1862, page 2

The next news article I came across was published after the war, from an 1880 New York newspaper. This report particularly caught my eye since it was at the Battle of Five Forks in Virginia that James lost his life to enemy fire. This newspaper article, though short, was firsthand testimony by Colonel Henry C. Durland, the commander of the PA 17th, and it reported for the first time the losses by my ancestor’s regiment of “seven officers and thirty privates.”

Losses at Five Forks, New York Herald newspaper article 15 October 1880

New York Herald (New York, New York), 15 October 1880, page 9

War Stories Abound

As I continued my newspaper research, I discovered dozens of news articles that reported on the military battles and movements of the PA 17th, which included more famous Civil War battle locations including Fredericksburg, Richmond, Petersburg, and several others—and often included fascinating first-person accounts of those battles.

Researching My Indian Fighter Ancestor

photo of Chiricahua Apache Chief Victorio, c.1875

Photo: Chiricahua Apache Chief Victorio, c.1875. The author’s ancestor fought against the Apaches. Credit: Wikipedia.

Here is another example of the value in using newspaper articles to fill in your genealogy and learn about an ancestor’s military service. One of my great, great uncles, Frantisek Vicha, served in the U.S. Army in Company “D” of the 16th Infantry while fighting in what we know as the “Indian Wars.” From previous research, I knew that he enlisted in 1878 and was discharged due to disability in 1881. However, I knew little about the Indian Wars and practically nothing about my ancestor’s military service.

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My first research finding in GenealogyBank’s newspapers was an old article from a 1919 New Jersey newspaper. This historical newspaper article listed the (unfortunate) multitude of Indian Wars and gave me a good overview of these conflicts and the time period when my ancestor fought.

article about all the wars and battles in U.S. history, Trenton Evening Times newspaper article 5 January 1919

Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 5 January 1919, page 6

The next article I located was from an 1880 Pennsylvania newspaper. This historical news article reported that “Company D, Sixteenth Infantry”—my ancestor’s company—was one of those sent in relief of General Hatch, who was pursuing “Victorio’s band of Apaches in New Mexico.”

article about the Apache War in New Mexico, Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper article 2 June 1880

Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 2 June 1880, page 1

Now I had a location that I could work from, with even more focus. I then began to search on Victorio’s Apaches and found this article from an 1880 Texas newspaper.

Victorio's Apaches, Galveston Weekly News newspaper article 8 July 1880

Galveston Weekly News (Galveston, Texas), 8 July 1880, page 3

I found dozens more newspaper articles detailing several battles and the movements of Victorio and his fellow Apaches. An interesting and helpful article was published much later, in a 1921 Arizona newspaper. This detailed article covers the time in Apache history when Victorio was the “accredited war chief” of the Ojo Caliente Apaches, including his death in 1880.

Apache, Past and Present, Tucson Daily Citizen newspaper article 22 May 1921

Tucson Daily Citizen (Tucson, Arizona), 22 May 1921, section: second, page 8

Then of course there was another old article I discovered about my Indian fighter ancestor, from an 1889 Ohio newspaper. This article reported an entirely different fight Frank Vicha had on his hands—but that one took place in a courtroom, and will have to be a story all its own for another time!

article about Frank Vicha filing for divorce, Plain Dealer newspaper article 17 March 1889

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 17 March 1889, page 6

Historical newspapers are a great way to weave together the story of your veteran ancestor’s military service, and find more military records. Have you had success in finding your ancestors’ military records using newspapers? Tell us what you’ve discovered in the archives about your ancestor’s military service in the comments section below.

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149th Anniversary: Civil War Ends with Lee’s Surrender to Grant

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott searches old newspapers to learn more about Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s surrender to Union General Ulysses S. Grant that effectively ended the American Civil War.

All of us have studied it, memorized the date, and (if we’ve been lucky) visited the place where it occurred: Appomattox Court House, Virginia, the site of Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s surrender to Union General U. S. Grant, effectively ending the United States Civil War on 9 April 1865.

Although General Lee’s surrender was 149 years ago now, that momentous historical event still seems fresh in the public’s mind—and it must have been incredible news to our American ancestors all those many years ago.

I decided to take a look in GenealogyBank’s online Historical Newspaper Archives to see how the news of General Lee’s surrender was announced via the nation’s newspapers, and learn what has happened to Appomattox Court House since that fateful day.

Just six days before the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia, surrendered, this Richmond newspaper was still giving its readers news about the war.

Vigorous Assault upon the Enemy's Works near the Appomattox, Richmond Whig newspaper article 28 March 1865

Richmond Whig (Richmond, Virginia), 28 March 1865, page 1

Just days before Generals Lee and Grant were to meet at Appomattox, the Battle of Five Forks was raging as reported in this Albany newspaper. One of my ancestors, Captain James Ham of the Pennsylvania Cavalry, was mortally wounded in this action and died five days before Lee’s surrender. I wonder how his family received the news about the war’s end, coming so soon after they had received word of his death.

article about the Civil War's Battle of Five Forks, Albany Evening Journal newspaper article 3 April 1865

Albany Evening Journal (Albany, New York), 3 April 1865, page 2

After Lee surrendered on April 9, it didn’t take long for word to spread across America, as you can imagine.

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The headlines of this Boston newspaper article say it all.

Surrender of General Lee and His Entire Army, Boston Herald newspaper article 10 April 1865

Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 10 April 1865, page 2

That same day and in the same city, readers of this Boston newspaper saw this article, including this paragraph:

The joy of our population this morning, as the intelligence of the surrender of Lee’s army spread, hardly knew bounds. Men embraced each other with the most extravagant demonstrations of feeling; staid, quiet citizens forgot their equanimity for the moment and found themselves cheering in the streets for Gen. Grant and the Potomac Army; workmen in shore gave voice to a joyous outburst of patriotic exultation, and everywhere the same accordant strains of heartfelt rejoicing were heard.

article about Civil War General Lee surrendering to General Grant, Boston Evening Transcript newspaper article 10 April 1865

Boston Evening Transcript (Boston, Massachusetts), 10 April 1865, page 2

Readers of a New York newspaper saw these headlines.

Surrender of Lee and His Whole Army to Grant, New York Herald newspaper article 10 April 1865

New York Herald (New York, New York), 10 April 1865, page 1

On the same day and across the country in California, this San Francisco newspaper reported the important news.

article about Civil War General Lee surrendering to General Grant, San Francisco Bulletin newspaper article 10 April 1865

San Francisco Bulletin (San Francisco, California), 10 April 1865, page 2

Twenty years later, as you can see in this 1885 Aberdeen newspaper article “The Interesting Story of Appomattox Retold,” the details of Lee’s surrender to Grant were still being reported. I remember as a young student reading these types of Civil War stories and realizing for the first time that Appomattox Court House was the name of a town, and that Lee and Grant had actually met in the home of the Wilmer McLean family.

Grant and Lee--The Interesting Story of Appomattox Retold, Aberdeen Weekly News newspaper article 17 April 1885

Aberdeen Weekly News (Aberdeen, South Dakota), 17 April 1885, page 3

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The fortunes of Appomattox Court House waned after the war, as you can read in this 1884 New York newspaper article. It reports that the town was almost deserted and the McLean home had been:

…taken down, brick by brick, for removal to the World’s Fair, but for some reason the plan was not carried out, and the bricks and timbers are still stored in the vacant houses in the neighborhood.

article about Appomattox Court House, Virginia, New York Tribune newspaper article 10 June 1894

New York Tribune (New York, New York), 10 June 1894, page 16

Luckily for all of us, as you can read in this 1903 Dallas newspaper article, bills had been introduced in Congress to provide funding to buy and save the historic McLean house in Appomattox before it was sold to a Chicagoan who planned to move it there and use it as his residence.

McLean House at Appomattox, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 22 February 1903

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 22 February 1903, page 23

And of course as a genealogist, it would be hard not to note the remarkable role played by one of the Appomattox surrender’s lesser known but critically important players, Ely Parker. You might not recognize the name so I’d recommend you take a look at this wonderful obituary for this full-blooded Seneca Indian who actually penned Grant’s terms for surrender. This obituary appeared in an 1895 Cleveland newspaper.

obituary for Ely Samuel Parker, Plain Dealer newspaper article 1 September 1895

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 1 September 1895, page 1

Today Appomattox Court House, Virginia, and the McLean House are part of our National Parks system and well worth a visit.

Read More Articles about the Civil War:

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I Met Abraham Lincoln: True Stories in Historical Newspapers

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post—in honor of today being Presidents’ Day—Gena searches old newspapers to find amazing stories about people who were still alive in the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s who had met Abraham Lincoln.

Did your ancestor meet a famous person? Maybe they had occasion to hear a great orator or speak with an author. Did they rub elbows with someone infamous? I’m always fascinated by the history that our ancestors, even our more recent ancestors, witnessed.

Do you have an ancestor who met, heard or saw Abraham Lincoln? There could be a variety of reasons a 19th century ancestor encountered the 16th president of the United States. As president during the American Civil War, Lincoln gave speeches and visited the troops so it’s possible that a person living in the 1860s may have had an encounter with him.

photo of President Abraham Lincoln, 8 November 1863

Photo: President Abraham Lincoln, 8 November 1863, by Alexander Gardner. Credit: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

But did you ever consider that some of those same people may have lived into the20th century and had occasion to tell their story about meeting Lincoln? Many Civil War soldiers or contemporaries of Lincoln would have been at least middle-aged to quite elderly when the 20th century rolled in. There were some alive at the beginning decades of the 20th century who were able to boast about meeting Lincoln.

So what if we up the ante? What about people who were still alive in the mid-20th century? The chances of someone who had met or personally saw Lincoln would have dwindled by then. However, a search in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives shows that there were still people at that late date who could tell of meeting what many believe is the greatest president who ever lived.

Samuel J. Seymour, Last Living Witness to Lincoln’s Assassination

In 1956 an elderly man appeared on the television game show I’ve Got a Secret. This TV show featured a celebrity panel who, when presented with a special guest, tried to guess what secret the person held. The featured guests’ secrets included things that were amazing or unusual about that person. Those who stumped the panel received a cash prize. Samuel J. Seymour spent about five minutes on the show while two of the panelists asked questions that led them to guessing his secret. (A side note: while many younger readers wouldn’t recognize most of the celebrities that appeared on the show, on the day of Seymour’s guest spot there was a very recognizable face—that of famous actress and comedian Lucille Ball—who was on the panel, but she didn’t get a chance to question Mr. Seymour.)

Seymour was a 5-year-old boy when he was taken to Ford’s Theatre on 14 April 1865—the night that President Lincoln was shot. While he did not know initially that Lincoln was shot, and did not see the actual shooting, he did remember years later the fear he felt that night. He also remembered feeling concerned about the man (John Wilkes Booth) that he saw fall onto the stage. In the chaos of the moment—and because he was so young—Seymour didn’t realize that Booth had in fact shot the President when he saw the actor suddenly leap down onto the stage.

Of the lasting effect of being at Ford’s Theatre that night, Mr. Seymour said: “…I sometimes still relive the horror of Lincoln’s assassination, dozing in my rocker as an old codger like me is bound to do.”

Imagine that—a man in the 1950s carrying the memory of President Lincoln’s assassination!

I Saw Lincoln Shot, Plain Dealer newspaper article 7 February 1954

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 7 February 1954, page 192

You can view the actual portion of this episode of I’ve Got a Secret featuring Samuel Seymour on YouTube.

Richard R. Davis, Civil War Soldier

The following 1936 newspaper article, written just three years shy of Mr. Davis’s 100th birthday, tells of his Civil War career and his meeting Abraham Lincoln one day when the president came and spoke to the troops. Of that talk, Mr. Davis remembered that Lincoln “told us then that we were fighting to preserve the Union of States and of our sacrifice.” After speaking, Lincoln walked amongst the troops with his son.

Davis recounts that when he tussled the hair of Lincoln’s son the boy grinned and said: “Do you think I’m a child? Say, I’m a pretty big fellow.”

Richard Davis: Civil War Veteran Who Met Lincoln, Druid newspaper article 1 December 1936

Druid (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania), 1 December 1936, page 1

Davis actually saw Lincoln several times, and also met other noteworthy figures of the time such as Generals Grant and Hooker. The reporter writes that it’s obvious that Lincoln was a hero to Davis and that his time serving in the Civil War was a “highlight of his journey along life’s highways.”

Meeting Presidential Candidate Lincoln

Because some young people who met Lincoln went on to live long lives, we do have stories of the Great Emancipator told by witnesses well after most who knew Lincoln had died. For example, Perry Green Brock—who died in 1949 at the age of 105 years—told of meeting candidate Lincoln in 1856 in Kentucky when he was a boy. Brock later fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War but doesn’t mention what he thought of Lincoln during that time. He was quoted in the following newspaper article as saying that the South would have won if “us rebels hadn’t run out of shells.”

Perry G. Brock, Who Met Lincoln, Passes at 105, Dallas Morning News newspaper obituary 24 November 1949

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 24 November 1949, section III, page 6

Did your ancestor meet Abraham Lincoln or another famous person? If so, research the encounter in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives, then write the story and preserve it for future generations. If your ancestor did indeed meet Abraham Lincoln, please share the details about the encounter with us in the comments. We’d love to hear your family story.

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Civil War Genealogy: How to Find Union Soldier Uniform Clues

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary uses information from a historical newspaper article—and photos from the Library of Congress—to show how you can read clues from the uniform your Civil War ancestor is wearing in that old family photo.

Are you a genealogist who has an old family photograph of a Civil War ancestor? Have you often stared at that old photo, wishing it could tell you a little bit more about your Civil War ancestor? Well, perhaps it can—if your ancestor is wearing a uniform of the Union in the photo, then that uniform can provide clothing clues you can follow to uncover your ancestor’s rank, position in the military, and perhaps hints of his military service.

Occasionally one finds a reference of such importance in historical newspapers that it rivals (or exceeds) what one might find in a well-written textbook. I was lucky enough to make a discovery like this: a newspaper article that explains how to read Union uniforms from the Civil War.

That news article, “Insignia of Rank in the Federal Army,” is an in-depth guide published during the Civil War. It only discusses the uniforms of Union participants, but illustrates how newspapers assisted our ancestors in describing the war and identifying soldiers by their uniforms, swords, chevrons (V-shaped stripes) and other insignia.

This Civil War military apparel and decoration guide can also be of great help to modern-day family historians in identifying the ranks of ancestors from their old family photographs.

Insignia of Rank in the Federal Army, Weekly Wisconsin Patriot newspaper article 5 October 1861

Weekly Wisconsin Patriot (Madison, Wisconsin), 5 October 1861, page 6

Perhaps you’ll find this newspaper article as intriguing to read as I did. However, because the text reproduces small, I’ve taken the liberty to transcribe it below. You’ll also find illustrative Civil War photographs, such as this one of an African American Union soldier, from the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division: www.loc.gov/rr/print/.

photo of an African American Union soldier during the Civil War

Transcription:

Insignia of Rank in the Federal Army.

Now-a-days, when uniformed men are standing at all the corners, and are to be met on all the streets, it is pleasant to know just how to tell at a glance the rank of the wearer and the particular branch of the service with which he is connected. The Philadelphia Inquirer of the 14th inst. lays down rules for thus distinguishing the insignia of rank in the U.S. Army, and we quote as follows:

The highest rank in our army is that of Lieutenant General. Winfield Scott, General-in-Chief, is the only one who occupies this rank at present. The principal distinguishing marks of uniform are three silver embroidered stars on the shoulder strap or epaulette—a large one in the middle, flanked by two smaller ones—a double row of nine buttons on the coat, disposed in threes, a buff sash, a straight sword, and a sword-knot terminating in acorns. A Major General is the same, but with only two stars on the shoulder. A Brigadier General has one star, and the buttons up his coat number but eight in each row, disposed in twos. The Colonel is the highest in rank in a regiment, and wears a silver embroidered spread eagle, having in the right talon an olive branch, and in the left a bundle of arrows on his strap, the buttons on his coat in double lines, numbering eight, at equal distances.

photo of Lieutenant General Winfield Scott, General-in-Chief of the Union armies during the Civil War

A Lieutenant Colonel is second in command of a regiment, and is known by a silver embroidered leaf at each end of the strap; otherwise his uniform is the same as a Colonel’s. The Major’s is also the same, the leaf being of gold. His duty is to act as Aid-de-camp of the Colonel, and in the event of his two superior officers being disabled or absent, he takes command of the regiment; these three constitute the field officers of a regiment, and are mounted. The Adjutant, whose position is the same to the regiment as that of the Orderly Sergeant to a company, generally ranks as a Lieutenant.

photo of lieutenants in the Union army during the Civil War

Captains are commandants of companies, and are distinguished by two bars of gold on the shoulder strap, and eight buttons at a regular distance in a single row on the coat; the First Lieutenant is the same, but with one bar on the strap, the Second Lieutenant having a plain strap without marks. These last are called line officers. All regimental officers wear a red sash.

The Surgeon has the letters M. S. (Medical Staff) embroidered on his strap; also wears a green sash. The Quartermaster also takes a Lieutenant’s rank, and has the letters Q. D. (Quartermaster’s Department) embroidered on his strap; the Paymaster the same, with the letters P. D. (Paymaster’s Department) and the Commissary with the letters C. D. (Commissary Department). These constitute (with the Chaplain, who wears no marks, only plain clothes of uniform cut) the regimental staff, and all are allowed to have horses.

photo of quartermaster's mechanics in the Union army during the Civil War

The non-commissioned officers are hospital stewards, whose business it is to attend to the hospital stores, and all the details of the hospital department under the orders of the Surgeon. His insignia is a green band on the upper arm, with a serpent entwined round a winged staff, and embroidered on it.

Chevrons: The rank of non-commissioned officers is marked by chevrons upon both sleeves of the uniform coat and overcoat, above the elbow, of silk or worsted binding, one-half an inch wide, same color as the edging of the coat, points down, as follows:

The Sergeant Major is first sergeant in the regiment, and acts as orderly to the Colonel. He wears three bars and an arc in silk. The Quartermaster Sergeant’s business is the management of the details of that department. He wears three bars and a tie, in silk. The Orderly Sergeant is first sergeant in the company, and commands it in the absence of commissioned officers. The chevron is of three stripes without connection, and a diamond or star above. The Second Sergeant takes charge of half a company, called a platoon, and has the same chevron as the first, but without a diamond. The Corporals are in charge of sections or quarters of a company, and are distinguished by two bars in worsted.

photo of a corporal in the Union army during the Civil War

Of the swords, the cavalry sabre is the longest and has a steel scabbard. The field officers come next, the scabbard being of chocolate enamel, with git [sic] trimmings. The line officers’ plainer and shorter, with sheath of black leather. A general officer’s weapon is straight, with a gilt scabbard; regimental staff is straight and short; musicians’ and non-commissioned officers’ being shorter still, and more for show than use.

To indicate service: All non-commissioned officers, musicians and privates, who have served faithfully a term of five years, wear, as a mark of distinction, upon both sleeves of the uniform coat, below the elbow, a diagonal, half chevron, one half an inch wide, extending from seam to seam, the front end nearest the cuff, and one half an inch above the point of the cuff, to be of the same color as the edging of the coat. In like manner, an additional half chevron, above and parallel to the first, for every subsequent five years of faithful service; distance between each chevron one-fourth of an inch. Service in war is indicated by a light or sky blue stripe on each side of the chevron for artillery, and a red stripe for all other corps, the stripe to be one eighth of an inch wide.

The color of the cloth used for the strap of the general staff and staff corps, is dark blue; of the cavalry yellow; dragoons, orange; artillery, scarlet; riflemen, medium or emerald green; and infantry, light or sky blue.

photo of an African American sergeant in the Union army during the Civil War

To research Civil War Confederate soldier uniforms and other Union soldier uniforms not illustrated in this article, be sure to visit the Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs Division at www.loc.gov/pictures/, or visit websites that sell Civil War reenactment supplies.

For example, C&C Sutlery has a number of illustrations showing Civil War uniforms available for purchase that you can refer to in your genealogy research.

Now that you have acquired all of this detailed information about Union soldiers’ uniforms, take another look at that photo of your Civil War Union ancestor. Pay close attention to all the details of the uniform, sword, chevrons and other insignia, and see what they can tell you about your ancestor’s military service.

Please share your Civil War genealogy discoveries in the comments, and tell us about any additional military uniform clues you use in your ancestor sleuthing.

Civil War’s Last Rebel Town Finally Rejoined the Union—in 1946!

Part of the fun of doing family history research in old newspapers is the occasional strange, unusual—and even startling—story you run across. Such certainly is the case with the tiny New York town called Town Line, which joined the Rebel Cause and seceded from the Union in 1861—and did not come back to the United States until 1946, 81 years after the American Civil War ended!

a photo of the Confederate battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia

Photo: Confederate battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia. A flag similar to this was flown above the blacksmith shop in Town Line, NY, during the 1946 vote on whether the town would rejoin the Union. Credit: Wikipedia.

There have been thousands of books and movies produced about the Civil War, hundreds of thousands of eager visitors flock to Civil War battlefields every year, and the nation is in the midst of commemorating the sesquicentennial of this great and tragic conflict that caused more than a million casualties.

A Northern Town Joined the Rebel Cause?!

With all this interest and knowledge, however, few people know this Civil War story: the last Rebel town to rejoin the Union after the Civil War was not south of the Mason-Dixon Line, but was in the Union state of New York.

That Northern town was a tiny hamlet called Town Line, in upstate New York near Buffalo. For reasons no one seems to know anymore, the hamlet’s eligible voters (all 125 of them) met in 1861 and, after an intense debate, voted 85 to 40 to secede from the Union! Apparently the hamlet even sent five men to fight in the Confederate army in Virginia. But as the war dragged on the secessionist fever cooled, and the locals appear to have politely decided to quietly forget about their defiant stance.

However: they never officially rejoined the United States, until the patriotic fever following victory in WWII moved the residents of Town Line to rethink this matter of secession. Their surprising story is explained in this 1945 Oregon newspaper article.

article about the secession of Town Line, NY, from the Union in 1861, Oregonian newspaper article 9 September 1945

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 9 September 1945, page 103

This historical news article’s coverage of Town Line concludes this way:

“In the years that have come between, Town Line has not officially changed its decision. Technically, by choice of its voters in 1861, it is still not a part of the United States. But the folks that live there now feel that it is time for something to be done about it. ‘If our former allies in Mississippi and Georgia feel that the Civil War is over, so do we,’ said a prominent citizen of Town Line the other day.”

A Town Barbecue Brings about Change

Someone from the town sent President Harry Truman a letter about the situation, and he cheerfully wrote back:

“Why don’t you run down the fattest calf in Erie County, barbeque it and serve it with fixin’s in the old blacksmith shop where the ruckus started? Who can tell? The dissidents might decide to resume citizenship.”

Well, they did just that, holding the barbeque in October of 1945—during which they agreed to hold a vote soon on the great matter at hand. Finally, January 1946 was chosen for the vote.

Town Line, NY Rejoins the Union

On 24 January 1946, by a vote of 90 to 23, the last Rebel town of the Civil War officially rejoined the Union.

New York Town [Town Line, NY] Rejoins Union, Greensboro Daily News newspaper article 25 January 1946

Greensboro Daily News (Greensboro, North Carolina), 25 January 1946, page 7

The Union was whole at last!

Are you researching your Civil War ancestry? Read more interesting blog articles about the Civil War and follow our Civil War Genealogy Pinterest board.

Earlier Women of War: Nurses, Camp Followers & Red Cross Volunteers

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary searches old newspapers to find the stories of women who served during some of our nation’s earlier wars—as army nurses, camp followers, and Red Cross volunteers.

There are numerous groups that celebrate the lives of (mostly men) veterans from America’s past wars, but many of us wonder: what about the women? Certainly women on the home front were supportive of their husbands, fathers and brothers at war—with sewing, cooking and other tasks to contribute to the war effort and stability at home.

But many women during wartime did much more—even making the decision to assist as military “camp followers” ready to tend to the needs of the soldiers. If you were a wife or mother who had sent a spouse or sons to war, what would you do?

Would you remain at home, or would you want to be close at hand, making sure the men were well fed and nursed in the event of battle injuries? Of course, most women did continue to raise their families, work the fields and keep the household running—but some went off to war to support the troops.

Most of these brave women’s war stories have never been told, as history books make scarce mention of them. Firsthand accounts of these women camp followers and soldiers’ wives are few—but with a little help from historical newspapers, we can get a glimpse into the lives of these forgotten women of war.

Elizabeth Dodd, Revolutionary War Camp Follower

In this 1849 obituary we can read the life story of Elizabeth Dodd, who led quite an eventful life in her 111 years. As the obituary comments: “In the death of this aged person, there is a volume of history lost. Living in great retirement, the relict of a forgotten age, few knew the stories she could tell of the brave old days.”

obituary for Elizabeth Dodd, Weekly Herald newspaper article 4 August 1849

Weekly Herald (New York, New York), 4 August 1849, page 248

Dodd was a camp follower during the American Revolutionary War: “During the first American war, she followed her husband through the principal campaigns; was at many of the hardest fought battles; at Monmouth, White Plains, Yorktown, &c.”

Susannah Clark, First Army Nurse Pensioned

Another fascinating account is that of Mrs. Susannah D. Clark who, according to this 1899 newspaper article, nursed American soldiers in two wars and has the distinction of being the first army nurse pensioned in U.S. history.

According to the old newspaper article: “As a bride of a few days, she cared for the suffering and dying during the Civil War, and as a gray-haired grandmother she looked after and nursed back to good health two of her grandsons during the late Spanish-American unpleasantness.”

Mrs. [Susannah] Clark Nursed Soldiers of Two Wars, Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper article 4 September 1899

Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 4 September 1899, page 4

Officers’ Entourages

Officers typically had an array of camp followers—some there to directly assist the officers with many varying roles, including baggage handling, while others came along to sell their wares.

This 1792 newspaper article discusses General Abercrombie and the Grand Army, reporting that he “sent off all his baggage that was on the out side of the fort, to Mysore, under an effort of cavalry, and accompanied by his camp followers.”

Grand Army [under General Abercrombie], Daily Advertiser newspaper article 3 September 1792

Daily Advertiser (New York, New York), 3 September 1792, page 2

British Camp Followers of the “Paper Army”

Military camp followers have participated in almost every war, here and abroad. This 1885 newspaper article gives an account of a British “Paper Army.” It reports that during a recent inspection, the actual number of men was much lower than official reports had indicated, so “cooks, servants, and camp followers were hastily crowded into the ranks to satisfy the inspectors.”

A [British] Paper Army, Wisconsin State Journal newspaper article 13 February 1885

Wisconsin State Journal (Madison, Wisconsin), 13 February 1885, page 5

Red Cross Camp Followers

This 1911 newspaper article gives a report from the Mexican War. After one battle, supply wagons that had been left on the battlefield were inspected by Americans protected by a Red Cross flag.

The historical newspaper article reports: “However, after the Americans demonstrated that it was safe to approach the wagons, the Mexican commander sent a detail under protection of machine guns to bring the wagons into camp. The supplies were evidently a welcome addition to the commissary department of the federals, and were received with handclapping on the part of the women camp followers.”

article about the Mexican War, Salt Lake Telegram newspaper article 10 April 1911

Salt Lake Telegram (Salt Lake City, Utah), 10 April 1911, page 6

Clara Barton, the “Angel of the Battlefield”

One female camp follower who did achieve fame was Clara Barton (1821-1912), founder of the American Red Cross Society.

pictures of Clara Barton, from the Trenton Evening Times 13 April 1912 & the Fort Worth Star-Telegram 12 April 1912

Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 13 April 1912, page 3 (left);
Fort Worth Star-Telegram (Fort Worth, Texas), 12 April 1912, page 1 (right)

Because of her nursing work on the front lines during the Civil War, Barton was known as the “Angel of the Battlefield.” After the war, she traveled to the infamous Confederate prisoner-of-war camp Andersonville in Georgia, where she researched the graves of thousands of Union soldiers, identifying the dead and writing letters telling Northern families what had happened to their missing loved ones. (See National Park Service article at www.nps.gov/ande/historyculture/clara_barton.htm.) Later, she provided nursing services in Europe during the Franco-Prussian War, then came home to promote formation of the American Red Cross.  Barton’s long career of service began as a nurse camp follower.

As the following 1912 newspaper obituary mentions, Clara Barton “gave her life to humanity, and humanity mourns at her death…Not till she was 40 years old did Miss Barton start upon her notable life work. Then came the conflict between the American states, calling every patriot to duty. Miss Barton could not shoulder a musket, but she could and did [do] what was as essential; she went to the front as a nurse.”

The Death of Clara Barton, Plain Dealer newspaper obituary 13 April 1912

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 13 April 1912, page 6

Eleanor Guckes, My WWII Red Cross Ancestor

This photograph of my grandmother Eleanor (Scott) Guckes shows her wearing an American Red Cross uniform in 1942 during WWII. According to our family records, she assisted in the war effort by driving an ambulance while her husband was serving with the Navy in the Pacific Theatre.

photo of Eleanor Guckes

Credit: from the photographic collection of Mary Harrell-Sesniak

Do you have a female family member who served in the Red Cross or assisted as a camp follower during one of our nation’s wars? If so, please share your ancestor’s story with us in the comments section.

Lineage, Hereditary, Heritage & Patriotic Societies Have Genealogy Resources

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary searches old newspapers to learn about lineage, hereditary, heritage and patriotic societies, lists a number of these societies, and provides their website links in case you want to find out more.

The listings and records kept by various genealogical societies can be a gold mine for family historians.

But there are so many American lineage, hereditary, heritage and patriotic societies, you’d be hard pressed to find them all. And if you attempt to search on the keywords “genealogy” or “lineage society” on the Web, you’ll find the results overwhelming!

This blog article makes searching these societies a more manageable task, by discussing several key categories and providing links to make your genealogy record searches more efficient. It also shows how articles from an online newspaper archive can provide more information about these types of societies.

Societies & American History

Many societies have a long history in America, with some of the oldest going back to the early days of our nation’s founding.

This article from a 1985 Louisiana newspaper lists heritage societies active in New Orleans that year. It reports that the oldest society in the area is the St. Andrew’s Society, founded in 1729 with membership open to men of Scottish ancestry.

A Master List of Heritage Societies, Times-Picayune newspaper article 20 January 1985

Times-Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana), 20 January 1985, page 73

Lineage societies restrict membership to lineal descendants. Some have “good character” requirements, or are by invitation only. Hereditary, heritage and patriotic societies have similar restrictions, or their groups may be open to those of shared interests.

Most of these societies ask for documentary evidence, establishing the birth and death of each generation, to link to the applicable ancestor. Marriages may or may not be required, as some societies recognize that making out-of-wedlock births ineligible is a deterrent to recruiting members. Certificates are generally preferred, but alternate proofs, such as genealogy books, biographies, family letters, and state or local histories, may be acceptable. To learn specifics about what is required to join, contact the registrar of a society and he/she may even assist you in acquiring the necessary documents.

The Oldest Society in America

The society thought to be America’s earliest is the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company of Massachusetts, founded around 1637. As noted in this 1916 South Carolina newspaper article, the society’s origins date to an earlier organization incorporated by King Henry VIII in 1537 (see www.ahac.us.com).

The Oldest Military Organization in America, Charleston News and Courier newspaper article 25 September 1916

Charleston News and Courier (Charleston, South Carolina), 25 September 1916, page 4

Newer Society Organizations

Some of the newest society organizations in America include the:

  • National Society of Saints and Sinners (founded in 2010)
  • Sons and Daughters of World War II Veterans (2011)
  • Order of Descendants of the Justicians (2011)

(In case you are wondering, the Medieval Chief Justiciar (hence the term “Justicians”) was the modern-day equivalent of an English Prime Minister.)

Society Categories & Lists

Comprehensive lists of heritage and lineage societies can be found at these websites:

Most lineage, hereditary, heritage and patriotic societies can be lumped into broad categories pertaining to:

  • Ethnic or Religious Affiliations (associations with countries of origin, i.e., ancestral locations; customs; etc.)
  • Military (specific war, such as the American Civil War or American Revolutionary War)
  • Pioneers and Settlements (first families or early arrivals to areas)
  • Prestigious or Unusual Connections (descent from presidents, rulers, military officers, even those who owned taverns—or were accused of being a witch)

Here are some of the groups that caught my attention.

Ethnic and Religious Societies

Persons with shared countries of origin or religious affiliations might contact groups such as the:

  • Huguenot Society of America (www.huguenotsocietyofamerica.org/), whose members left France to escape religious persecution
  • Daughters of Norway (www.daughtersofnorway.org)
  • Any of the “Saint Societies” which mostly relate to ancestry from Great Britain (England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales)

A few of the latter category, which may have branches in your area, include:

  • Saint Andrew’s Societies (open to lineal descendants of Scotland)
  • St. David’s Societies (Welsh descent)
  • St. George’s Societies (service in the Britannic Majesty’s Armed Forces)
  • Saint Nicholas Societies (Irish ancestry)

Military Societies

There are too many to list them all, but some better-known military societies include the:

  • Baronial Order of Magna Charta (formerly the Baronial Order of Runnemede) is also known as the Military Order of the Crusades (www.magnacharta.com/)
  • Order of Daedalians is the Fraternal and Professional Order of American Military Pilots. It was named after Daedalus, who achieved heavier-than-air flight (www.daedalians.org/)
  • Daughters of Union Veterans of the Civil War 1861-1865 (www.duvcw.org/) and the United Daughters of the Confederacy (http://hqudc.org/)
  • General Society of Colonial Wars (www.gscw.org/)
  • Hereditary Order of the Descendants of Loyalists and Patriots of the American Revolution (http://loyalistsandpatriots.org/)
  • Society of Descendants of Knights of the Most Noble Order of the Garter, for descendants of the Knights of the Garter, a prestigious honor bestowed upon knights as early as 1348 (http://www.brookfieldpublishingmedia.com/KG/KG.aspx)
  • Society of the Cincinnati, founded in 1783 by officers of the Continental Army and their French counterparts (http://societyofthecincinnati.org/), reports that it is the nation’s oldest patriotic organization
  • Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), founded in 1890 (www.dar.org), and their counterpart, Sons of the American Revolution, founded in 1876 (www.sar.org)

The illustration below, from an 1898 Alabama newspaper, portrays the prominent officers of the DAR.

illustrations of prominent officers of the Daughters of the American Revolution society, Age-Herald newspaper article 21 February 1898

Age-Herald (Birmingham, Alabama), 21 February 1898, page 6

You can discover much of the history and learn about former members of these societies in the newspaper archives. Just search the society name in the “Include Keywords” field.

American Pioneer and Settlers’ Societies

These organizations celebrate arrivals at, or settlements in, particular areas prior to a certain date. In addition to the list below, search newspapers and the Web for “Pioneer” or “First Family of” in connection with a location, such as “California” or “Indiana.”

Some examples of pioneer and settlers’ societies are the:

Occupational & Unusual Societies

Although they range from the ridiculous to the macabre, these are some of the most noteworthy societies.

Presidents

Prisoners & Outlaws

Royal Bastards

  • Descendants of the Illegitimate Sons and Daughters of the Kings of Britain (http://royalbastards.org/) grants membership to individuals who can prove descent from an illegitimate son or daughter of a king, an illegitimate son or daughter of the child of a king, or an illegitimate son or daughter of the grandchild of a king of England, Scotland, Wales, Great Britain or the United Kingdom.

Saints and Sinners

Tavern Keepers

  • One of the more unusual organizations, Flagon and Trencher Society (www.flagonandtrencher.org/) resulted from a speech on genealogy in which Walter Lee Sheppard, Jr. commented that there was a lineage society for every group except Colonial tavern keepers. Shortly thereafter, the society was formed by Sheppard and Dr. Kenn Stryker-Rodda. Membership is open to anyone (even children) who “can prove direct descent from a person conducting a tavern, inn, ordinary, or other type of hostelry prior to 4 July 1776 (within the area which became the first 13 states).” Brewers do not qualify. The society’s name is derived from the terms “flagon” (a drink container) and “trencher” (a wooden plate or platter used to serve food in a tavern). The annual meeting is a luncheon held in a Colonial tavern.

Whalers

Witch Societies (Accused)

  • If you think you are descended from an unfortunate person imprisoned, persecuted or placed on trial for witchcraft, then consider contacting the Associated Daughters of Early American Witches (hwww.adeaw.us/).

If you have an interest in any of these societies and want to learn more, contact them directly via the website links provided. The process of documenting your eligibility, plus interactions with other members and officials of the society, may well help you with your own family history research.

How to Spot and Avoid 9 Common Genealogy Mistakes & Errors

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary discusses 9 common mistakes made when doing family history research, and suggests ways to avoid them.

Family history researchers are often frustrated by the mistakes of others—particularly when there is an obvious error in identity, such as the mistake explained in this 1914 Virginia newspaper article. It points out that a member of the Gwathmey family was incorrectly identified as having been a maid of honor to Queen Elizabeth.

Rchmond Times Dispatch Newspaper Gwathmey Family Genealogy

Richmond Times Dispatch (Richmond, Virginia), 17 May 1914, page 41.

This sounds like an obvious mistake, and one that could have been corrected with simple subtraction. Unfortunately, once a mistake is written in a book or newspaper article, the mistake is often carried into other research—forever frustrating the more serious genealogists.

Genealogical mistakes are not often easy to sort out, so let’s discuss some strategies.

1. Abbreviations Are Not Always What They Seem

Two of my favorites are “NA” and “NMI.”

In the case of the first abbreviation, “NA” might indicate non applicable, naturalized, Native American or even Navy, demonstrating the importance of finding the “key” explaining what an abbreviation actually means.

Another abbreviation that sometimes causes confusion is the use of “NMI” in place of a middle name. It is not an actual moniker, but rather used to indicate that a person has no middle initial—no middle name.

2. Age-Related Mistakes

  • Women who are too old to be mothers.

Although Mrs. Steve Pace, of Rose Hill, Virginia, reportedly gave birth to her 17th child in 1939 at the age of 73 (see the Wikipedia article “Pregnancy Over Age 50”), it is rare for women to give birth over the age of 50.

If a woman continued to give birth through her 40s, then it is possible that a report of her having a child as an older woman may be correct.

However, whenever you see such an older mother-child relationship claim, examine the possibility that the family may have been raising an orphan or a grandchild.

  • Persons who were born too young or old to have served during a military event.

If you are researching an ancestor for a lineage society, such as the Sons or Daughters of the American Revolution, start by figuring out the beginning and ending dates of the event.

For example, the American Civil War occurred between 1861 and 1865.

Although there are examples of very young veterans, most of the younger set did not serve in a military capacity—unless they were older. One exception was Civil War Missouri veteran George Huffman, who enrolled as a volunteer in the 13th Missouri Infantry on 4 November 1861 at the age of 14. He re-enlisted on 8 February 1864, and was considered to have been the youngest veteran to have re-enlisted that year—as explained in this 1864 Massachusetts newspaper article.

Lowell Daily Citizen & News Newspaper George Huffman Civil War

Lowell Daily Citizen and News (Lowell, Massachusetts), 2 September 1864, page 2.

For the most part, however, it is safe to assume that someone—other than a drummer or bugler—must have been at least 15 when he enlisted for combat service. Therefore, it is unlikely that a combat veteran actually served in the Civil War if he was born after the year 1850.

Now, if a child served in a non-military capacity, then you might find evidence of children as young as seven involved in a war—such as Nathan Futrell, a young boy who served in the American Revolutionary War.

Greensboro Daily News Newspaper Nathan Futrell Revolutionary War

Greensboro Daily News (Greensboro, North Carolina), 3 January 1971, page 24.

You can also apply an age factor to determine the likelihood of an older person serving in the military.

3. All Applicable Genealogy Records Have Not Been Found

Just because you can’t find a genealogical proof doesn’t mean that one doesn’t exist. For example, many military records were burned, so look to other types of records for evidence.

In other words, if an original record is missing you might be able to find alternate records. In the case of a missing military record, look for a petition for a pension, or a list of enlistments, reprinted in an old newspaper article. Other possible genealogical sources: a family diary or letter, or church bulletin, that references military service.

4. Children Listed without Parents May Not Be Orphans

Just because a child is not recorded with a parent on a census record doesn’t necessarily indicate that both parents are deceased.

On one of the 1850 U.S. Federal Census records, I noted that the children of my ancestor Permelia Ann (Davis) Drake were living in different households.

Not finding their mother, I at first assumed that she had died. It turned out that she was very much alive, and recorded in the census with her second husband, Samuel Bassett. It’s not clear why the children were with the neighbors in 1850, but perhaps they were mother’s helpers or farm helpers working to support the family.

5. Informants Are Not Always Correct

A primary record is one that was recorded at the time of the event. A secondary record is one that is recorded later, generally from an informant. In the case of a death certificate, the date and place of death is primary evidence, but the birth date of the decedent, along with the stated parents, is not necessarily correct.

In my family, my great-grandfather’s parents were recorded on his death certificate as his natural parents, when in fact court records and other records establish that he had been adopted.

6. Just Because Two People with the Same Name Reside in the Same Area Does Not Necessarily Mean They Are Related (Coincidences Happen)

In the case of my ancestor William Harrell of Virginia (and Indiana) of the late 1700s and early 1800s, it turns out there are three men by the same name. Now that descendants have submitted results from DNA studies, it is clear that they were not closely related.

7. Spelling Errors

Alternate spellings are the norm, rather than the exception.

For example, my Ebling ancestors can be found with the surname spelling Ebeling, Hebling and even Heblinger. As a result, I always browse a book’s index to see if there are similar spellings. When searching online or in a search box, such as at GenealogyBank, I frequently use a wildcard such as a question mark (?) or asterisk (*) when searching for ancestor names.

  • The ? is used to take the place of one letter
  • The * is used to take the place of several letters

For example:

  • Eb*ing* would find Ebling, Ebeling and Eblinger
  • ?Eb*ing* would find all of the above, and include Hebling or Heblinger
  • Cath?rine would find both Catherine and Catharine

8. Transpositions (Reversing or Mixing Up Letters and Numbers)

Many people, including myself, are prone to transpositions. The year 1787, for example, might be unintentionally entered as 1778, or even 1877.

To overcome this tendency, be sure to closely examine recorded figures, such as the reported age at death. Several genealogy programs calculate this figure, and may even note it during an error check.

9. Widows and Widowers May Not Necessarily Be Widowed

In the event of a divorce, separation or bigamy, a spouse might be recorded as widowed on an official record. This may be to handle a delicate issue, or simply to accommodate a census form that didn’t have other options.

These are just a few common genealogical errors. If you have some that you have observed, please share them with us on Facebook or our blog page in the comments section!

Using Historical Newspapers to Research My Civil War Ancestry

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott researches old newspapers to find stories about his Civil War cousin, Captain James Ham, who was mortally wounded at the Battle of Five Forks just as the war was drawing to a close.

 Earlier this month (July 1-3) our nation commemorated the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. I well recall the awe I felt when, as a youngster, my family and I visited those hallowed grounds during the centennial of the Civil War back in 1963. That experience was the one that sparked my deep interest in American Civil War history, which continues to this day.

As pure luck would have it, while I was enjoying all the recent publicity regarding the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, I happened to make the discovery of a cousin in my ancestry, James Ham, who was a veteran of the Civil War.

Gravestone of James Ham - A Civil War Veteran

Photo: gravestone of Captain James Ham in Glen Dyberry Cemetery, Pennsylvania. Credit: Patricia Bittner.

James was born in Launceston, Cornwall, in the United Kingdom. I discovered that after running into trouble with the law for “assaulting an officer in the execution of his duties” and receiving a 12-month sentence, he emigrated from Cornwall. It wasn’t long before I found that he established himself in Wayne County, Pennsylvania.

As I was following his listing from the 1860 U.S. Census, I also came upon the fact that James Ham served in the Civil War. He rose to the rank of captain in the Pennsylvania 17th Cavalry, in their M Company. It was very enjoyable to find, while searching the historical newspapers in GenealogyBank.com, an article from an 1889 Maryland newspaper reporting on the dedication of a monument at Gettysburg to “my” Captain Ham’s regiment, with a description of the huge crowds that attended this event.

Pennsylvania Veterans' Day Newspaper Article - Sun 1889

Sun (Baltimore, Maryland), 12 September 1889, page Supplement 2.

Monument 17th Pennsylvania Cavalry Civil War

Photo: Civil War monument at Gettysburg dedicated to the Pennsylvania 17th Cavalry. Credit: from the author’s collection.

The more I followed my leads, the more I was able to improve my understanding of the life, and unfortunate death, of my Civil War ancestor. It wasn’t long before I came upon the fact that Captain Ham was wounded in Virginia at the Battle of Five Forks on April 1, 1865, and died from those battle wounds on April 5, 1865. Now, as much as I like to think I know a lot about the Civil War, I was not familiar with the Battle of Five Forks—so I turned again to research the historical newspapers in GenealogyBank.com.

This time there were hundreds of old newspaper articles for me to pick from. My knowledge was really expanded by reading an impressive article from an 1865 Wisconsin newspaper. This was a very detailed account of the battle, and the reporter wrote paragraph after paragraph that put me right in the action of many of the cavalry charges.

Civil War Battle of Five Forks Newspaper Article - Milwaukee Sentinel

Milwaukee Sentinel (Milwaukee, Wisconsin), 7 April 1865, page 1.

Shortly thereafter I found an article in a 1908 Idaho newspaper that would make any genealogist’s and/or historian’s heart jump. This old news article contains a story of family letters, history, a dash of good luck, and perseverance in the discovery of the fate of the battle flag carried for a time by Union General Sheridan during the battle.

Old Battle Flag Sheridan Carried at Five Forks Is Found Newspaper Article - Idaho Statesman

Idaho Statesman (Boise, Idaho), 23 March 1908, page 4.

Then my attention was captured by an article published in an 1880 New York newspaper which reported that General Sheridan was being called to court in order to explain why he relieved General Warren of his command after the Battle of Five Forks. The subheading really caught my eye: “Eight Days Previous to the Surrender at Appomattox.” I had read the date of death of my ancestor but I had not, until that point, realized that he was killed in action only days before the Civil War ended.

Sheridan Warren Civil War Battle of Five Forks Newspaper Article - NY Herald

New York Herald (New York, New York), 27 October 1880, page 8.

I am now in the second phase of seeking even more information about this Civil War ancestor as I have placed a research request with the Wayne County (Pennsylvania) Historical Society (http://waynehistorypa.org). One of their researchers is hard at work hopefully finding more clues, data, and details about Captain James Ham and his family. Plus after my very first conversation with the researcher, I have been “forced” to place Wayne County, Pennsylvania, on my “Genealogy Must-Visit List” since the researcher casually mentioned to me that the Museum holds dozens of personal letters written from Captain Ham back to his wife and family during the Civil War!

I think I better start packing right now. I figure at least two days reading for sure! Can you imagine what those letters might hold?

Do you have comparable success stories about researching your Civil War ancestor? Tell us about them in the comments section.