A Civil War Captain in My Family Tree?! Share Your Surprises

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott writes about his genealogy surprise: he was researching a branch of his family tree and discovered a Confederate captain from the Civil War!

One of the most enjoyable aspects of working on our genealogy is the surprises we discover. If you are like me, you have had your fair share of finding something in your family history research that you either weren’t looking for at the time, or were shocked at what you actually did find. Recently that happened to me while I was working on our daughter-in-law’s family branch. Here is that story. And after telling you about my latest genealogy adventure, I’d love to hear about your biggest genealogy surprises!

I had been at work on our daughter-in-law’s family tree for some time when I got a bit stumped on one of the female members back in the early 1800s. The family was from southern Ohio and their daughter Mary A. Dillon seemed to have disappeared on me. That is to say, she disappeared until a colleague happened to mention that he thought she might have married a fellow by the name of Scovell. A quick check with the Lawrence County, Ohio, Genealogy Society and I confirmed the marriage of our Mary A. Dillon to one William Tiley Scovell. Once I had a place and a name I was off to the newspaper archives and other databases of GenealogyBank.com to see what else I could find.

Well, the last thing I was expecting to find in my family tree was a Civil War Confederate captain who was so in demand that Southern generals were competing to have his services! Plus, none other than General Robert E. Lee, the top man himself, was deciding where Scovell could best serve the Confederacy.

I’ve long known that we have a Civil War veteran or two in our family tree, but never anyone above the rank of private and certainly no one who was in demand quite like Captain Scovell. A riverboat captain before the war, Scovell evidently was extremely adept at getting ships, men, and cargo up and down—as well as across—rivers.

In my first search I found an 1895 newspaper article explaining that Captain Scovell had just passed away—at that time he was the second-to-last surviving member of the Grivot Rifles of the Fifteenth Louisiana Infantry.

William Scovell obituary, Times-Picayune newspaper article 4 July 1895

Times-Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana), 4 July 1895, page 11

From this old newspaper article I gained excellent information, leads, and insight into the Civil War career of William T. Scovell and began looking further.

Next I discovered, in GenealogyBank.com’s Historical Documents collection, the Journal of the Congress of the Confederate States of America, 1861-1865, which showed William T. Scovell “taking rank” on June 5, 1862, in Louisiana.

reference to William Scovell in the Journal of the Congress of the Confederate States of America, 1861-1865

U.S. Congressional Serial Set: Journal of the Congress of the Confederate States of America, 1861-1865. Volume II. Serial Set Vol. No. 4611; S.Doc. 234 pt. 2.

Next I found an additional 1895 newspaper article about Scovell.

Liked by Lee and Jackson, Idaho Register newspaper article 18 October 1895

Idaho Register (Idaho Falls, Idaho), 18 October 1895, page 2

This historical newspaper article was wonderful since it explained that Captain Scovell’s services were argued over by Generals Stonewall Jackson and Early, with the decision over Scovell’s assignment coming from General Robert E. Lee himself. It also offered the information that Captain Scovell was one of the CSA officers in charge of the infamous burning of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, on July 30, 1864.

Then I discovered a real bit of genealogy treasure. In a 1922 newspaper I read a “Succession Notice” for “Mrs. Mary A. Dillon, widow of William T. Scovell.”

succession notice for Mary Dillon, New Orleans States newspaper article 8 January 1922

New Orleans States (New Orleans, Louisiana), 8 January 1922, page 35

This historical succession notice was for the probate of the estate of Mary. I have since sent to Louisiana for instructions and information on how I can access this will and estate file since the old news article wonderfully contains the court name, parish, division, date, file number, deceased, attorney, and executor. What an abundance of information in one short article!

photo of the crypt of William T. Scovell and Mary Dillon in Louisiana

Photo: the Louisiana crypt for William T. Scovell, his wife Mary Dillon, and their family. Credit: from the author’s collection.

From almost nothing I am now deeply involved in learning about our family’s Civil War luminary and it brings me back to the question I asked in the beginning of this article.

Tell me…what is the biggest surprise that you have found doing your genealogy and family history?

What about the Kids? Researching Your Family Tree’s Children

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, Gena writes about the family history challenge of researching your ancestors’ lives when they were children.

My sons have had the opportunity to visit more cemeteries and hear more genealogy presentations than most family historians. They’ve been a captive audience as I give genealogy talks to conferences, societies, and libraries. They even have a few of my genealogy presentations memorized. Unimpressed by the family history topics I cover, my youngest always asks: “why don’t you ever talk about researching kids?”

old photo of children from Gena Philibert-Ortega's collection

Old photo of children, from the author’s collection

It’s a fair question considering that all of our ancestors started life as children. My guess is that most family historians would reply that children don’t leave a record trail, or that their lives aren’t as documented as adults—and that is why genealogists don’t spend much time researching their ancestors’ early years.

But there are instances where children do leave a paper trail. A visit to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library in Springfield, Illinois, reinforced this fact to our family when we viewed a photographic exhibit of Civil War soldiers. Boys as young as 9 years served in the Civil War, and some of them were photographed.

photo of an unidentified young Civil War soldier in Union uniform and forage cap, from the Library of Congress

Photo: Unidentified young Civil War soldier in Union uniform and forage cap. Credit: Library of Congress.

From: Library of Congress. Flickr, The Commons. Accessed 23 March 2013.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/library_of_congress/5229153190/

While children are too young to leave the type of documentation reserved for adults, they do leave behind records. A birth record or church christening announcement may start your search, depending on the time period. School records are another choice for researching kids. Don’t forget the variety of articles found in a local newspaper.

Obviously the era the child grew up in will determine what mentions could be found in the newspapers. But some ideas include:

Organizations

What organizations or clubs did the child belong to? By learning more about the history of the place your ancestor was from, you may identify groups that they may have taken part in, including organizations that were social, educational, ethnic or religious in nature.

The Boy Scouts of Black Wolf and B.P., Lexington Herald newspaper article 25 September 1910

Lexington Herald (Lexington, Kentucky), 25 September 1910, page 4

Although far from comprehensive, here is a list of some groups from the 20th century:

School

In a previous blog article, “Searching Family History: Old School Records in the Newspaper,” I explored the types of newspaper articles that listed teachers and students.

As explained in that blog article, there are numerous types of articles mentioning children. From their achievements and awards, to sporting events and even misdeeds, you can find mentions of school children in local newspapers. One of the pluses to digitized newspapers is that a search of just a name can assist you in finding these mentions. Consider limiting your search by date as you explore GenealogyBank, allowing you to focus on an ancestor’s early years.

Letters to Santa

Reading letters to Santa from the late 19th and early 20th centuries reminds one how much better off materially most people are now.

Letters to Santa from the Children, Kalamazoo Gazette newspaper article 16 December 1906

Kalamazoo Gazette (Kalamazoo, Michigan), 16 December 1906, page 9

These letters range from requests for toys or food to desperate pleas for almost anything their parents couldn’t afford. These letters often include the child’s name and, in some cases, an address. What a great find to see the requests of your family member to the jolly guy in the red suit!

Dear Old Santa Claus, Kalamazoo Gazette newspaper article 21 December 1899

Kalamazoo Gazette (Kalamazoo, Michigan), 21 December 1899, page 2

Social History

As with any genealogy research, consider social history when learning more about children from past generations. Use the newspapers as a local history source to get a sense of what organizations and activities your ancestors may have been involved in during their younger years. Read histories of the time to learn more about what childhood was like during their era. By learning more about the locality of your ancestor, you can learn more about what types of activities they may have enjoyed. Gaps in specific family records can be filled with broader social history information.

Keep your own children’s interests in mind! Including stories about their ancestors’ childhoods will stimulate present and future generations of children to take more interest in the family history you are documenting and preserving.

The Disappearance—and Mysterious Reappearance—of Matthew Brayton

Here’s a 19th century mystery concerning a certain Matthew Brayton, who disappeared as a small boy, was held an Indian captive for 34 years, then one day reappeared.

But, was it really him?

An Indian Captive Reclaimed after Thirty-five Years’ Absence, Evening Post newspaper article 3 December 1859

Evening Post (New York City, New York), 3 December 1859, page 1

This is a gripping story about a young boy being kidnapped and then returning home as an adult. You will want to read all of An Indian Captive Reclaimed after Thirty-five Years’ Absence – Incidents of his Life in the Evening Post (New York City, New York), 3 December 1859, page 1.

On 20 September 1825 Matthew Brayton set off from home to gather the family’s cows. He was about eight years old—and wouldn’t be heard from again for 34 years. Kidnapped by the Indians, he was one of thousands of Indian captives in America from the 17th to 19th centuries.

Imagine his family’s joy when he finally turned up again!

A great, heartwarming story of a missing boy finally returned home, except—it apparently isn’t true.

Digging deeper into genealogy records we find Matthew Brayton’s obituary and even his photograph—and the true story comes to light.

Mathew Brayton obituary, Salem Register newspaper article 23 February 1863

Salem Register (Salem, Massachusetts), 23 February 1863, page 2

Matthew Brayton’s old obituary, printed in the Salem Register (Salem, Massachusetts), 23 February 1863, page 2, gives us the rest of the story.

After returning from his long Indian captivity, Matthew Brayton lived with his supposed father, Elijah Brayton, for the next nine months. Then in June 1860 he told his “father” that he really wasn’t Matthew Brayton at all. Was this a 19th century scam? Perhaps—but Matthew Brayton didn’t give any further details of why he had lied about who he was.

Perhaps he simply didn’t want to “manage the farm that Mr. Brayton had promised to give him.” After telling the Braytons the truth, Matthew left their farm and joined the 4th Michigan Cavalry as “Matthew Brayton.” He died a few years later in 1863 in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.

Here is a photograph of him in uniform.

photo of Mathew Brayton in Civil War uniform

Credit: Find-A-Grave

Genealogy Search Tip: Just because something is in print doesn’t make it true.

Don’t stop at the first story you find about your ancestor. Keep digging and make sure you uncover all of the facts.

Find the stories of your family’s history. Document them, preserve them and pass them down.

World War I Articles Recall Memories of Doughnuts & Lassies

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, Gena writes about the women volunteers in the Salvation Army during WWI, the “lassies,” who served doughnuts to the American troops on the front lines.

Do you have an ancestor that fought in World War I? As genealogists, the mention of that war brings to mind the World War I Draft Registration. Those draft registration cards provide some important clues for researchers, but one question I always have is: what was life like for our ancestors back in WWI? What was day-to-day life like for our soldiering ancestors?

To invoke a much-used quote originated during the American Civil War, “war is hell.” During that hellish time in the trenches of WWI, however, there were groups trying to make soldiers’ lives a little less difficult. For those Americans who served on the front lines in France, one good experience of the war might have had nothing at all to do with warfare. It was something that, during a time of great distress, brought back fond remembrances of home. That memory involved doughnuts.

Doughnuts?

Yes, doughnuts and the young women who served them during WWI, volunteering their time with the Salvation Army. It’s not uncommon during wartime for various organizations to step up and provide services to U.S. soldiers. During World War I, the Salvation Army sent approximately 500 volunteers to Europe who helped with everything from teaching Bible classes to playing music, providing meeting space for religious services, and cooking and serving food. These men and women followed the soldiers to the battle front and were often in danger as they served.

WWI poster of Salvation Army women volunteers serving doughnuts to American troops

Credit: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Online Catalog

See: http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/94513700/

In their 1919 book The War Romance of the Salvation Army (available on Google Books), Evangeline Booth and Grace Livingston Hill write about the World War I activities of the Salvation Army. They describe how the women of the Salvation Army began providing doughnuts to soldiers on the front lines. The story is told that the Salvation Army was serving a group of soldiers in Montiers, France. The Salvation Army women volunteers, referred to as “lassies,” noticed the low morale of the men as they endured the endless rain and hard training. The women believed that some home cooking would boost morale.

After various suggestions, it was decided that doughnuts would do the trick. That first experiment yielded 150 doughnuts for 800 U.S. soldiers waiting in line. One soldier who had a doughnut that day is said to have exclaimed “Gee! If this is war, let it continue!” While doughnuts probably were a welcome respite to the men fighting in World War I, my guess is that the fact they were cooked and served by young women probably helped sweeten the deal. A nameless, older Salvation Army worker is quoted as reminiscing that “…it wasn’t the doughnut at all that made the Salvation Army famous, but the wonderful girls that the Salvation Army brought over there; the girls that lay awake at night after a long hard day’s work scheming to make the way of the doughboy easier…” (page 77).

postcard showing Salvation Army women vounteers during WWI serving doughnuts to American troops

Postcard from the author’s collection

Serving doughnuts and coffee was dangerous work for these women, who had all volunteered to go overseas and serve—as described in this 1919 WWI newspaper article.

Make Doughnuts in Shell Fire, Kalamazoo Gazette newspaper article 18 May 1919

Kalamazoo Gazette (Kalamazoo, Michigan), 18 May 1919, page 24

Stella Carmichael, a Salvation Army “lassie,” recollects that what she and her fellow women volunteers did “no woman in the United States thought of doing.” She notes in the article that they would work 18 to 20 hours “constantly baking doughnuts and filling coffee.” She and her fellow lassies knew the importance of their work: “every one of us did our part cheerfully. The boys needed us, and Lord, how the world needed the boys.”

This June marks the 75th Annual National Doughnut Day. Interested in making some Salvation Army doughnuts? The Salvation Army blog, Doing the Most Good, provides a recipe of the doughnuts made for soldiers in both world wars.

The Importance of Old Newspaper Advertisements to Genealogy

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, Gena writes about the value of a resource in newspapers that is often overlooked by genealogists: the classified ads.

“Be sure to drink your Ovaltine. Ovaltine? A crummy commercial.”—Ralphie Parker from the movie A Christmas Story.

Advertisements: they often seem the bane of our existence. On television, advertisements scream at us every few minutes, interrupting our favorite shows. When you pick up a magazine it seems that more than half the pages are filled with ads for everything from food and household cleaners to prescription medications. Now in the world of Web 2.0, advertisements invade every aspect of our Internet experience, even as a necessary evil when using free apps.

In today’s world advertisements are impersonal and contain little family information—but this was not always the case. Ads from an earlier era were different, more personally connected to their audience, and can provide helpful information for family historians. This is especially true of advertisements from old newspapers.

When you think of the “important” sections of the newspaper for family history research, what do you think of? Vital record announcements, obituaries, and human interest stories may come to mind as sources of genealogical information. But what about those parts of the newspaper that aren’t considered “content rich”? What about advertisements?

As a genealogist researching your family history, why should you care about newspaper advertisements? Well, advertisements in newspapers from yesteryear can help researchers in two ways. The obvious way is that they can provide the name of an ancestor’s business—but they also provide us with social history background that can be crucial in reconstructing an ancestor’s time and place.

Consider this strip of ads from an old Kansas newspaper.

classified ads, Coffeyville Herald newspaper 25 April 1908

Coffeyville Herald (Coffeyville, Kansas), 25 April 1908, page 4

From these old advertisements we learn the name of proprietors of goods ranging from clothes and hats to fish, and even ice cream. An additional benefit of historical newspaper advertisements is that they provide a peek into activities long since extinct. Consider the millinery and phyrography store. Phyrography is when someone decorates a wood or leather surface by burning the design into the surface with a type of heated metallic “pen.”

Here are some old classified ads from an 1851 Georgia newspaper.

classified ads, Savannah Republican newspaper 18 June 1851

Savannah Republican (Savannah, Georgia), 18 June 1851, page 1

Here we see not only classified ads but a listing of merchant names. Must-have information for our ancestors including fares and stops for the Central Rail-Road and some ship lines are also found on this page. Further down, readers can see that there are notices of public land sales in Arkansas. Do you have an ancestor who started out in Georgia and ended up in Arkansas? Maybe they saw this notice for the land sale and headed west.

In some cases, historical advertisements can be found with other types of notices, as illustrated in this Civil War-era newspaper from Texas.

classified ads, Standard newspaper 9 May 1863

Standard (Clarksville, Texas), 9 May 1863, page 1

The advertisements and announcements on this page include notices from administrators of wills, a physician who will begin his practice, and information from the War Department. There are old ads for medicinal drugs that are for sale, presumably at a local pharmacy: opium, morphine, Blue Mass (a remedy that “cured” all sorts of problems including pains from childbirth, tuberculosis, constipation, and syphilis—one of its ingredients was mercury), ipicac, and Dovers Powders (a remedy for colds and fevers that contained opium) are just some of the “medicines” you could pick up.

One of the great things about this series of advertisements is that it is a reflection of the times. Note the short notice asking families to save rags because they are needed to make paper. Five cents a pound is offered for rags. During the Civil War, the South experienced all types of shortages including paper. This notice gives insight into these wartime shortages.

Can advertisements provide genealogists with answers about their ancestors? Yes! Not only can they provide proof of an ancestor’s occupation but they can also provide a sense of their era. These advertisements provide a much-needed history lesson for our genealogy. While it can be tempting to skip over some sections of a newspaper, don’t skip the old advertisements. They provide insight into your ancestor’s life.

Tarbell Sisters’ Civil War Feud Finally Ended—in 1922!

While many genealogical records can provide names and dates for your family tree, newspapers give you something more: actual stories about your ancestors’ lives, so that you can get to know them as real people and learn about the times in which they lived.

Here’s an example of a newspaper preserving a remarkable family story: the two Tarbell sisters, although they dearly loved each other, carried on a feud for 61 years sparked by a disagreement over the American Civil War!

Hatchet Buried by Oldest Twins, Lexington Herald newspaper article 11 June 1922

Lexington Herald (Lexington, Kentucky), 11 June 1922, page 1

Mae and Bell Tarbell were twin sisters born in Camden, Maine, in January 1839. The girls remained deeply attached to one another—and nearly inseparable—for the next 83 years. In the late 1850s, when the sisters were teenagers, the family moved to Missouri—at a time when pro- and anti-slavery violence along the Missouri-Kansas border was so extreme that people referred to the conflict as “Bleeding Kansas,” a precursor to the Civil War.

The differences tearing the nation apart almost separated the Tarbell sisters as well. Mae married a Virginia man who joined the Confederate army, while Bell married a Connecticut man who fought for the Union. This difference in allegiance began the feud between the twins, even though they continued to live together throughout the long war—as they have their entire lives. Their two husbands went off to fight the war, “leaving the twins at home”:

Hatchet Buried by Oldest Twins, Lexington Herald newspaper article 11 June 1922

Lexington Herald (Lexington, Kentucky), 11 June 1922, page 1

As Mae explains in this historical newspaper article: “Bell is a mighty sweet girl, always has been, and we lived together fine, or did until that horrid war came along. We were both from Maine, but we stuck to our husbands’ states. Bell and I would not be separated from each other and yet we would not agree on anything in that war. Only once were we apart, and that was when Bell’s husband was captured. She went to the Southern camp and, although officers there tried to get her to come home, she wouldn’t do it without her husband, and, being persistent, she finally got him. Well, the war ended and our husbands came back, and we all went together to California, but Bell and I still argued about the war. That was the only thing we did argue about. Our husbands said they wished there never had been any war, if it was going to result in such a long quarrel, but what could we do? We’re from Maine, and neither of us would give in.”

And so it went, this long family feud that stretched over 61 years between these two stubborn yet loving sisters, long after the Civil War had ended and both of their husbands had passed away.

Then one day in 1922, the 83-year-old sisters were out in the yard making a kettle of lard when they had the following conversation. Mae again tells the story:

“‘Bell,’ I said, ‘I believe we’re getting old.’ ‘Yes, Mae,’ she said, ‘I suppose we are getting along.’ ‘How long ago did this here Civil War begin?’ I asked. ‘Just tell me that,’ and Bell added a minute or two and said: ‘Sixty-one years ago.’ ‘Seems to me that you and I have said about all there is to say about that war,’ I declared. ‘Doesn’t make any difference if we are from New England. Life’s too short to worry over something that happened that long ago. I want to take things quietly from now on, and besides the papers say there ain’t going to be any more war. If you’ll stop and not mention the war again, I’ll do the same. I think you’re part right anyway.’

“Well, Bell looked at me kinda funny and smiled, and said: ‘Why, Mae, I’ve been wanting to stop talking about that blamed war all these years, but I just hated to give in. One side was about as right as the other anyway, and I’ll quit if you’ll quit. There’s nothing in war anyway.’”

What a great family story! Can’t you just see the two elderly sisters, out in that back yard stirring a pot of lard, smiling at each other and finally agreeing to bury the hatchet? A marvelous moment in your ancestors’ lives, captured and forever preserved in an old newspaper article, just waiting for you to discover and add to your family history.

Along with the emotional satisfaction of this story, look at all the important genealogical information we get from this one old newspaper article:

  • The twins’ names: Mae (Tarbell) Peake and Bell (Tarbell) Billings
  • Their birthplace and date: Camden, Maine, in January 1839
  • Mae’s husband: Dr. W. Peake, from Virginia, a Confederate veteran, who died in 1904
  • Bell’s husband: John Billings, from Connecticut, a Union veteran who was a prisoner-of-war held in a Southern camp, who died in 1906
  • The twins’ movements throughout their life: from their birthplace in Maine to Keokuk, Iowa, in 1854; to Missouri in the late 1850s; to California after the Civil War; to Clint, Texas
  • Mae has 13 children and 26 grandchildren
  • Bell had no children
  • The twins’ mother lived to be 103
  • They trace their ancestry back to the days of the witchcraft trials in Salem, Massachusetts

If you are related to the Tarbell sisters, this historic newspaper article has not only given you a great family story but lots of genealogical clues to continue your family history research.

There are a lot more family stories like this one in GenealogyBank’s historical newspaper archives. Search now, and find the tales about your Civil War ancestors and more!

Firsthand Stories of the Civil War’s 1864 Battle of Nashville

This decisive battle of the Civil War was fought in and around Nashville, Tennessee, 148 years ago, on 15-16 December 1864. Union General George H. Thomas, the “Rock of Chickamauga,” commanded the Federal troops who soundly defeated the Confederate army under the command of General John Bell Hood.

The Battle of Nashville was the last major clash in the Western Theater of the Civil War. After suffering more than 6,000 casualties the Confederate Army of Tennessee was badly weakened, no longer strong enough to threaten the much-larger Union forces in the area.

photo of the Battle of Nashville, 16 December 1864. Credit: Library of Congress.

Battle of Nashville, 16 December 1864. Credit: Library of Congress.

GenealogyBank gives you the news as your ancestors lived it, providing more context to your family story than is available from other genealogy sources. Newspaper coverage of the Civil War was extensive and vivid, with many reporters giving first-hand accounts of battles they witnessed from up close. Newspapers also published actual Civil War battle reports from the officers, and letters from the soldiers in addition to their own personal war stories.

For example, here are three first-hand accounts of the Battle of Nashville directly from the battle field.

This historical newspaper article featured General Thomas’s official report of the battle.

Battle at Nashville, Washington Reporter newspaper article 21 December 1864

Washington Reporter (Washington, Pennsylvania), 21 December 1864, page 2

“I attacked the enemy’s left this morning, the 15th, and drove it from the river below the city, very near to the Franklin pike, a distance of about eight miles. I have captured Chalmer’s headquarters and train, and a second train of about twenty wagons, with between eight hundred and one thousand prisoners, and sixteen pieces of artillery. Our troops behaved splendidly, all taking their share in assaulting and charging the enemy’s breastworks.”

Read the entire news article: Battle At Nashville Official Dispatch from General Thomas–The Enemy to be Again Attacked.

This old newspaper article included further stories from the battlefield.

Great Battle at Nashville, New York Herald-Tribune newspaper article 17 December 1864

New York Herald-Tribune (New York City, New York), 17 December 1864, page 1

“The western telegraph lines are working very badly, on account of the snowstorms prevailing. Just returned from the battle field. Battle severe and terrific. Our forces victorious…

“Hood has fallen back, and is apparently doing his best to get away, while Thomas is pressing him with great vigor, frequently capturing guns and men. Everything so far is perfectly successful, and the prospect is fair to crush Hood’s army.”

Read the entire historical newspaper article: Great Battle at Nashville. Decisive Union Victory. Rebel Army Defeated, He is Trying to Escape.

This old news article about the Civil War presented a reporter’s exciting description of the fighting.

Battle before Nashville, Plain Dealer newspaper article 19 December 1864

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 19 December 1864, page 3

“Our own troops were disposed in the following order: Wilson’s cavalry on the extreme right; Schofield’s 23d corps consisting of Couch’s and Cox’s divisions, at first held in reserve, but before the main battle opened had taken position on the left of the cavalry thus forming the right of our infantry line; A. J. Smith’s 16th corps, consisting of the divisions of McArthur, Garrard and Moore, came next on the left of Schofield. On the left of Smith the magnificent 4th corps of T. J. Wood, consisting of the divisions of Kimball, Elliott and Sam Beatty was formed in close order of battle and partially massed. Steedman with Cruft’s division and two brigades of colored troops held the extreme left…

“Longer, perhaps, than any troops ever remained in such a position, they stood and fired fast and furiously at the enemy, but they could not remain there and live, and a few gave way and fled in disorder. The whole line staggered, and had the rebels done nothing more than keep up their deadly fire we should have been driven back, but they made a movement to shift their artillery, which our men received as an indication that they were about to abandon their line and retire. Raising a loud shout, the division, with fixed bayonets, rushed impetuously forward and, swarming over the works, captured such rebels as hadn’t fled. They had time to get away two guns, but the rest fell into our hands.”

Read the entire old newspaper article: Battle Before Nashville. Interesting Particulars. 5,000 Prisoners and 37 Cannon. Complete Route of the Enemy.

Dig into GenealogyBank’s online historical newspaper archives of more than 6,400 titles to find out more about your Civil War-era ancestors.

Researching State Archives for Genealogy Records

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary talks about how valuable state archives can be for your family history research, and describes how to access them.

If you’re looking for an exciting resource to help with your genealogical research, I recommend visiting your State Archives as soon as possible. Although archives are supported by open records laws, they are vulnerable to budget cuts—so don’t take state archival research for granted, as shown by the close call that recently happened to Georgia’s state archives.

On 13 September 2012 the governor of Georgia made this announcement:

“The Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget has instructed the Office of the Secretary of State to further reduce its budget for AFY13 and FY14 by 3% ($732,626)…To meet the required cuts, it is with great remorse that I [Gov. Nathan Deal] have to announce, effective November 1, 2012, the Georgia State Archives located in Morrow, GA, will be closed to the public.”

After this state government announcement, the Georgia archival research community provided a strong response, including letters, petitions and a FaceBook page at www.facebook.com/GeorgiansAgainstClosingStateArchives.

Faced with this public opposition, the governor made an online announcement using Twitter on 19 September 2012:

“In proclaiming Georgia Archives Month today, @GovernorDeal said he’d find a way to keep the archives open to the public.”

The archival research community welcomed this follow-up announcement from the Office of the Governor on 18 October 2012:

“Gov. Nathan Deal and Secretary of State Brian Kemp announced today that the state will restore $125,000 to Kemp’s budget to keep the Georgia State Archives open to Georgians for the remainder of the budget year…Georgia’s Archives are a showcase of our state’s rich history and a source of great pride…I worked quickly with my budget office and Secretary Kemp to ensure that Georgians can continue to come to Morrow to study and view the important artifacts kept there.”

Vanishing Georgia, Augusta Chronicle newspaper article 16 December 1982

Augusta Chronicle (Augusta, Georgia), 16 December 1982, page 16

This story has a happy ending, but based upon an informal survey I took at a genealogy presentation on State Archives, only about 20% of family historians have ever visited one in person, or online. This is surprising, since state archives accessions include a vast assortment of genealogical documents, such as:

  • census records (state)
  • diaries (ex. Civil War)
  • oral histories
  • grave registrations
  • land records
  • military records
  • naturalization
  • probate
  • vital records and certificates (birth, marriage, death)
  • Works Progress Administration surveys
Archives Given 'Yankee Diary,' Greensboro Record newspaper article 8 November 1967

Greensboro Record (Greensboro, North Carolina), 8 November 1967, page 42

In addition to genealogical resources, state archives typically house historical state documents, state constitutions, governor’s papers, historical prints, and artifacts such as flags or maps.

The focus of state collections is similar to that of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), whose website is www.archives.gov.

NARA provides a summary webpage with contact information and links to all state archives at www.archives.gov/research/alic/reference/state-archives.html.

National Archives and Records Administration's state archives website

National Archives and Records Administration’s state archives website

As this is a hard-to-remember URL, I generally locate the page by entering “National Archives State Archives” into a search engine.

Many state archives’ online sites contain databases and digital images. Some highlights include:

  • Missouri: Anti-Slavery Alphabet, Maps, Confederate Pension Applications, World War I Statement of Service Cards, etc.
  • Pennsylvania: Land Records, Maps, Military Files, Patent Indexes, etc.
  • Texas: digitized records pertaining to the Republic of Texas including Republic Claims, Confederate Pensions and Passports, etc.
  • Virginia: Revolutionary War records (Bounty Warrants, Rejected Claims, Pensions), Cohabitation Registers (African American), Works Progress Administration Life Histories, etc.

Tips for Online Archival Research

  • Since every website is uniquely designed, keep a log of the steps taken in locating an online resource.
  • To find related digital projects, search the Library of Congress website for Memory Project websites, or visit www.loc.gov/rr/program/bib/statememory/.
  • Some digital projects partner with others, such as the Mountain West Digital Library for Utah, Nevada, Idaho, and Hawaii.

Tips for Visiting State Archives in Person (generalities, as each location is unique)

  • Many archives partner with libraries, where you will have access to extended resources.
  • Some state archives offer access to popular subscription databases.
  • When requesting to examine original documents, expect to register with a picture id., which may be valid for one year.
  • Prior to entering the archival document room, you may be required to store personal items in a locker, except for paper and pencil.
  • Options for obtaining copies may be available, although some allow the use of digital camera photography (without flash).
  • Be respectful of all historical items, and keep items in the original order.

Ephemera: A Surprisingly Fertile Genealogical Resource

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, Gena writes about an unusual—but a personal favorite—source of family history information: ephemera.

As I research my family history I look forward to finding unusual sources that reveal different aspects of my ancestor’s life beyond what an online index provides. One unusual source I find myself searching for is ephemera. In fact, I LOVE ephemera.

What’s ephemera you ask? Well one of the official definitions is “paper items (such as posters, broadsides, and tickets) that were originally meant to be discarded after use but have since become collectibles” (from Miriam Webster). At first glance that may seem to refer to only a few items but, according to the Ephemera Society of America, the Encyclopedia of Ephemera lists 500 categories of ephemera. Vintage ephemera can provide details of your ancestor’s life, even vital record information, or a specific place and time for them.

ephemera example: wedding anniversary invitation

Ephemera example: wedding anniversary invitation. From the author’s collection.

In genealogical terms it can include everything from your grandparents’ World War II ration books, a Christmas card your great-grandparents sent out, newspaper clippings of obituaries and marriage announcements, to the letters your 4th great-grandfather wrote from the battlefield during the Civil War. But it’s even more than that. In some cases it may be tidbits that provide social history information like a World War I recruitment poster or a menu from the first restaurant in your hometown.

ephemera example: restaurant menu

Ephemera example: restaurant menu. From the author’s collection.

Not everyone fully embraces ephemera in genealogical research. Why? These types of historical records can be difficult to find. In searching for ephemera that has your ancestor’s name on it you will need to start with home sources. When I refer to a home source, I’m not just suggesting looking for items in your home. Ask your family members about any types of items they may have inherited. In some cases family members may not realize what genealogical treasures they have. It might take several discussions where you reminisce or conduct an interview before they remember some of the items they have been holding on to.

I recently blogged about a letter I found in my childhood stamp collection that was given to me by my maternal grandmother. She had given me the letter to keep because of its interesting stamp. As I read this long-forgotten letter, I realized it contained important genealogical information from her own research on an English family line from the 1800s.

Cast your genealogical fishing line far and wide, and reach out to a distant unknown cousin who may have an heirloom or a forgotten item in their home. Utilizing social media can help get the word out about your research. Consider using a blog, website, Twitter or Facebook as just some of the ways to help other researchers find you.

ephemera example: graduation exercises brochure

Ephemera example: graduation exercises brochure. From the author’s collection.

Ephemera can also be found in collections housed at archives, libraries, societies and museums. One way to find these types of historical collections is to search either the repository’s catalog or a union catalog (one that includes multiple repositories), such as ArchiveGrid or the National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections (NUCMC). When researching collections, search on the place your ancestor was from to find materials that might have originated with an acquaintance or neighbor. Also consider groups and organizations your ancestor was a member of when searching through collections.

ephemera example: postcard

Ephemera example: postcard. From the author’s collection.

Do you have ephemera from your family or someone else’s? Consider sharing this by scanning and posting it on the Internet. Several non-genealogy blogs share ephemera they have found or collected. Check out Forgotten Bookmarks, Paper Great, and Permanent Record for ideas of how others are sharing ephemera. By sharing their genealogical finds and collections they make it possible for descendants to be reunited with their family history.

Dating Old Family Photographs with Civil War Revenue Stamps

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary shows how to determine the date of undated, Civil War-era family photographs using revenue stamps affixed to the back of the picture.

Do you have Civil War-era photographs of your ancestors that are undated? As this genealogy article explains, tax stamp legislation passed by the Union in 1864 might provide a valuable clue to help you finally assign a date to those old family photos, allowing for deeper Civil War family history research.

Stamp Duties, New York Herald-Tribune newspaper article 13 April 1865

New York Herald-Tribune (New York, New York), 13 April 1865, page 6

In order to fund the rising costs of the Civil War, the federal government passed an act on 30 June 1864 requiring that tax stamps be affixed to various goods, including:

  • Proprietary Medicines and Preparations
  • Perfumery and Cosmetics
  • Friction Matches
  • Cigar Lights and Wax Tapers
  • Photographs, Ambrotypes and Daguerreotypes
  • Playing Cards

Although this legislation achieved the intended goal of raising revenue, it was an extremely unpopular tax—especially for those desiring photographs of family members soon to be separated by war.

explanation of stamp fees for photographs, New York Herald-Tribune newspaper article, 13 April 1865

New York Herald-Tribune (New York, New York), 13 April 1865, page 6

Fees were assessed upon the selling price of photographs, ambrotypes and daguerreotypes, with different-colored stamps for the various fees.

  • 2¢ stamps were blue or orange and assessed on images 25 cents or less
  • 3¢ stamps were green and assessed on images between 26 and 50 cents
  • 5¢ stamps were red and assessed on images 51 cents to one dollar
  • For images exceeding one dollar, in addition to the 5¢ stamp an extra 5 cents was assessed “for every additional dollar or fractional part thereof”

As with most laws, there were exceptions and specifications that had to be followed.

exceptions to the stamp tax on photographs, New York Herald-Tribune newspaper article 13 April 1865

New York Herald-Tribune (New York, New York), 13 April 1865, page 6

“Photographs and other sun pictures, which are copies of engravings or works of art, or which are used for the illustration of books, or which are so small that stamps cannot be affixed, are exempt from stamp duty. In lieu thereof, they are subject to duty of 5 per cent ad valorem.

“The price of a photograph by which the stamp duty is determined is held to be the price which is received for such photograph, including the case or frame, as well as any labor which may have been expended upon the picture.

“Imported articles, when sold in the original and unbroken package in which they were imported, are not subject to stamp duty, but they become so as soon as the packages are opened.”

The process was for a photographer to affix a stamp to the back of an image, and cancel it by adding initials and a date.

Civil War-era photograph with a revenue stamp affixed to the back

Civil War-era photograph with a revenue stamp affixed to the back

In the old photograph example above of a Carte de Visite (CDV), which shows the back and front of the image side-by-side, the picture was taken at Delong’s Gallery on Locust street in Fairbury, Illinois. The 5 cent stamp indicates that the photographer charged from 51 cents to $1 for his services.

Photographers often designed their own system of stamp cancellation. The hand-written date appears to be 11/11, but more likely was 11/4 (Nov. 1864), with the information under the numbers indicating either his initials or an internal reference. It was not 1861, as revenue stamps are only found on images 1864-1866, with the final repeal of the Stamp Act on Aug. 1, 1866.

For more information on Tax Stamps, see eBay’s Guide to Tax Stamps on Antique Photography.