pension, war pension, pension rolls, widows pension

Elusive ancestor holds on to his secrets

Editor’s note: I came across this piece from the Mercury News a few days ago in my daily traipsing around the Internet. The original author, Joan Morris, speaks of her search for a particularly hard to find ancestor. What caught my eye was her use of pension records and how important they were to finding her ancestor.

Please note that links related to sites mentioned or other resources have been added to this post for the convenience of our readers, and are not part of the original article.

You can follow Ms. Morris on Twitter.com/AskJoanMorris.

Elusive ancestor holds on to his secrets

Thomas Honea was born around 1812, got married, became a soldier and sometime during the Civil War, he died. Everything else was lost to history.

I’ve been searching for Thomas ever since I discovered my great-great-grandmother’s widow’s pension voucher tucked inside a bunch of old letters and photographs.

The voucher was for $24, covering three months starting in November 1906. A paltry $8 a month for a supreme sacrifice. What made it even more tragic is that the voucher was never cashed. Nancy Honea died before she could execute it.

That piece of paper has sent me on a long and frustrating search for answers. Who were Thomas Honea’s people? What role did he play in the Civil War and for which side? Most importantly, how did he die?

I asked my mother, who told the family story as she recalled it. Thomas had been pinned down during a prolonged battle. He took shelter behind an overturned table and in the course of the fighting, suffered frostbite on his feet. The wounds became infected and then gangrene set in. He died in a military hospital.

At the time, we assumed he was a Confederate soldier. My family always seems to be on the wrong side of things. It was nothing I took particular pride in, but I did want to know more about him and honor his personal sacrifice.

My sisters and I poured over Confederate roll calls, searching for him. When we hit dead ends there, we tried the Union rolls. There was nothing.

For years, the voucher lay in a drawer, ignored but not forgotten. Then I installed Family Tree Maker on my computer and got myself a membership to Ancestry.com. The chase was back on.

I added a membership to Fold3.com, which focuses on military records. I found a few Thomas Honeas listed, one in the Georgia volunteers and another in the Texas militia. Neither turned out to be my Thomas.

It was then that I noticed a curious hand-stamped notation on the pension voucher. It read, “Widows, Indian Wars.”

Although Thomas was old for the Civil War era — he would have been 49 when that first shot was fired on Fort Sumter — he was much too young for the War of 1812, also known as the Indian War. The Union Army, however, waged two wars during the 1860s — one against the South and one against American Indians in the West. But now I had one elusive answer: He’d been a Union soldier.

I turned to my friend, Kathy Echols, who volunteers at the Family History Center in Concord. The center is run by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. As part of the Mormon faith, church members build extensive family trees. They have amassed a trove of records and created a way for everyone to tap into them.

These days, Kathy spends much of her family-tree research on Swedish records, and although she doesn’t speak a word of Swedish, she has learned to read a good deal of it. If Kathy could find her Nordic relatives, then surely a farm boy from Mississippi couldn’t be much of a challenge.

Thomas wasn’t giving up his secrets easily, however, but I was able to find a bit more information on Nancy’s widow’s pension. The official pension record matched the scant information I had on my aging document, but it included a few more enticing clues. Thomas had been killed during a skirmish with the Creek Indians. No date or location, but I had another nugget for the file.

Kathy also was able to discover something I never knew. My great-grandmother, Rachel Honea Spears, had not been an only child, as I had assumed. Instead, she had been Thomas and Nancy’s last child. She had three older sisters, Minerva, Jane and Rhoda, and two older brothers, William and James.

This valuable if meager information has renewed my desire to find more, and I’ve since learned Thomas’ birth and marriage dates and the name of his parents, Wilks and Celia Honea.

I haven’t solved the question of how he died or where he last drew breath, and I don’t know that I’ll ever unearth all of his secrets, but trying is an adventure.

The LDS church has several Family History Centers throughout the Bay Area. They are free and open to the public. Go see what you can find.

Image credit: Un-civil pensions, created by artist Coffin, George Yost, 1850-1896, via the Library of Congress.

 

history for genealogists, 19th century sports

New Book Release: History for Genealogists

The recently updated and rereleased History for Genealogists—Using Chronological Time Lines to Find and Understand Your Ancestors is a rare bird for genealogists: it’s one of the very few history books in print that is written for genealogists

As the subtitle to the 2016 expanded and revised edition of Judy Jacobson’s best-selling book indicates, this sought after book contains scores of historical chronologies that genealogists can access in order to place their ancestors in time and place. As Judy puts it, “Genealogy lays the foundation to understand a person or family using tangible evidence. Yet history also lays the foundation to understand why individuals and societies behave the way they do. It provides the building materials needed to understand the human condition and provide an identity, be it for an individual or a group or an institution.”

That said, we would not want readers to overlook the many valuable narrative elements contained in History for Genealogists. For example, the chapter on new arrivals to America contains a number of important tables showing 19th-century migration patterns. Similarly the new chapter on “Fashion and Leisure,” prepared by Denise Larson – who you may remember as the author behind Companions of Champlain: Founding Families of Quebec, 1608-1635or for her posts here on Maine genealogy or Canadian genealogy – discusses the 19th-century relationship between the growth of amateur sports and recreational swimming and the time constraints imposed upon workers by the industrial revolution.

One of the most fascinating chapters in the new edition is entitled “Even Harder to Find Missing Persons.”  Here Mrs. Jacobson tackles such thorny genealogical problems as finding slave ancestors, origins of the “Orphan Train” riders, record challenges created by boundary changes, and the matter of isolated societies. By “isolated societies” Jacobson is referring to groups such as the Mellungeons of Appalachian Kentucky, Tennessee, and North Carolina; the “Cajans” of the Spanish frontier of Alabama; the Lumbees or Croatans of North Carolina; the Nanticokes of southeastern Delaware and others. Most of these groups possess mysterious origins and a number of them are mixed-race in make-up. According to Jacobson, as many as 200 multiracial groups of isolated societies could exist in the U.S., and for reasons that should be obvious, delving into the ancestry of any one of them could require the skills of a Sherlock Holmes.

So, whether you want to know when gold was discovered in Bannock City, Montana, when the first Scots Highlanders arrived in North Carolina, how to create a time line of your own or where do you turn when your ancestor lived in a “ghost town,” History for Genealogists may be the book you have been waiting for.

Image credit: Cricket, 1883 team, group photograph via the University of Pennsylvania Archives, Penn Library. Permanent link http://hdl.library.upenn.edu/1017/d/archives/20050909001.

peter zenger, german ancestry, german genealogy, Schegel

Schlegel’s American Families of German Ancestry in the United States

It’s an irony of German-American genealogy that what some consider the single greatest collection of family histories in this field is barely known to researchers. The work in question is Carl W. Schlegel’s four-volume American Families of German Ancestry in the United States, published between 1916 and 1926. Each of Schlegel’s four volumes was limited to 200 numbered and registered copies; consequently, only a dozen or so sets can be located today. In fact, only a handful of experts are even aware of the existence of the fourth volume, published in 1926, eight years following Volume 3.

Schlegel’s stated purpose was “to present in concise form the origin of German-American Families in this country,” to preserve a record of their descendants up to the time of the work’s original publication, and to demonstrate the German-American contribution in the U.S. – an objective no doubt influenced by the sentiments fostered during World War I.

In meeting these objectives, Schlegel assembled the largest collection of German-American genealogies ever published. Fittingly, the first volume starts with the life and family of such legendary German-Americans as Jacob Leisler, the 17th-century German who briefly became Governor-General of the colony of New York; and Peter Zenger, proprietor of the first newspaper in America. Beyond a handful of celebrities, however, the author’s 225 separate essays feature linked genealogies of families like Biertuempfel, Dittenhoefer, Haussling, Kleinert, Marquardt, Nungesser, Reppenhagen, Seyfarth, von Bernuth, and Zobel, and touch on thousands of individuals.

Unlike other great compendia, Schlegel’s American Families doesn’t just start out with the immigrant ancestor; rather, each family history usually begins two or three generations back, examining the family in its historic setting before bringing it forward to the immigrant ancestor and his descendants in America. Averaging about ten pages in length, sometimes including portraits and coats of arms, the family histories are no mere catalogues of births, marriages, and deaths but are rich biographical and genealogical studies, each depicting the education, service, achievements, life, and career of the various family members, and each tracing the roots of the first four or five generations in America, usually commencing in the 18th or 19th century, naming thousands of related family members.

For all of these reasons, we believe that Schlegel’s American Families should be the very first collection for anyone researching German-American ancestry. It is now available to researchers for the first time in nearly a century.

If you have been tempted to buy the Schlegel collection before, don’t wait—Genealogical Publishing Company only has 25 sets in inventory at present.

Image credit: Andrew Hamilton defending John Peter Zenger in court, 1734-5, via Library of Congress.

 

 

court record, court record research, genealogy

Learning about family trees through court records

We came across this article, “Learning about family trees through court records,” published in The Daily Nebraskan. It recounts the local Genealogy Over Lunch group’s discussion of utilizing court records for family history research. We have posted several pieces on this blog about the importance of visiting the courthouse in person, as well as the purpose of related chancery records, which can be a fantastic resource.

This recounting of the local genealogy group offers a local narrative of court record’s utility, which we appreciate and would like to share. Please note that the hyperlinks have been added below to assist our readers in learning more about the topic mentioned.

Learning about family trees through court records:

A paper history can be used to track down family ties, even if that paper trail winds through the courts. On March 18 the Genealogy Over Lunch group discussed how ancestral court records could be used to track down a person’s family history. The session was led by Joan Barnes, community engagement librarian, and Tom McFarland, staff development program officer.

Barnes started off the event with a discussion on one of her uncles, a half-Indian who worked as a scout and translator at Fort Beaufort in the 1880s. In summer of 1885, Barnes’ uncle was shot and killed by a fellow officer. While the officer was convicted, he later appealed the court and was found not guilty.

Barnes said she was amazed the court had record on her uncle’s murder, with detailed accounts of each witness’s testimony and deep examination of the crime scene.

“It’s an opportunity for people who are interested in genealogy and family history to get together and talk about different topics,” Barnes said. “Sometimes we help each other break through a mystery, or show off resources that others may not know about.”

McFarland said ancestors can be found in legal documents or court cases concerning written wills. Other court cases may label the defendant or plaintiff’s health at time of the incident, which may help someone find a family history of disease that would have otherwise remained unknown.

While the session focused mainly on the histories of those speaking at the event, audience members were also encouraged to share their own family history as well. If any confusion about research was reached, another participant might give out helpful hints where to look when searching for family histories.

The group discussed many different ways of discovering one’s family history, including court records, Love Library’s digital archive, DNA and various websites such as ancestry.com, the HathiTrust Digital Library and Google Books.

“We, of course, being an academic library, have a lot of historical records and information,” McFarland said. “For instance, one of the things that Jonesy used was the American fur trade records that we had.”

McFarland said he once did a presentation involving a revolutionary soldier, who was not well-known, and was able to find a variety of different sources in the collections.

The Genealogy Over Lunch group meets the third Thursday of each month at Love Library. The library will celebrate Genealogy Day on May 18.

Image credit: Court Record Fragment, 1804, via Library of Congress.

canadian genealogy, canadian census

Canadian Census Tips from Denise Larson

The following post is from author, Denise Larson, who has offered her expertise on other topics such as Maine Genealogy in two parts, as well as the recently posted piece about Canada’s upcoming anniversaries.

This year, 2016, marks the sesquarcentennial—350th anniversary—of the first official census taken in Canada. Only 163 pages long and enumerated in part by Intendant Jean Talon himself, the census of 1666 noted the name, age, and occupation of the French inhabitants of Quebec City, Montreal, and Trois Rivieres. In this post, Ms. Larson discusses the evolution of the census in Canada as well as some tips for researchers to keep in mind.

Enumeration can be more than general population

From that simple start in 1666, census taking in Canada expanded to Acadia in 1671. Canadian population censuses are either nominal, listing all members of a household, or partly nominal, listing the heads of household. Beginning in 1851, a listing of all family members became standard in Canada.

Some enumerations were very specific to a certain civil or religious group. In 1765 a census was taken of the Protestant inhabitants in the District of Montreal. A year later the merchants of Montreal were enumerated. A census taken in 1779 surveyed the Loyalists who fled the American colonies to the south, settled in the Province of Quebec, and received provisions from the British government to compensate for their losses. This type of census has proven to be very valuable to family historians who traced ancestors to early colonies but abruptly lost the trail during the turmoil of the American Revolution.

Library and Archives Canada offers a list of extant Canadian censuses on its website at http://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/census/Pages/census.aspx. The page lists the years of census returns, a finding aid, and searchable databases.

Not everything is as it appears in Canadian census records

The Library’s Finding Aid Number 300 warns of some pitfalls adherent in Canadian census returns. Users are cautioned that the source of the information written onto a census form might have been a neighbor, not a family member. Even if the information was correct, the spelling skill of the enumerator might be cause for confusion.

The native language of the person taking a census in Canada might be a factor in the correctness of the return. An enumerator whose first language was not French might record “Salway” for Saint Louis, which could have been pronounced something like “san louie” or “san-lou-eh.”

The personal creativity of an enumerator might cause misunderstandings in reading his notes if he used the abbreviation BC, meaning Bas Canada (Lower Canada) if it were misunderstood to be British Columbia and transcribed as such in an index.

The specific age of an enumerated person can sometimes be difficult to determine from a census return. Is the given age how old the person was on the actual date of enumeration (sometimes shown at the top of the page); or how old he or she would be on his or her next birthday; or is the age given as of  the “census day,” the date specified for that particular census on which all information was supposed to be based? Some censuses were started in one year but completed the next, which could throw off a calculation. Researchers should apply a grain of salt to a recorded age and look for proof positive in other sources.

Census taking is not an exact science, but the information recorded by hard working enumerators is a valuable starting point from which to launch a search for firm evidence about family names, ages, occupation, and location on a certain date — the basis used in the Canadian census of 1666 and censuses thereafter.

Image credit: 1911 Canadian Census – Archibald Campbell household, care of Howell Family Genealogy Pages.