150 Years Ago Today: Fort Sumter

Bombardment of Fort Sumter (1861) by Currier & Ives (1837–1885)
Bom­bard­ment of Fort Sumter (1861) by Cur­rier & Ives (1837–1885)

150 years ago today, 12 April 1861, the Civil War started in earnest with a Con­fed­er­ate attack on the Fed­eral posi­tion at Fort Sumter, in advance of sup­ply ships arriv­ing with food to resup­ply the fort.

For Amer­i­can geneal­o­gists and his­to­ri­ans of the United States, the Civil War is the cen­tral event, even more calami­tous than the Rev­o­lu­tion, and affect­ing the lives of a wider per­cent­age of what had become, since the Rev­o­lu­tion, a more pop­u­lous coun­try. (In the 1790 cen­sus, the pop­u­la­tion was recorded to be 3,929,214. In the 1860 cen­sus, the pop­u­la­tion was 31,443,321, or eight times larger.)

Some­where between 618,000 and 700,000 sol­diers died in the con­flict, mak­ing it more deadly than all the other wars the US par­tic­i­pated in from the Rev­o­lu­tion to the Viet­nam War, com­bined. And, of course, the war, fought mainly (despite revi­sion­ist protests to the con­trary) to main­tain a way of life founded on enslav­ing a race of peo­ple, ended by grant­ing free­dom, first to blacks in states which had seceded, and then to all blacks in all states and ter­ri­to­ries of the US.

This trans­for­ma­tive time is full of records for geneal­o­gists. There are mil­i­tary and pen­sion records, which are some of the best known mil­i­tary records from this period. But there are also the final pay­ment vouch­ers, reports of camps, forts, and pris­ons, numer­ous man­u­scripts, the papers of the South­ern Claims Com­mis­sion, which “was an orga­ni­za­tion of the exec­u­tive branch of the United States gov­ern­ment from 1871–1873 under Pres­i­dent Grant. Its pur­pose was to allow Union sym­pa­thiz­ers who had lived in the South­ern states dur­ing the Amer­i­can Civil War, 1861–1865, to apply for reim­burse­ments for prop­erty losses due to U.S. Army con­fis­ca­tions dur­ing the war” (Wikipedia. “South­ern Claims Com­mis­sion,” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Southern_Claims_Commission Accessed : 13 April 2011).

If you have not started look­ing for your Civil War ances­tor, you could do much worse than start with the Civil War Sol­diers and Sailors Sys­tem: http://www.itd.nps.gov/cwss/. This site includes a search­able data­base of over 6.3 mil­lion names of com­bat­tants from the North and the South, rep­re­sent­ing 44 states and ter­ri­to­ries. There are also many sailors, though this part of the project is not com­plete. The site pro­vides lim­ited infor­ma­tion, but usu­ally includes enough infor­ma­tion to find out more about your sol­dier. For exam­ple, my 3rd great grand­fa­ther, Thomas D. Via, has this entry:

Thomas D. Via (First_Last)
Reg­i­ment Name 7 Vir­ginia Infantry
Side Confederate
Com­pany
I
Soldier’s Rank_In
Private
Soldier’s Rank_Out
Private
Alter­nate Name
Notes
Film Num­ber M382 roll 57

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And also, this:

Thomas D. Via (First_Last)
Reg­i­ment Name 7 Vir­ginia Infantry
Side Confederate
Com­pany
I
Soldier’s Rank_In
Private
Soldier’s Rank_Out
Private
Alter­nate Name
Notes
Film Num­ber M382 roll 57

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(He served in the Con­fed­er­ate army, was cap­tured, and joined the Union army, most likely as a way out of the prison camp he was in at Point Look­out, Mary­land. For more infor­ma­tion see, Sur­name Sat­ur­day: Via.

As the sesqui­cen­ten­nial con­tin­ues, I will pro­vide other sites and tips for Civil War research.

US Census Bureau — Data Access Tools

US Cen­sus Bureau Data Access Tools

The United States Cen­sus Bureau has a page out­lin­ing its data access tools. While the data being made avail­able is sta­tis­ti­cal data, not per­son­ally iden­ti­fi­able genealog­i­cal data, it should be of inter­est to geneal­o­gists to under­stand trends and the pop­u­la­tion trends and geog­ra­phy of the United States.

The site pro­vides large datasets for analy­sis, but also allows you to nav­i­gate into pop­u­la­tion demo­graph­ics for any county, state, or munic­i­pal­ity in the United States.

Here are some of the resources avail­able on the page:

  • Cen­stats — Appli­ca­tions avail­able include: Cen­sus Tract Street Loca­tor, County Busi­ness Pat­terns, Zip Busi­ness Pat­terns, Inter­na­tional Trade Data, and more.
  • Quick­Facts — State and County Quick­Facts pro­vides fre­quently requested Cen­sus Bureau infor­ma­tion at the national, state, county, and city level.
  • Online Map­ping Tools — using TIGER and the Amer­i­can FactFinder
  • US Gazetteer — Place name, and ZIP code search engine.

I am look­ing for­ward to hav­ing the oppor­tu­nity to look at these resources.

WDYTYA Episode 208: Ashley Judd

Ashley Judd
Ash­ley Judd

Tonight, Ash­ley Judd was the celebrity on the sea­son finale of Who Do You Think You Are?

Her fam­ily story is com­pelling, and includes a Union Civil War vet­eran from Ken­tucky, who was cap­tured twice by the Con­fed­er­ates, and was a bat­tle­field amputee.

Addi­tion­ally, her line goes back to the ear­li­est days of the Ply­mouth Bay Colony in Massachusetts.

The show pre­sented her as doing some of the research with her father. This wasn’t an entirely believ­able por­tion of the show.

At one point, a researcher indi­cated that the Civil War ancestor’s age of 18 at the mus­ter­ing in and 18 at mus­ter­ing out might have indi­cated that he lied about his age on mus­ter­ing in. That is cer­tainly pos­si­ble. But the age being the same on mus­ter­ing in and out is com­mon through­out US mil­i­tary records, and is sim­ply reflec­tive of a prac­tice that lists the age at mus­ter­ing in instead of the soldier’s cur­rent age through­out the records about that soldier.

How­ever, despite that glitch, it was a com­pelling, dra­matic, and emo­tional sea­son finale. The video will be avail­able for a lim­ited time on demand at: http://www.nbc.com/who-do-you-think-you-are/episode-guide/

WDYTYA Episode 207: Gwyneth Paltrow

This week’s episode of Who Do You Think You Are? returns to a more tra­di­tional research method­ol­ogy, start­ing from what is known, and mov­ing back­ward to illu­mi­nate the unknown.

While many crit­ics will note that the star did not engage with much of the research, and was being handed hours of research in a moment, I appre­ci­ated the use of fam­ily lore (a Bar­ba­dos back­ground on the mother’s side; a line of rab­bis on the father’s side). Instead of mak­ing assump­tions that this lore was gen­uinely true, the researchers took it as clues to what they might find. There was an acknowl­edge­ment that the lore could be true or false, mis-remembered, mis­un­der­stood, or very very close.

In addi­tion to the lore about the line of rab­bis and the ances­tor from Bar­ba­dos, the third inter­est for Ms. Pal­trow was find­ing out if there was any way to under­stand what had hap­pened in her pater­nal grandfather’s youth to make him ret­i­cent to talk about it other than to say that he did not live in a home like she did. She dis­cov­ered details about her great grand­mother, the losses that she endured, which helped her put it in per­spec­tive. This would have been a per­fect oppor­tu­nity to dis­cuss the change, his­tor­i­cally, in life expectan­cies. Some­one in the mid­dle class los­ing a child today is more rare than it was 100 years ago.

The episode was enter­tain­ing, and pro­vided an oppor­tu­nity to see spec­tac­u­lar vis­tas of Bar­ba­dos as well as con­sider how var­ied Amer­i­can fam­i­lies are. Ms. Pal­trow was vis­i­bly moved by some of the dis­cov­er­ies. This was a solid episode, which would still have been improved with a brief state­ment of the amount of research done to get to these dis­cov­er­ies; how­ever, I know that con­tra­dicts with the Ancestry.com mar­ket­ing mes­sage, which can be boiled down to: “This is so easy, even you could do it!”