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!”