St Clair Cemetery, Mt Lebanon, Allegheny Co, PA

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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

NARA Provides Life to the Dead

Last month, I finally got around to ordering the pension file for one of my Civil War gramps.  It seems like I would have done this years ago since I am so deep into learning of the past and my family's role in the history of our land.  Well, don't judge me quite so fast on this one.

It wasn't until this year that I stumbled on the little fact that 2g granddpa George was even in the Civil War.  He was born in 1834 in Pennsylvania, and was married with a growing family by 1860.  For whatever reason, it just didn't occur to me that he would have been in the Civil War.  I guess I thought he was too old and settled to go off and fight for the Union.

Guess I was wrong!  I really hadn't been looking for him lately as I thought I had found most of what I could locate.  On a whim, I decided to go back and check one of the paid sites just to see if there was anything new on several members of the family. While checking on Uncle Addison and a veteran census, I saw the name George W CALDWELL blaring off the page.  What?

So, I let my fingers do some walking and found where he had been in a Home for Veterans in Dayton, Ohio.  Ohio?

I just had to contact NARA and see what they had.  That's a big jump for me as they had nothing on my grandfather from World War I.

Just this week, the small envelope arrived with a CD.  In to the computer it went.  For the next several days I poured over each and every word.  Then, I had to go and research more.

Grandpa George was a volunteer in the PA 102nd Infantry Co. E.  Of added interest was the fact his brother-in-law, Ben F HUNNEWELL, was also in the same unit.  Anyway, he was down at Fair Oaks when he was discharged with a surgeon's certificate.

First question---  what was Fair Oaks?  The Battle of Fair Oaks took place May 31 and June 1, 1862, in Henrico Co, VA.  It seems like both sides claimed victory for that battle although they both sustained fairly equal casualties.  General Johnston was wounded in this battle.  General McClellan is reported to have written to his wife that he was getting tired of all death and suffering of the troops on the battlefield.

Second question--  Was Grandpa George wounded in the battle?  Alas, the answer to this one is no.  He was moving some heavy rations, and fell on a box which caused some type of internal damage to his kidney.  He was in the hospital for three weeks, and then he was discharged.

Grandpa George returned home where he spent the next 40 years or so disabled.  He apparently suffered a great deal from that fall and lost the majority of his hearing during the war.

The best part of the pension papers came with the date of his marriage to his lovely bride, Mary Jane HUNNEWELL.  Yes!  She has always been somewhat of a mystery to me.  I knew her name.  Her birthdate came from a Bible in the HUNNEWELL family.  Her death date is unknown.  She disappears after the 1870 census.  I suspect she died after the birth of a child.  The big confusion with her is I have a letter from my great grandmother in which she writes to the daughter of George and Mary Jane and mentions she had just seen "your" mama.  The letter is from the 1890s. Hmmm......

But wait---- there's more to be found in the pension.  Grandpa George states that they had 5 children.  What?  I only knew of 4.  More life to be found!  And Grandpa George tells where a son of his has moved!  And---  all of his children married.

Previously, I only knew of two of the children marrying.  So, life continues in the family!

The other "aha" moment in the pension file is the naming of the preacher who married him.  By coincidence, it is the same name as the man who his half sister married.  Gee, I didn't know he was a preacher.  I only knew he was older and died before they had any kids.  The lovely widow goes on to marry again-  this time a widower who lived across the street from other family members.

Ahh, genealogy.  Sometimes the dead can come to life when we explore deeply enough into their lives.

©2010 AS Eldredge

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