Sunday, October 19, 2014

Saying Goodbye and Taking It On the Road

My maternal grandmother passed away on October 4, 2014. I flew to Denver and traveled on to Kansas for funeral services and burial in her hometown.

The day after the service, I took off on a 7-day family history road trip with my mother and aunt. Together, we traveled across five states, logged nearly 2,200 miles, and paid our respects at the graves for 33 direct ancestors.

In the coming days I will log here the journey of genealogical discoveries and family healing.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Happy Family History Month!

"In all of us there is a hunger, marrow deep, to know our heritage - to know who we are and where we came from. Without this enriching knowledge, there is a hollow yearning. No matter what our attainments in life, there is still a vacuum, an emptiness, and the most disquieting loneliness." -- Alex Haley, Roots

October is Family History Month, and Family Sleuther is celebrating. It's a great opportunity to share with the value of ancestry with our family and friends. It's also a month we can really dedicate ourselves to promoting and building interest in America's second most popular hobby (after gardening...snooze!).

Here's to unfurling those family trees, collecting more saliva samples for DNA testing, interviewing grandma and grandpa, and cataloging old photos. So happy dance your way to the archives or your local genealogy society and make the most of it!

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Running From the Rebels

My search continues for information about the death and burial of Burr Zelah Dornon, my 4th great-grandfather. Recently, I found the grave for his wife, Sophronia (Rogers) Dornon, but, as you may recall, he was not resting beside her eternally.

Public trees on Ancestry and FamilySearch taunt me with a death date of October 15, 1867. Unfortunately, this date is unsourced. Without a citation, I have no idea where the information came from and cannot determine its accuracy.

Burr's last known appearance in a public record, is the 1860 US Federal Census where he and his family are living in Jackson County, Virginia (soon to be Wild & Wonderful West Virginia). To stir up new information, I decided to return to the National Archives and trawl through his sons' Civil War pension records. Perhaps their files would shed more light on their father.

Burr had four sons: Albert, Joseph, Lorenzo, and Andrew. Each was old enough to enlist. I was able to locate pension applications for three of them: Joseph, Lorenzo, and Andrew. I'm unclear on the fate of the eldest son Albert.

Both Joseph and Lorenzo Dornon served in Company K of the 2nd Regiment of the Ohio Cavalry.

  • Sadly, Joseph died of smallpox in February 1864. There was no mention of his parents in his file.
  • Lorenzo suffered a gunshot wound in the fall of 1864 at the Battle of Summit Point. The bullet entered his left chest and came to rest in his lower abdomen. His June 1910 death certificate was included in his file, and provided mention of his father. The informant gave his father's name as Bursley Dornon, but didn't know the mother's name. 

Andrew, the youngest, enlisted in Company A of the 188th Regiment of the Ohio Infantry. Shortly after he joined the service, he fell ill with the measles and was sent to a hospital in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. While in hospital, he contracted Typhoid Fever and nearly died. The remainder of his military service was spent recuperating from illness.

When he applied for a pension, the Government requested that Andrew submit evidence of his birth, which they suggested could include the family bible. Andrew's handwritten response in May 1913 provides new details about the Dornon family during the Civil War.

This remarkable letter - written some fifty years after the event - suggests that the Confederate Army was the impetus for Burr Zelah moving his family out of Jackson County. 

According to the Jackson County Historical Society, the area remained under Union authority, however, "The only exception was in September 1862 when Confederate forces, under the command of General Albert Gallatin Jenkins, briefly gained control of the county."

It seems historically plausible that the Rebels really could have prompted the Dornons to uproot their lives.  

Elsewhere in Andrew's pension application is a document outlining his cities of residence since his discharge from the military. Andrew writes that he, "lived in Lawrence Co. Ohio until 1868 - moved to Edwardsville, KS. until 1911 - moved to Lincoln Co. Colo." 

Did the Dornons live in Lawrence County after leaving West Virginia? Lawrence is less than 70 miles to the west. Did they stay there until the death of Burr Zelah in about 1867 or 1868? 

Burr's wife Sophronia is buried in the Edwardsville Cemetery in Kansas. Perhaps the Dornon sons brought their mother - recently widowed - along as they pursued new opportunities in the west.

The search continues. I'm on the hunt for a probate record or cemetery transcription for Burr Zelah that could bring the question to resolution.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Disease in the Civil War

Earlier this week, I renewed my US National Archives research card. I requested Civil War pension files be pulled for two direct ancestors who served with the Union in the War of the Rebellion.

I made my way to the Archives early in the morning. The weather was gorgeous, but I didn't mind being holed up inside. In fact, I was excited to see what new information the pensions would provide. In what ways would they bring to life the war experience for my ancestors? What new information, if any, would advance my genealogy?

This was my first experience having original records pulled. When I entered the research room and signed for the first set of files, I was surprised at the size of the envelope. I thought the pension would be a couple pages. Judging by the size of the package, I was probably looking at well over 50 documents.

Both pensions were for 3rd great-grandfathers. I imagined their files to be filled with heroic accounts of battles and military accomplishments. Instead, they were rooted in something much less romantic and incredibly common - disease. They petitioned the government for pensions due to illness and poor health they attributed to their enlistment in the army.

Albert Benedick (Rank in: Private; Rank out: Sergeant)
Albert Benedick served in Company A of the 188th Ohio Volunteer Infantry. According to his pension application, he fell ill with measles shortly after his enlistment in February 1865 and suffered lasting affects.

Among the records is a hand-written affidavit from his brother John Benedick outlining the specifics of Albert's illness.

In a separate affidavit, Albert assures the pension authorities that, "I know these disabilitys are not due to any vicious habits." His request was approved, and he did receive a pension.

John W. Upton (Rank In/Out: Private)
Another 3rd great-grandfather also petitioned the government for a pension as a result of disabilities resulting from service in the war. John W. Upton enlisted with Company B of the 1st Regiment of the Arkansas Infantry.

Shortly after enlisting, John received a vaccination along with other soldiers that made him very ill. A sworn affidavit states that, "in the month of October 1863 he was vaccinated in the left arm at Fort Smith Arkansas with poisonous vaccine matter...he was vaccinated by the order of the proper officer to prevent small pox." John eventually landed in the hospital too weak to serve and suffering, in particular, from "afflictions of the eyes."

Among his records is a set of correspondence between the pension office and the War Department's Surgeon General's Office. There was an accusation that the vaccine provided to the soldiers was contaminated with syphilis.

The Surgeon General's Office confirmed that there were "222 cases of syphilis" among the 1st Regiment. The response also stated that, "The whole subject is under investigation by a Committee of Medical Officers appointed for that purpose...I forbear any further remarks at this time."

I didn't see any final response or conclusion on the matter, but John's pension application was finally approved.

Disease in War Time
In both instances, I was struck by the heavy toll that disease inflicted on the enlisted men. According to the Civil War Trust, as many as two-thirds of the 620,000 soldiers who died in the war succumbed to disease, not combat.

Mindful of those remarkable statistics, it seems Albert and John, although they remained afflicted the rest of their lives, were fortunate to have survived their initial illnesses.

Next steps include locating any existing carded medical records for John and Albert, which could shed more light on their afflictions and treatment. Archives bound...

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Walloping the Brickey Brick Wall

Last month I wrote about one of my genealogical brick walls. What happened to my 2nd great-grandmother's parents? If you haven't already, take a moment to catch up on the Brickey Brick Wall.

After that blog post, I decided to investigate my theory that Pauline Lee - who died in 1899 and was mother to Elmer Lee - was born Pauline Brickey, went on to marry James Winkler, and was mother to my 2nd great-grandmother Annie Winkler.

Since Annie first appears in the 1900 US Federal Census living in Fayetteville, Arkansas (and that was also where "Mrs. Pauline Winkler" married J.R. Lee), I wrote to the Fayetteville Public Library's Grace Keith Genealogical Collection for help.

Unfortunately, we struck out on all fronts. They were unable to locate an obituary for Pauline Lee, and there was no record of a divorce between James and Pauline Winkler.

I next turned to Elmer Lee. I ordered his death certificate in the hope that it would reveal his mother's maiden name as Brickey. The record came quickly. Unfortunately, his mother's maiden name was given as "Pauline Winkler".

Perhaps, though, the informant was confused and gave Pauline's first married name?

I decided to pursue a document that Elmer would have created during his lifetime with the hope for greater accuracy (and, let's face it, the answer I wanted). I ordered his application for a Social Security Number.

Today's mail finally brought the long-awaited record and answer. I was excited to see that Elmer listed his mother's full maiden name as "Pauline Brickie". That's the link! That's the connection that I was after. Pauline Lee, who died in 1899, was in fact Pauline Brickey.

Not only have I uncovered that my 3rd great-grandmother went on to remarry, I've also discovered that Annie had a half-brother Elmer. Furthermore, Pauline's death in 1899 explains why Annie was living with an aunt in the 1900 census.

But I still have many questions. Did Pauline and James Winkler officially divorce? If yes, where's that record? And what happened to Annie's father James Winkler? The detective work continues.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Brotherhood in the Cemetery

Carmine Colacci, a great-grandfather of mine, was born in the small mountain town of Bojano located in the Molise region of Italy. When he was 19, he sailed to America leaving behind his father and siblings. He never returned to Italy.

Recently, I connected with a gentleman who also has family from Bojano and planned to travel back there this summer. He offered to walk the town cemetery and take photos of any Colacci graves. Neither of us realized the enormity of the task and that the cemetery was filled with Colaccis. It shouldn't have been a surprise considering that the family has roots in the village that are centuries old.

This week, I received a CD with dozens of photos of tombstones engraved with the family surname. It was a genealogical treasure trove. However, what really catapulted this collection into the stratosphere is the Italian penchant for including photographs of the deceased on their headstones. 

As a result, I was able to see - for the first time ever - photographs of Carmine's brothers Angelo and Michele, and even a half-brother Giuseppe.

Angelo Colacci*
Michele Colacci*
Giuseppe Colacci*
Unfortunately, Italy disinters burials after a few decades to conserve space and make way for the newly deceased. It's a somewhat common practice in Europe where land is limited. This means that there were no graves or accompanying photographs for Carmine's parents Nunzio Colacci and Lucia Serafina Rico. I'm sure, though, that somewhere in Bojano there's a Colacci descendant with an old photo album that includes pictures of Nunzio and Serafina. Someday they'll turn up.

*Photos are used by permission of photographer

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Stone Broke

I've been looking for information on the death of Burr Zelah Dornon - my 4th great-grandfather - for quite some time. When and where did he pass away?

I last find him in the 1860 U.S. Federal census living with his wife Sophronia and seven of their children in Jackson County, Virginia (today West Virginia). I haven't been able to find him or his wife in the 1870 census. Where did they go?

Curiously, a now-deceased distant cousin had a death date for him in her unsourced tree: October 15, 1867. I've come across nothing that can help substantiate this date. Where did she pull this from? It's a frustrating mystery!

My research recently turned up a promising lead. I found a BillionGraves Kansas burial record for B.Z. Dornon who died May 23, 1872. There was even a photo of the grave stone!
Photo by Bill Bedell
(used by permission)

I quickly loaded the picture - excited that I may have finally cracked the mystery. When the image appeared on my screen, I realized that the stone (now well over 140 years old) was broken.

The top portion was missing. The standing portion read in large letters "B.Z. Dornon". However, the transcriber missed the faint inscription just above the name. It read, "Wife of". This wasn't the burial for B.Z. Dornon. It was the grave of his wife Sophronia.

I moved my detective work to where a volunteer quickly offered to visit Sophronia's grave at the Edwardsville Cemetery in Wyandotte, Kansas.

The volunteer was able to confirm that the top portion of Sophronia's headstone was facing skyward behind the rest of the monument. Sure enough, his picture revealed that this was in fact the burial for B.Z. Dornon's wife Sophronia. Her name is engraved along the cracked bottom of the stone.

Photo by Bill Bedell (used by permission)
Unfortunately, there was no nearby burial for B.Z. Dornon. He doesn't appear to have made it to Kansas (at least not the same cemetery as his wife). I've since updated the BillionGraves record to properly notate Sophronia's burial.

While the search continues for Burr Zelah, I'm now interested in the restoration process for Sophronia's headstone if it's not cost prohibitive. Is there a standard approach to reassembling and restoring old headstones? Or is the damage too severe? Must it be replaced by a new stone? I plan to visit the cemetery later this fall and assess the options.