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Benjamin turned and glanced upward toward his mother as she wept. Grabbing onto her hand to provide strokes of comfort, the seven-year old boy stood guard next to his family. Assuming the role of protector, the little dark headed boy somehow had taken on a much older appearance. Like a soldier standing at attention, Benjamin kept a close eye on his younger siblings, providing direction for their childish behavior. But when his mother's tears rolled softly onto his hand, he struggled to maintain his grown-up composure. And suddenly breaking free from his stance, Benjamin wrapped his arms around his mother's legs and cried.

Walking toward the freshly dug soil, Harriett held out her trembling hand and tossed the daffodil onto the grave. She turned to look at her three young children as they dashed to her side, grabbing tightly to her dress, providing an instant sense of security.
Benjamin and Permelia's grandfather Capps provided a kiss for both as he gently swept them up in his arms and placed them in the back of the wagon.

Harriett held little Jessie as she stepped into the front seat. Suddenly turning, she took a long glance back at the cemetery: 'How odd', she thought to herself, 'to bury two husbands only a few feet from the other.'

As the wagon slowly rolled towards their home, Harriett wondered if she had ever expected such a life. Falling quickly in love with Larkin, the couple was married by his father Benjamin. With help from both families, the teenagers purchased their small acreage where Larkin prepared their land for farming. Within the year, their first child Benjamin was born and the young family was beginning to take root in the low rolling hills of Ozark Missouri.

With the birth of their second child, Harriett and Larkin had firmly established themselves in the small community of Phelps. But news of the War of the Rebellion had found its way to their town and the state of Missouri had become divided in it's loyalties. And Larkin H. Capps found himself drawn to the duty of war.

As a young wife with the responsibility of two small children, Harriett quietly accepted Larkin's sense of duty and attempted to prepare herself for managing the farm and her family without her husband by her side. But there was no preparation for the life she was soon to have: A Civil War widow, early in life, at the age of 21.

One year after Larkin's death during the war, Harriett remarried John McCleary and she felt certain her life would change. Finding a husband to work the farm and provide support and guidance to her children, Harriett finally had a new sense of stability. But the reality of their present day world could not be denied and with many men of John McCleary's age, the toils of a bloody, brutal war ended his young life. And so this now 24-year old woman, a Civil War widow for the second time, found herself faced with burying two husbands only three years apart from the other.

The Civil War brought tragedy to so many of our ancestors but with the loss of thousands of men, the widow's stories often lay silent to the more horrific accounts of war. In an earlier time when women were raised without an education and assumed a duty of motherhood and support to their husbands, the Civil War widow was often left unprepared. And as we search for heroic military histories of their husbands, we tend to pass over the widow's untold story found hidden beneath the words of war.

The Civil War Widow's Pension Record is a great source for documenting a military ancestor but what is often left unsaid is the 'back story': The widows and their children whose lives were quickly changed from stability to loss. Their experiences, their grief, can only be imagined from the pages documenting the soldier's life, leaving it to us to fill in the blanks.

Study the profiles of great women such as Clara Barton to learn some of the contributions made by women during the Civil War. But to gain a deeper understanding of your female ancestor's experiences, read what is hidden inside her widow's pension record: The 'back story', the struggles and life of the Civil War widow.

Keep searching for answers,

Cheryl
 
 
My most recent discovery of my great great grandfather's Civil War experience has refueled my interest in not only his life but also his lineage. An ancestor already known to me from family notes rather than discovered through genealogical research, I had given little time to his history. With a quick discount of importance, I placed his name on my family tree and moved on, searching for others I considered more noteworthy. Perhaps finding an ancestor who was an officer in the Revolutionary War, heralded in history books for his strategic military mind. Or if I look further back, I might discover an heir to a monarchy, providing validation to my lifelong assumption of royal lineage!

But after years of searching, my attention to an early interest of undiscovered fame has evolved into an acceptance of 'just average' ancestors. And yet as I delve further into their daily 'average' lives, I find these individuals to have remarkable strength and endurable grit. And I am taken back by a man who took great risk in pledging his allegiance to the Union army, and the country he loved.

I honestly had never given much time to learning about the Civil War. Of course as all, I sat through my college U.S. History class; reading assignments in order to pass one more required credit. But reading my ancestor's words of his experience of the war has provided a deeper understanding of what these soldiers and their families went through. And I am left to compare their lives with ours.

With the 150th anniversary of the Civil War at the top of national news and the subject of newly released movies, I feel my Civil War ancestor, Wesley Lewis, deserves a second chapter to this small weekly blog. With a quick review of his story from last week's post, Wesley escaped from a Confederate state in order to join the Union army. Returning home to tend to his sick wife, rebels invaded their home and forced Wesley to witness his wife's death.
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But the second chapter to this heart-wrenching saga leads us to Wesley's children. Without documents found giving explanation of their care and whereabouts after their mother's death, their disposition was left to my imagination: Until my recent discovery of Wesley Lewis' probate records from the courthouse of Washington County, Arkansas.

Leaving little time to grieve, Wesley had to quickly find refuge for his young children. Unable to parent them due to his duty in the war, he took them 700 miles from home, placing them in a Catholic boarding school for their education and protection. But when Wesley returned to the school after the war to retrieve his children, he was told they were no longer there. Most likely placed for adoption, he spent years searching for his children but they were never found. And this unheralded 'average' Civil War soldier lost his entire family as a result of the war.

Wesley Lewis eventually took a second wife, my great great grandmother, and built a new family after the war, but his tragic loss of his first family cannot be denied. And I am humbled by his life. This 'average' man did not hold great military honors nor was he descended from royalty but the story of his life reveals a man of great honor and I am proud to call him my ancestor.

As a tribute to my great great grandfather, I have developed a new page to this website, providing links to search for Civil War ancestors and view other sites dedicated to the Civil War. It is my hope that these efforts will do justice to my 'above average' ancestor.

Keep searching for answers,

Cheryl
 
 
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Wesley Lewis had always considered himself to be a good, loyal man: Loyal to his wife, his children and to his country. And when the 'War Between the States' moved closer to his home, Wesley's loyalty never wavered. Surrounded by neighbors in Texas who were Confederate sympathizers, Wesley felt pride in his deep desire to support the Union. So with only a small gun hidden inside his coat and a knapsack filled with a few clothes, Wesley and his closest friend escaped in the middle of the night to the Union Line.

Deeply missing his wife and children, Wesley Lewis struggled with his decision to leave them 300 miles away. But as the war approached his home, he knew he must claim allegiance to one side and for Wesley, that side would be the Union. Seeing the fate of fellow Union sympathizers in Texas, many hung from trees within his families' sight, Wesley escaped back to his hometown in Arkansas were the Union 1st Calvary had mustered in several hundred men. It was a strange time. Families separated, brothers fighting brothers, homesteads burned and Wesley was left making the most difficult decision of his life.

Receiving notice that his wife was sick with fever, Wesley requested an emergency leave from duty in order to tend to her. The leave was granted and he returned to Texas to find his beloved Malinda, struggling to take care of herself, their children and the farm on her own. And as he prepared to nurse his wife back to health, Confederate soldiers stormed their home. Yielding guns, they destroyed their crop, killed their horses and livestock and stole the children's clothes. But the destruction of Wesley's property was only minor compared to the bandit's goal: The assault and ultimate death of his wife, Malinda.

The Confederates knew they were invading the home of a Union soldier and they had entered the house not to kill Wesley but to torture him. To kill his wife in front of him, knowing that witnessing her death would be more torment than his own demise. And so as Wesley struggled to free himself from his captors in order to save his wife, he was forced to watch Malinda as she was beaten and dragged from her bed, lying helplessly on the floor until her death.

The story of Wesley Lewis, my great great grandfather, is only one of thousands during the Civil War. A war of three million soldiers and more than 620,000 deaths, it was a time of epic battles and personal tragedy. Entire cities were destroyed, farms burnt to the ground and there was not a family left untouched. And in one day, during the Battle of Antietam, 12,401 Union men were killed, wounded or missing; double the casualties of D-Day.

The month of April begins the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War. Whether your ancestors were Union or Confederate soldiers, their lives, their experiences, are worth exploring. If you do not subscribe to Ancestry.com, now is the time to utilize all of the Civil War records found on the site. Until Thursday, April 14th, 25 million records from the National Archives including the entire U.S. Civil War Draft Registration Records and the 1860 and 1870 U.S Federal Census are free. Other sites I recommend for research are: The National Park Service,  Military Records On-Line and many of the individual state archives.

But is is not enough to make note of your ancestor's records. Read and listen to their own words whether through the files of the Southern Claims Commission or their pension records through the National Archives. And gain a better perspective on the history of the Civil War through PBS.

Now is the time to gain a better understanding of your Civil War ancestor's life, struggles and sacrifices. Because their history is your history, their story is your story.

Keep searching for answers,


Cheryl
(Source: PBS-The Crossroads Of Our Being)
 
 
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As a 'newbie' genealogist years ago, I became quite empowered with my new-found skills. Quickly developing my on-line family tree and discovering ancestors unknown, I felt unstoppable. Records were popping up in front of me at every click of the button, lighting a fire that propelled me into my obsession. Feeling at awe with my skills, I was certain I could quickly apply for and become a member of every lineage society available. And being driven to prove my Revolutionary War ancestral lineage, I completed the DAR application form, attaching my records for proof and enthusiastically sent it off to Washington.

As the weeks passed, I continued to view my Ancestry.com tree, browsing for new records and basking in the glow of my accomplishment. I waited to receive my DAR congratulatory letter, wondering where I might store my membership certificate. 'Should I frame it?' 'Or perhaps place it in a photo album for safe keeping.' 'Well, I'll figure it out once I have the certificate in hand.'

But when the letter arrived, my confidence meter was shaken by the results: 'additional proof needed.'
With a knee-jerk reaction of defensiveness of my obvious flawless research, I attempted to convince myself 'they' were wrong and I was right. I 'dug my heels in', folded up the letter and stuffed it away in a kitchen drawer. 'What does the DAR know anyway and do I really want to go to their stuffy meetings?'

After a few days of licking my wounds, I picked up the letter once more to review their recommendations. Suggestions were provided for locating further proof of lineage and although I felt confident in my research, I conceded the DAR might have a slight edge of knowledge over me! So I pulled out my notes and records and sent off for further documents from the National Archves.

Feeling challenged by the 'know it alls' of the DAR, I diligently continued my research. And as the days and weeks passed, my detective work grew into an obsession. Looking through every record with a 'fine toothed comb', my eye began to pick up hints not previously noticed. Names spelled slightly different within search engines sometimes revealed new records of proof. I began to explore leads to documents that I had once discounted, reviewing them further and finding new clues. Like Sherlock Holmes, I was consumed with single handedly locating every possible record of proof of every ancestor for my application, proving the DAR had nothing over me!

And then I found it, the 'golden record': The missing link that provided the final connection of proof to my patriot ancestor. It was truly my 'ah ha moment' of genealogical research. The skies opened, the stars aligned and angels fluttered their wings! I did it and I knew I did it. I proved those DAR 'know it alls' wrong. I put the final piece of my research puzzle together, rewriting my application with numerous additional proofs and sent it back to Washington with a new-found feeling of omnipresence.

My congratulatory letter arrived a few weeks later and soon afterwards came the DAR membership certificate. With an immediate trip to the frame shop, the certificate was proudly hung in plain view for a constant reminder of my newly developed detective skills; skills that continue to be fine-tuned with every new lineage society application.

As I reflect on the experience, I now have a deeper perspective of the process. Genealogy is fun, exciting and typically thrilling but proving your actual lineage to an ancestor is a science. And proving connection to your ancestors, without a doubt, solidifies your lineage. As a result of the DAR application process, I developed a better eye for research and improved my skills. The DAR meetings have turned out to be less 'stuffy' and more worthwhile than first thought. And if I ever loose interest in genealogy, I can quickly whip up a resume for Sherlock's new sidekick.

The Daughters of the American Revolution have now made their website available to nonmembers for research. This can be a valuable tool in locating Revolutionary War patriots within your lineage and accessing member's proofs. Go to dar.org. And by all means, consider joining this wonderful organization.

Keep searching for answers,

Cheryl