For those of you who have been following along, this is the latest in write a series of “Weekly Discovery” columns to help you uncover the stories of the Civil War that are hidden in your family tree. (If you’re just joining us or missed an article or two, see the end of this column for links to other articles.)
In previous articles, we determined who in our family served in the Civil War. Now we can start to assemble the story of what their lives were like during the war. I’ve long since given up on my memory as a way to save information. Instead, I find it useful to create two tools to help me organize information--a timeline and a to-do list.
There are many places to look to gather clues, and you should look at all of them and make sure you get as much out of each one as possible. Today, let’s start with the American Civil War Soldiers and the American Civil War Regiments data collections.
First, I want to create a timeline that has the basic events for my soldier. Let’s work with Robert Bryant that we’ve discussed in previous columns. First, I locate Robert Bryant in the American Civil War Soldiers data collection.
Robert Bryant enlisted in Company K, 7th Cavalry Regiment Kentucky on 16 Aug 1862. He died on 8 Mar 1863, still enlisted in Company K. He served the state of Kentucky and he was a Union Soldier.
I open up my spreadsheet and enter the following:
But how am I going to know where I got that information from? I know it’s sourced in my tree, but just for a quick reminder, I put a note in my timeline just so I don’t get confused.
There is more information associated with the American Civil War Soldiers data collection. I take a look at the Source Information and Description. It’s always a good idea to know where information comes from. The American Civil War Soldiers data collection is a compilation of many different sources. Looking over the list of state rosters that make up this collection, I see these two for Kentucky:
Since Robert is a Union Soldier, I add the second data collection to my To-Do list:
- Check “Report of the Adjutant General of the State of Kentucky” for Robert Bryant.
So Robert was in the cavalry for a very short time—about six months. What did the 7th Cavalry do in those six months? I go back to the record for Robert Bryant and click on Company K, 7th Cavalry Regiment Kentucky. I see a list of Regiments from the American Civil War Regiments collection. I notice that the 7th Cavalry is listed as organized in 1 August 1862 and mustered out 10 July 1865.
I click on “View Record” and find:
I read the history, and it gives me a brief overview of some of the battles and skirmishes the Regiment participated in. The history goes through 1865, but my soldier died on 8 March 1863 so I limit my reading to that. After the history portion I find a list of battles fought.
From this list I can determine that Robert probably fought at Big Hill, Kentucky; Richmond, Kentucky; and Gerrard, Kentucky. I’ll want to update my timeline with some of these details.
If I click on the two links for Big Hill and Richmond, I find:
I’ve found more information, and of course have more questions.
First, I update my To-Do list, adding two more items.
- Locate Big Kill, Kentucky, Richmond, Kentucky and Gerrard, Kentucky on a map.
- Search for more information on these battles.
Now is probably a good time to start bringing in facts from some of the records I found on Fold3 as well. (See the links to the two September columns at the end of this article.)
I’ve grayed out the 16 February battle in Gerrard. I doubt he was in it because he had received his discharge papers five days prior. I’ve now got a framework on which to base my story for Robert. I also have the beginnings of a to-do list of what I want to investigate.
I add to that:
- Try to find out more about the 7th Cavalry of Kentucky
I notice that there was a “List of Soldiers” link that was on the Regiment record page. I probably should look to see if there were soldiers in there that might or were part of Robert’s family. I find Jesse, William Acy, and Asa Bryant. Only William seems familiar, but the others might be related. I add those to my to-do list as well.
Another place you should look at for information about the different regiments and soldiers is the Civil War Soldiers & Sailors System (www.itd.nps.gov/cwss), which is sponsored by the National Park Service. We can search for the regiment and find more historical data.
Ok, that is a little hard to read, but it does give us more detail on the movements and engagements of the regiment.
And remember not all companies may have participated in specific battles. The next time you pick up one of those Civil War books (and I’m guessing most of you have) and they start talking about this unit did this and that company did that, well you can pull up your timeline and make educated guesses as to where your ancestor was.
So where do you store this information so that you find it easily next time you need it? You can print it out and stick in some manila folder and then store it your filing cabinet. Or maybe you can print it out and put it on that big stack of papers in your office or on your dining room table that you need to file. (Yes, I have one of those. I wonder what treasures lay in that pile that I’ve forgotten about?)
Or you can store it on the computer. One quick and easy place is the Person Page on your online tree on Ancestry.com. On my person page for Robert Bryant, I click on “Add a Story.”
I start off with my to-do list and then my timeline.
If you know you want to collect images and need more formatting, you can put it in a Word document and upload that. Either way, if you store it in your tree, you’ll have it all in one place, and you can update it easily.
Too often we get caught up in the joy of finding and attaching and we don’t take the time to organize and update our files. But using the tools at hand, we can mine those important details out of what we’ve found and store them for easy reference.
Past articles from this series:
Your Civil War Story: Identifying Those Who Fought (7 August 2011)
Your Civil War Story: Billy Yank or Johnny Reb? (21 August 2011)
Your Civil War Story: Is He or Isn’t He? (18 September 2011)
Your Civil War Story: It’s All in the Details (25 September 2011)
Anne Gillespie Mitchell is a Senior Search Product Manager at Ancestry.com. She is an active blogger on Ancestry.com and writes the “Ask Ancestry Anne” column for the Ancestry.com “Monthly Update” newsletter. She has been chasing her ancestors through Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina for many years, and is pursuing her CG certification.
Other articles in the 16 October 2011 Weekly Discovery