Bradley Whitford: Brothers in Arms
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When we think about learning the story of our ancestors, we are often laser-focused on only our direct line. But when you consider the full story of one of our great-great-great grandparents, the story is much richer when you think of them as being part of a bigger family. 

 

For Bradley Whitford’s Who Do You Think You Are? journey, his second great-grandfather Frederick Neu proved to have a fascinating story. He was born in 1832 in Prussia and immigrated to America at the age of 14 with his parents, an older sister, and three younger brothers. At that time in Prussia citizens didn’t have the right to vote or inherit land, while America was a land of promise and opportunity which might have prompted the family’s decision to make such a journey. 

 

Seven years later, Frederick Neu became a citizen of the United States in 1854 and by 1860 Frederick was a landowner, an opportunity he would not have had if his family stayed in Prussia. He and his wife, Charlotte, were living in Adams, Ripley County, Indiana farming the land and raising two young children. Less than a year later, on 12 April 1861, Confederate troops fired on Fort Sumter, beginning the Civil War and the bloodiest four years in American history.

 

 

With a young family to care for, Frederick did not immediately jump into the fight, but when he did his two younger brothers Valentine and John joined with him. The Civil War is a particularly poignant opportunity to look at an entire family as this is the last war where companies enlisted from home communities. If a company endured significant losses in a battle, there was a dramatic impact back in their hometown.  As Bradley learned the story of Frederick’s experience during the war, it is quickly apparent that this isn’t just the story of just one man, but about Frederick and his brothers. He tracked their company’s movements leading to the Siege of Vicksburg.  Following their shared experience brought a new level of anticipation, hope, concern, and triumph as the details emerged. 

 

So, when you begin your own quest to learn the stories of your ancestors, be sure to give consideration to their contemporaries—the people they lived alongside, faced the unknown with, occasionally fought with, and ultimately loved—to paint a broader picture of a well-lived life. 

 

To watch Bradley Whitford’s entire journey and discover more celebrities uncovering their family history, watch full episodes of Who Do You Think You Are? Sundays at 7/6c on NBC or stream on Peacock.

 

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Tips from AncestryProGenealogists

Develop a timeline of military service from a variety of records to discover your own Civil War story.

 

The Civil War collection at Ancestry is a great place to start, and these databases can help you identify whether your ancestor served in the Civil War and, if so, in which company and regiment, and the history of that regiment:  

Although there are more records available for soldiers who fought with the Union Army, some of these records are also available for Confederate soldiers. 

  • Enlistment records often provide details, such as a physical description, birthplace, occupation and sometimes include notes about their death or discharge. 
  • Muster rolls are basically a roll call, providing a snapshot of who was present with the company on the day of the muster. You will want to supplement with other records to ensure participation in a specific skirmish or battle, since a soldier could have been absent, ill, or wounded between muster dates.
  • Regimental histories list the battles and skirmishes in which the regiment fought, as well as the number of men who were killed or mortally wounded and those who died from disease. Visit the War Stories project at Fold3 to see timelines, records, movements, and battle histories of the regiment your ancestor fought with. 
  • Newspapers can also provide interesting details ranging from general coverage of the war to specific accounts of battles, or other news from the frontline as soldiers sent letters home to friends and family that were then published. 
  • After the war, a soldier or his comrade may recount their experience in other types of records, such as Civil War pension files, biographies in county histories, or even in records from the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR). You will be surprised at the variety of records included in a pension file.