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.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Brickey Brick Wall

I have several brick walls in my tree that are tantalizingly close to revealing their secrets. This low hanging fruit - just out of reach - includes the identity of Mary Jane's birth mother, and the name of Thomas Stevens' "aged mother".

Add to these my Brickey brick wall.

Annie Charles Winkler - my 2nd great-grandmother - was born in June 1884 in Washington County, Arkansas. According to her obituary, she was the "daughter of Henry and Pauline Brickey Winkler". Both of her parents disappeared from her life, which has created considerable trouble in confirming their identities and tracking their paths after her birth.

I found a September 1883 marriage record for James H. Winkler (spelled Winkley) and Miss Paulina Brickey in Newton County, Missouri. This is the only record I've uncovered that links these two individuals in life.

Family stories suggest that James Henry Winkler (Jim) left Pauline to raise Annie alone. For whatever reasons, Pauline didn't take up the mantel. Annie is first documented in the 1900 US Federal Census living in Prairie Township, Washington County, Arkansas with an aunt - Matilda Wilson. Her parents are not in the household. Have they deserted her? Are they even alive? What I wouldn't give for the 1890 census!

I don't yet know Matilda Wilson's maiden name. Given her age, 73 years, it's most likely that she's an aunt to either James or Pauline. A son of Matilda's is living in the household. His surname is Phelan.

To advance my research, I next returned to Newton County, Missouri (where James H. Winkler and Pauline Brickey were married) to see if I could locate the Brickey or Winkler families.

In the 1880 census, there were no Winklers in Newton County. However, there was a widowed Elizabeth Brickey living with several children. None of them were named Pauline. I traced Elizabeth back to 1870 when she's living with Nelson A. Brickey (presumably her husband). There is a daughter in the household named Mary S. P. Brickey. In the 1860 census the name is spelled out as Samantha P. Brickey. It's the only female child with a "P" in the name. Is this Pauline?

I expanded my search to Washington County, Arkansas where Annie was born. The broadened search turned up a December 30, 1891 marriage record between J.R. Lee and "Mrs. Pauline Winkler". The Mrs. instead of Miss suggests to me that she was previously married.

Combined searches of public family trees (gasp!) and pointed me to James Russell Lee who was married several times, including to Mrs. Pauline Winkler. Pauline Lee passes away in 1899 and is buried in Mars Hill Cemetery in Barry County, Missouri. I hypothesize that this is Pauline (Brickey) Winkler. If that's the case, Pauline's 1899 death would explain why Annie was living with an aunt in the 1900 census.

My search also indicated that J.R. and Pauline had a son Elmer F. Lee who was born in 1894 and passed away in 1966. An online family tree gives Elmer's mother's name as "Poleen Bricklin". Unfortunately, the connection is unsourced. However, I wonder if the name comes from Elmer's death certificate? Perhaps an informant was trying to recall his mother's maiden name and confused Pauline Brickey?

I'm hoping that an 1899 obituary or death notice was published in the local paper and can help source Mrs. Pauline Lee's origins. A copy of Elmer's death record or SSN application with his mother's maiden name could also help to substantiate my theory. Frankly, a divorce record between Pauline and James Henry would be handy, too!

Perhaps I'm close to smashing through the Brickey brick wall. Now where in tarnation is James Henry Winkler?

Friday, August 22, 2014

Genetic Genealogy: Not Your Grandpa's Genealogy

I've tested with all three genetic genealogy companies. I've had family members test, too (Yes, both of my grandmothers have spit in little tubes!). I understand that DNA can tell me who I am related to, and that different types of DNA (Y, mitochondrial, and autosomal) can point at shared common ancestors within the parameters of each particular type of DNA.

But how do I break through brick walls with DNA exactly? How do I triangulate all of the data to get at meaningful information? These questions drove me to attend the inaugural 2014 International Genetic Genealogy Conference sponsored by the Institute for Genetic Genealogy (i4GG).

The weekend proved to be a phenomenal education in genetic genealogy. Friday featured two-hour presentations by each of the three key players in the DNA ancestry field: 23andMe,, and FamilyTreeDNA. All three walked through their products, took questions from the audience, and even hinted at future offerings. A couple even took audience feedback to heart, and one faced considerable audience criticism for their current refusal to share chromosome information that's critically important to confirming genetic relationships.

Across all presentations, I was struck by the increasingly exponential popularity of genetic genealogy. Keynote speaker Dr. Spencer Wells, a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence and Director of the Genographic Project, noted that it took 11 years for the one millionth consumer to complete a personal DNA test in 2013. By mid-2014, the second millionth consumer had already submitted their DNA sample.

Dr. Wells surmised that direct-to-consumer DNA testing is the "most disruptively radically changing technology in history." This isn't an understatement. We're still discovering the ways in which DNA can advance our genealogy.

During his presentation on Using Free Third-Party Tools to Analyze Your Autosomal DNA, Blaine Bettinger referenced a tool that allows users to analyze their inherited DNA to artificially reconstruct an ancestor's DNA. It's reminiscent of the March 2014 news that scientists were able to use DNA to create "crude 3D models of faces."

Clearly, this isn't grandpa's genealogy of yesteryear. We're not just talking about DNA helping to match us with distant cousins. We're talking about identifying DNA lost to time and reconstructing great-granddad's face! Maybe I'll finally be able to identify all of those old unlabeled family photos.

I left the conference exhausted (12 hour days, people!), but incredibly excited. There were many great sessions that provided insight into my initial questions about how to break down brick walls through triangulation. 

But I was most struck by the fascinating discoveries continued DNA research has in store for the future of family history, and how everyday genealogists (citizen scientists, really) are leading the practical application of the science to genealogy. As event organizer CeCe Moore noted, "the discoveries that we'll make are in our hands."

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Half Priced? Pass the Spittoon!

Word is spreading like wildfire in the genealogy community - is offering half-priced DNA tests.

If you've been sitting on the fence, unwilling or unable to pay the $99 fee - now may be the time to climb down and join the rest of us in our genetic genealogy searches.

At $46 (the reduced rate coupled with the reduced shipping code of "socialdna"), that's enticement enough to encourage everyone to pass the spittoon. A little saliva goes a long way in advancing our research!