30 May 2010

Sentimental Sunday: Memorial Day, Part 2 -- Ralph Keith Walker (1918-1969)

Now for something new.  My fondest memories of growing up are the days I spent with my Dad and my uncle Ralph, usually hunting.  We hunted ducks, geese, doves, quail, and pheasants.  It was my Dad and my uncle Ralph that introduced me to working Labrador Retrievers, and are primarily responsible for how integral they have become in my life.  You see, I was too young to take much interest in Dad and Ralph's conversations on our hunting trips, so I spent all my time bonding with the dogs.

Ralph voluntarily enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1938.  He was stationed aboard the battleship USS West Virginia in communications as a radio operator.  In early 1941, Ralph was transferred to the heavy cruiser USS Minneapolis.  On December 7, 1941 when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, the USS Minneapolis was 20 miles north participating in gunnery practice.  But the USS West Virginia was sunk, killing over a hundred of her crew.

Ralph saw lots of action in World War II, earning five medals and accommodations with service stars (three in Asian Pacific, one in Atlantic off coast of north Africa) that represent actual engagement with the enemy.  He was at Wake Island, and the Battle of Leyte Gulf;  He helped liberate the Philippines and allied forces invade north Africa.  In addition to the USS West Virginia, and the USS Minneapolis, he also served aboard the USS Walker, the USS Titania, and the USS Terry.  He separated out in October 1945, two months after the surrender of Japan and the end of the war, serving a total of seven and a half years; enlisting before it began, exiting after it was over.

Ralph died in 1969 at age 50 from a kind of cancer that is now curable in over 90% of the patients who contract it, but for which they didn't have a cure back then.  He left behind my aunt "Betty" (Florence Esther Spurrier, 1920-2009) and a daughter.

Copyright © 2010 by Kevin W. Walker

Memorial Day, Part 1 -- Capt. James Walker (1732-1806)

For this Memorial Day I wanted to post "something old and something new" to express the timelessness of it all -- war and sacrifice.  One of the things I love the most about genealogy is the history I learn, and a couple days ago I came across a quote from a veteran who said it wasn't fighting for liberty he minded, "But why do we have to do it every twenty-five years?"  My sentiments exactly.  Liberty is worth fighting for, but why must we do it so often?

This Memorial Day, I remember first my great-great-great-great-great-grandfather Capt. James Walker (1732-1806) of Belchertown, Massachusetts.  He was a town Selectman, Constable, church Deacon, and veteran of both the French and Indian War and the American Revolution.  From E.W. Foster's WALKER: A Genealogy Giving Some of the Descendants of Samuel Walker of Woburn, Mass. (s.n. 1930) --
[Capt. Walker] became a member of Captain Nathaniel Dwight’s Company of Colonel Israel William’s regiment and in 1757 marched with that company to the relief of Fort William Henry. He was afterward captain of the company.

His home was in the district of Belchertown known as “Turkey Hill,” now better known as Chestnut Hill. His children were all born and grew up on the farm and as his sons became of proper age they also joined the military company of the town. When the alarm of 19 April 1775 was heralded, there was a generous response in Belchertown to the call. James Walker with his oldest son marched on the morning of the 20th for the front. Captain Walker was Sergeant in Captain Cowles’ Company, Col. Woodbridge’s regiment. He remained at Cambridge until 14 May when he was discharged and returned home.

Copyright © 2010 by Kevin W. Walker

26 May 2010

Wordless Wednesday: The Walker Brothers (ca. 1945)

Copyright © 2010 by Kevin W. Walker

25 May 2010

Tombstone Tuesday: The Grave of James Burr on the Grounds of Wheaton College (IL)

 I know this is not directly related to the surnames I am researching, but Wheaton College of Wheaton, Illinois is my alma mater, and the following is a neat little story I thought you might find interesting.

Wheaton, Illinois and the Illinois Institute (now Wheaton College) were founded in 1853 by strict Wesleyan Methodists who were strong abolitionists.  It is said that the school's first President Jonathan Blanchard's home was a part of the Underground Railroad, hiding runaway slaves in a room on the top floor of his home.

Well one of the first bits of trivia that "Wheaties" first learn when they come to the school is that the grounds of the college hosts the actual grave of an abolitionist!  His name was James Burr, and he was an anti-slavery activist.  In 1841 he was ambushed in Illinois by slave owners, and taken to Missouri where he was tried and imprisoned for "stealing slaves."

From the article "Good Soil" by David Malone, November 5, 2008 --
The Illinois Institute had been founded in 1853 by Wesleyan Methodists who had split from the main body of the Methodist Church over the question of slavery. Early in 1859, two months before his death from consumption, which he probably contracted while in prison, he prepared a will leaving $300 of his $4000 estate to the Illinois Institute in Wheaton. This money was “to be used for the educating of indigent fatherless young men who were wholly devoted to the cause of Christ wishing a preparation for such a calling and wishing to preach said gospel to all irrespective of color and who are opposed to slavery and sin of every grade and in favor of the reformers of the present day.”
The question of how Burr’s grave came to campus remains an unsolved mystery. According to a brief letter in the Christian Cynosure of February 20, 1879, by George Thompson, Burr was buried there “by special request.” He wished his grave to be on grounds untrampled by slavery. There were many other ties between the tiny school and the city where Burr lived. In 1860 two of the trustees of the institution, Rufus Lumry and Owen Lovejoy, (another zealous abolitionist), list Princeton, Illinois, as their home address. In addition, John Cross, who taught in the school, was also from Princeton. Undoubtedly, Burr was well acquainted with the sympathies of these men and knew of their efforts to aid runaway slaves. Given tuition costs of $24 per year for the college by 1860, his legacy endowed a full scholarship. When forced to reorganize in 1859-60, the administration naturally looked for a man who felt as deeply as they did about the issue of abolition. Consequently, they invited Jonathan Blanchard to become the president of the struggling school and he arrived in January, 1860, almost a year after Burr’s burial. No one knows whether these two men were acquainted, but it is almost certain that they knew of each other and their joint sympathy for the abolitionist cause.
For years Burr rested quietly, his grave officially decorated once each year by students. Then the damage done by pranksters to the tombstone caused campus officials to remove the seven-foot high marker and replace it with one flush with the ground. In April of 1959, there was a special commemorative service in his memory, focusing attention on his life. Although speculation about Burr waxed and waned following that occasion, he didn’t return to prominence until 1987 when the new James E. Burr Scholarship for first-year minority students was announced.
Another good article on the abolitionist history of Wheaton, Illinois can be found here -- "Abolitionists in Wheaton" by Alberta Adamson.

Copyright © 2010 by Kevin W. Walker

24 May 2010

Amanuensis Monday: Casattas - Frank Wedding Announcement

(Amanuensis: A person employed to write what another dictates or to copy what has been written by another.  "Amanuensis Monday" is a blogging theme hosted by John Newmark at the Transylvanian Dutch Genealogy Blog.)

The following is from the Tuesday, June 29, 1954 issue of the newspaper SUNNYVALE STANDARD --

Helen Frank, Paul Casattas Say Vow in Nuptial Ceremony
Helen Marie Frank and Paul Steven Casattas Saturday morning repeated nuptial vows in a formal double ring ceremony performed by the Reverend Joseph G. O'Gara at St. Patrick's Church, San Jose.

Helen, the daughter of Col. and Mrs. Clarence A. Frank of San Jose was given away by her father.

The bride selected a wedding gown of chantilly lace over satin with a fitted bodice, full-length skirt, long sleeves and a long train.  Her fingertip veil was secured to a pearl crown.  A spray of stephanotis arranged on her great-grandmother's prayer book centered with a white orchid and white satin streamers composed the bridal bouquet.

Carol Eason maid of honor wore a blue net over satin gown with a bouffant skirt fashioned with three rows of inserted ruffles and appliqued roses on the tucked bodice.  She wore a band of net ruffles in her hair and carried a colonial bouquet of pastel blue delphiniums backed with pale blue satin.

The three bridesmaids, who preceded Helen down the aisle, wore gowns identical to the maid of honors.  Serving as attendants were Mary Elizabeth Frank, sister of the bride; Joan Waterman, cousin of the bride, and Linda Whelan, cousin of the groom.

Best man for the rites was Lawrence Estevan, Jr., while Robert Bevans, Harold Waterman, and William Whelan, showed guests their places.

Approximately 350 friends and relatives attended a reception honoring the couple at the De Anza Hotel.

Mrs. Frank, mother of the bride, wore a changeable pastel blue silk shantung afternoon dress to her daughter's wedding, complemented with a white picture hat and gloves.  She wore a pink cymbidium orchid corsage.  The benedict's mother was costumed in a navy blue two-piece crepe suit, with navy blue and white accessories.  She too wore an orchid corsage.

Casattas, the son of Mr. and Mrs. Carl G. Casattas, of 571 N. Bayview, is a graduate of St. Joseph's High School in Alameda, and San Jose State College where he was affiliated with Theta Kappa Phi Fraternity.  his sisters are Mrs. Jens Juhl and Sister Julie of the Holy Family Order.

Helen graduated from Notre Dame High School, San Jose, and San Jose State College where her sorority was Epsilon Sigma Alpha.  Her sisters and brothers are Clarence A. Frank, Jr., Eugene P. Frank, Sister Dorothy Cecillia of Notre Dame, Mary Elizabeth, and Eileen Frank.

For her going away outfit, Helen wore a sand-hued two-piece pure silk suit overlaid with turquoise and white print.  She pinned an orchid corsage at her shoulder.

After a honeymoon in Southern California, the newlyweds will make their home in San Carlos.
Copyright © 2010 by Kevin W. Walker

Great Find = Great Idea for Family Historians!

My late grandmother Thelma Gibson (nee. Surpluss) grew up in Rosalia, Kansas.  Her daughter, my aunt has been very supportive of me in both my family history and genealogical quests.  I just received from her one of the greatest finds I could EVER have imagined!  It is a copy of A Pictorial History Of Rosalia, 1869-1935 by Harold J. Borger (unknown publisher, 1972).

"So what" you say?  "What makes that so special" you say?  It is loaded with personal notes in the margins from my late grandmother!  "This is our doctor."  "This church was across the road from the cemetery."  "I went to school with him."  And on and on.  When the book comments on the Kafir Corn Festival, my grandmother wrote, "We always went, it was like a fair."  About one town doctor she wrote, "This is the doctor that moved to Texas and Mexico, and was said to be using goat glands for the men in town to keep them young and productive."  Next to one lady's name she wrote, "Always recited 'The Blue and the Gray' every May 30th."

What a find, and what an idea!!!  I have two county history books from where my Dad grew up.  When he comes to visit this Summer I an going to ask him to make as many personal notes in the margins that he can recall.

Thanks dear aunt for this wonderful contribution you have made to the family history!

Copyright © 2010 by Kevin W. Walker

17 May 2010

Amanuensis Monday: "The Civil War Letter"

(Amanuensis: A person employed to write what another dictates or to copy what has been written by another. "Amanuensis Monday" is a blogging theme hosted by John Newmark at the Transylvanian Dutch genealogy blog.)

Growing up there were three items we all knew with evident family history value -- the family Bible, some Civil War era tin-types of ancestors, and "the Civil War Letter."  The letter is from my great-great-grandfather Charles Chesley to his wife Phoebe, who we have recently posted about.

The Civil War Letter was carried around in my father's coat pocket for many years. To this day he is not exactly sure why, all he knows is that he knew it had value as it offered him a form of connectedness to his roots as he moved around the country.  I think those of us who cherish family history know exactly what he means.

Here is the letter by letter transcription, all mistakes in spelling, grammar, punctuation, etc. belong to my g-g-grandfather:

K Co. 8th Ill. Cav
Benton Barracks St. Louis Mo
June 28th, 1865

Dear Phebe,

I received your letter of the 18th last night while in bed and was truly glad to hear from home once more.  We left Fairfax Station on the morning of the 19th.  I was taken quite ill at Fairfax Courthouse but after remaining a short time I went on to Washington where I overtook the regiment.  That evening we got on the cars of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, laid over one day at Cumberland and then came to Parkersburgh, West Virginia.  There we took Steam Boat and landed at Lawrenceburgh, Indiana on the 25th where we again got on the cars, passed through the States of Indiana and Illinois and landed here yesterday evening and here we are in Missouri.  How long we will stay or where we will go next I do not know, we hear a great many yarns in reference to our destination.  Some tell us we are going to Texas, some say we go to Kansas.  I think we will go to Illinois, but how soon I do not know.  I cannot believe we will remain here any great length of time.  I see nothing fixing up here to remain, another thing we are not getting any soft bread, no cooking utensils or other conveniences for staying any length of time.  I ought to have told you that my sickness was only temporary.  I had a friend who stayed with me and I soon recovered, and had quite a pleasant trip considering the inconveniences we had to contend with, having no opportunity to cook.  Only at Cumberland where we did a little cooking, and the Sanitary Commission gave us coffee.  When we landed at Lawrenceburgh the citizens very kindly invited us to dinner at there houses & had they known we were coming they would have given us a jublie dinner.  It is the first, last and only town we passed through where we were treated like white folks or where the people seemed to appreciate the services of the soldiers.  We are encamped on the most beautiful place I have been in since I enlisted.  Very level, all the Barracks painted white.  I think the grounds contain about 40 acres, probably more.  There are a great many troops here, and as far as I can learn they are all homeward bound, except the Missouri troops and the Regulars, this makes me believe we will not remain here any length of time.  We have very beautiful weather, not very hot, yesterday was quite cool with a little rain.  I am at present in very good health but somewhat tired after our long trip of twelve hundred miles.  Yesterday evening after we got into our Barracks one of Co. D was shot by the accidental discharge of a Carbine through the carelessness of another of the same Co.  He lived about 15 minutes but never spoke or showed any indication of being conscious of what was passing around him.  If you write soon direct your letters to me at Benton Barracks St. Louis Missouri instead of Washington.  When we leave here I will write to you immediately on stopping at the next place.  Having nothing more of importance to write, and hoping you are in good health, accept the love of your devoted Husband.

C. H. Chesley
K Co. 8th Ill Cav
© 2010, Copyright Kevin W. Walker

14 May 2010

Milldale, Nebraska

According to the homestead records when Lucy Walker (nee. Chesley) and her Chesley relatives were homesteading Custer County, Nebraska, they gave the town of Milldale as their post office.

Milldale is no longer a town, not even a ghost town, it now exists as ruins; It exists now mostly on the midwestern winds.  Just a little over a hundred years old.

In 2005, the tenth graders in Mr. Swingle's science class at Arnold (NE) High School did a brief report on Milldale and put in online.  Make sure and follow the links they provide to even more interesting info.

© 2010, Copyright Kevin W. Walker

13 May 2010

How Many of Us?

The U.S. Census Bureau has published a list of all the 151,671 names on the 2000 census and ranked them according to commonality.  I thought it would be interesting to look up the surnames that make up the lower branches on my family tree.  Here they are ranked --
  1. Walker - 28th
  2. Gibson - 119th
  3. Mack - 441st
  4. Frank - 454th
  5. Needham - 3,074th
  6. Chesley - 10,779th (tied)
  7. Derfler - 87,348th
  8. Surpluss - 110,523rd (tied)
  9. Molfino - (not listed)*
  10. Casattas - (not listed)
The "Casattas" results were not surprising.  Our research says it was a made up name for one family line, and the last remaining person with that surname is my wife's aunt, who is a nun!  The surname will die with her passing.  The "Molfino" results surprised me, but perhaps there are residents of Italy still using it.  I will have to check. 

"Walker" remains common, but just a couple decades ago it was in the top twenty.  However with the recent high number of immigrants from Mexico and Asia, it has been overtaken by such names as "Garcia," "Lopez," Hernandez," "Lee," and others.

My wife is 1/4 Casattas, and 1/4 Molfino.  I am only a newbie in genealogy, but my limited experience is that this is not necessarily a good thing or a bad thing, just like the commonality of "Walker" is not necessarily good or bad.  The less common surnames are often easier to research, but the more common surnames often lead to others who are researching the same family and with whom you can share notes.

To the best of my knowledge I am the only one researching Casattas, and possibly Molfino, and possibly even Surpluss!  Believe me, I welcome anyone who can show me differently!

email me at amiable160 [at sign] gmail dot com

* -- White Pages shows at least ninety-six individuals currently with the surname "Molfino" in the U.S.

© 2010, Copyright Kevin W. Walker

12 May 2010

Dorothy Grace Nitzsche (nee. McNeill Walker) 1912-1948

How can I have a crush on someone seventeen years older than my father, AND who died over a decade before I was born?  But I do.  Perhaps it was how glowingly my parents spoke about her when I was growing up, including by my mother who never met her?  Or maybe I just think she is pretty?  I don't know.  I am just embarrassed to admit it, but my heart goes all aflutter when I see her pictures.

Aunt Dorothy was born December 2, 1912 to Clifton Leslie McNeill (1884-1969) and my paternal grandmother Mattie Mae Walker (nee. Needham, 1884-1938), and was affectionately known as "Pat."  When Mattie divorced Clifton and married my grandfather Keith Glen Walker (1894-1980) in 1916, he legally adopted Dorothy.  So she was my father's half-sister.  But to hear my Dad tell it, there never was any recognition of any familial differences among the siblings, they all treated each other like full siblings.

 Pictured above is my Aunt Dorothy and my father.
 Finding anything on Aunt Dorothy has been very hard, perhaps because she only lived 36 years; Perhaps because she was a woman, perhaps she lived under the radar.

 Dorothy (left) parties with two unnamed friends.
 Whatever the case, while scoring an obituary is often quite commonplace in family research, for me scoring Aunt Dorothy's felt like a home run!  From the Oakland Tribune - December 19, 1948, Oakland, California:
NITZSCHE -- In Oakland.  December 16, 1948.  Dorothy Grace Nitzsche, loving wife of John M. Nitzsche; daughter of Keith Walker, sister of Mrs. Genifer Gordon, Mrs. W. L. Wistrom, Violet Walker, Mrs. Leroy Strasheim and Arthur, Rlaph(sic), Paul and Wayne Walker.  A native of Nebraska; age 36 years.
Friends are invited to attend services Monday, December 20, 1948, at 1 o'clock p.m. at the Truman Chapel, Telegraph Avenue at 30th Street.  Dr. Harold Kelley, officiating.
The next step is to try and discover her gravesite and get a picture.  So here is to you Aunt Dorothy, from a nephew who never met you, but is somehow sure he loves you.

 © 2010, Copyright Kevin W. Walker

11 May 2010

Tombstone Tuesday: Warren Denslow Copeland (1859-1942)

"Tombstone Tuesday" is a daily blogging theme used by many genealogy bloggers to help them post content on their sites.

Today I offer Warren Denslow Copeland, 15 Oct 1859 (New York) - 01 Mar 1942 (Arnold, Custer, Nebraska).

My paternal grandfather Keith's step-father, but the only "father" he ever knew.

© 2010, Copyright Kevin W. Walker

09 May 2010

Mother Phoebe Chesley (nee. Ward) 1830-1928

When I think of "mother" relative to my ancestry there is no stronger image than that of Phoebe Chesley, mother of eight (one of whom had Downs Syndrome), grandmother to over thirty, and great-grandmother to an untold number many of whom she lived long enough to see born.

Pictured above are two sets of four generations of women, three generations on each side of the baby! Standing L to R -- Flora Mae Hutchens (nee. Moore), Bessie Ann Walker (nee. Hutchens), Lucy May Walker Copeland (nee. Chesley); Sitting  L to R -- Elizabeth Moore (nee. Johnson), Beulah Walker, Phoebe Chesley (nee. Ward).  The baby's father was Lynndon Walker, Lucy's son.

Phoebe ruled with a strong will and a compassionate heart.  She was the glue that held that huge family together, some of the time without the presence of her husband Charles who served in the Civil War.  After the passing of Charles, she lived with my great-grandmother Lucy.  At first thought I would say it was an honor.  But research says it was likely because Lucy needed the most help.

From Settling the Seven Valleys 1872-1982 (Loup Valley Queen, 1982) --

Some notes on Charles H. and Phoebe Ward Chesley and their eight children.  They were married in 1848 in Plattsburgh, New York, where they grew up and here their first four were born, George 1849, Candis 1852, Charles E. 1854, Ida 1856.  With one nursing baby and three toddlers the couple traveled by wagon train to Morrison, Illinois the summer of 1857.  One year later twins Catie (Eva) and Carrie were born (Carrie died at three months), in 1860 Cyrus Henry and Lucy May, 1866. . . .
In 1870, when the oldest George was 21 and the youngest Lucy May was four, the family emigrated to homestead near Osborn City, Kansas. . . .
In 1889 Charles E. moved his family to Custer County, Nebraska.  By 1894 the entire clan had joined him there, including the elderly Phoebe and Charles H. now in their sixties.  Some of the families homesteaded, some bought existing farms, my great-grandmother Lucy homesteaded.

Phoebe Ward Chesley, the mother, grandmother, and great grandmother to the above families lived to be 98.  She was cared for in the home of her youngest daughter Lucy Walker Copeland.  She was still making quilts until the last years, always wore a neat ruffled bedcap, used a magnifying glass to read her Bible.  She died in 1928.

 © 2010, Copyright Kevin W. Walker

07 May 2010

In My Avatar, That is Indeed Me!

In honor of Mother's Day, somewhat.  Pictured is my mother introducing baby me to our Labrador Retriever "Pat" some fifty years ago.

My Dad was a duck hunter, and responsible duck hunters hunt with retrievers.  "Pat" was his retriever.

Dogs, and Labradors in particular, have always been and remain an integral part of my life to this day.  My wife and I raise and train Labradors for competition in Obedience, Agility, and Field.  If my mother and father could only have known what they started, some fifty years ago.

© 2010, Copyright Kevin W. Walker

06 May 2010

The Death of Henry Martin Walker, Sr. (1929-1865)

In January of 1865, in Springfield, Illinois, Henry Martin Walker enlisted in Company A, 33rd Regimental Infantry, Illinois Volunteers, Union Army.  He was dead six weeks later due to a tragic accident.

Henry probably enlisted at the behest of his brother-in-law Harvey Dutton who was the Captain in charge of this particular company.  The consensus at the time was the war was winding down, and this was a chance for Henry to come in at the end of the fight and qualify for benefits.

In those early months of 1865, the 33rd Illinois was stationed along the Opelousas Railroad outside of New Orleans to prevent guerrilla attacks and keep supply lines open.  This was all swamp, and illness took its toll on the men.  By the end of the war, all totaled the regiment suffered many more deaths by disease than they did by battle, and that includes the siege of Vicksburg of which they were a part.  But that is not how my g-g-grandfather died.  Here is the account taken from HISTORY of the Thirty-Third Regiment Illinois Veteran Volunteer Infantry IN THE CIVIL WAR: 22nd AUGUST, 1861. to 7th DECEMBER, 1865 by GENERAL ISAAC H. ELLIOTT, published in 1902. --
After staying at Brashear and along the railroad for
nine months and thirteen days, we received the wel-
come order to join the expedition to operate against
Mobile, and on the morning of Thursday, March 2nd,
1865, the companies were picked up at the several sta-
tions, beginning at Bayou Boeuf. I was in command of
the regiment, Col. Lippincott being absent. The train
was a mixed one of flat and box ears, carrying all our bag-
gage and horses. Many of the men were on top of the
box ears. After Company B had been taken on at La-
Fourche and Des Allemandes there was only left Com-
pany H at Boutee, some seven or eight miles distant.
We were now considerably behind time, and the train
from New Orleans was nearly due at Boutee. I in-
quired of the conductor if he could make that station
before the other train was due to leave it. He replied
that he could, and we went ahead at quite a high rate
of speed. I had some anxiety about meeting the train
from New Orleans, and was leaning from the door of
the baggage car near the rear of the train looking for-
ward. Suddenly I saw a horse running close alongside
the track, and then dart in front of the engine. In-
stantly the second car from the tender left the track
and was thrown broadside around, and those behind it
crashed into it and each other cars were crushed to
fragments, and the rails of the track torn up and
driven through them. The whole train, except a few
cars at the rear, filled and covered with men, was a
horrible wreck.

The men had been in a very gale of joy, singing and
shouting at the happy release from the pestilential
swamps. Now they were to see a more active life and
be able to do something to bring the war to an end and
go home. In an instant the happy shouting was
changed to cries and shrieks for help from beneath the
shattered cars. Every effort was made to release the
wounded and imprisoned men, each company working
frantically to help its own members; and how they did
work! Perhaps not always to the best advantage, but
with a frenzy that told of the affection they had for
their suffering comrades.

It was a horrible scene, worse than any battle, and
with none of its honors. Company A, being near the
head of the train, suffered the most. Brave, splendid
1st Sergeant Spillman F. Willis, who carried the flag at
Vicksburg, and who was loved not only by his com-
pany, but the entire regiment, was ground to dust;
Howell, Greening, Walker and Wolf, of A, were killed.
Melvin, Walden and Webster, of H, and Barkley of G,
were killed; seventy-two of the regiment were wounded,
some of them soon died. One young soldier of Co. D
had both feet cut off, and I believe is still living at
Springfield, Illinois.

There was one spectacle in all this terrible scene that
could not but be admired. I know that all members of -
the 33rd will remember my own horse with a white
mane and tail. No finer styled horse ever wore a
bridle. The flat ear he was on was shoved up on the
one in front of it, and he stood there quietly and un-
hurt, high above the wreck. No finer equestrian statue
was ever looked at.

It was a forlorn and badly broken up regiment that
went into Algiers that night. The wounded were taken
to the hospitals in New Orleans, and the regiment
across the river and quartered in a cotton press. . . .
Here is a second accounting, same source, but this time the author is Harvey Dutton, Henry's brother-in-law --
The winter of 1864-65 passed with no other incidents
of special moment that I remember, except the acces-
sion to the company of the following recruits: Charles
Greening, Alphonso K. Smith, Henry W. Smith, Hen-
ry M. Walker, Jerome Wolf, Hans Erickson and Wil-
liam J. Hester. All but the last two were from Meta-
mora, I11., my home. H. M. Walker was my brother-
in-law, the others acquaintances. They had enlisted
January 10th, '65, for one year, and had chosen Com-
pany A because I was Captain. February 23, 1865,
Lieut. Fyffe was sent to Thibodeaux, La., division
headquarters, on detached service as Judge Advocate.

Then came the railroad disaster of March 2nd, 1865.
As we loaded our effects into that box car, and our-
selves into and on top of it, that pleasant spring morn-
ing, there was some grumbling about the gorgeous ac-
commodations "Uncle Sam" saw fit to furnish us; still
the boys were in good spirits, believing we were to
take part in the closing campaign of the war. The
make-up of the train brought Company A near the en-
gine, the place of greatest danger in case of accident.
They were in the third car; the first was an empty, the
second was occupied by B Company. For fear of repe-
tition (as the whole regiment except Company H was
concerned in this horrible affair) I will only insert
here remarks from the first "muster roll" of Company
A made after the occurrence: "March 2nd, 1865,
started at 8:80 a.m. by railroad for Algiers, La. ; near
Boutee Station met with serious disaster ; train thrown
from the track by running over a horse; five of the
company killed ; twenty-one wounded seriously, were
sent to the hospital ; several others were more or less in-
jured ; lost a large quantity of camp and garrison equip-
age and ordinance stores; arrived at Algiers about
seven in the evening; crossed the river at New Orleans
and camped in the Anchor Cotton Press. The killed
were: 1st Sergt. Spillman F. Willis, Vet.; Private
Chas. G. Howell, Vet.; Private Chas. Greening, Pri-
vate H. M. Walker, and Private Jerome Wolf."

A peculiarly distressing feature of this affair to me
was not only that Company A had lost its noble, brave
and efficient Orderly Sergeant, and another veteran of
three and a half years of faithful service, but that of the
five new men from my home, as before mentioned, three
of them, one my brother-in-law, now lay dead. Upon
me devolved the painful duty of sending the unwel-
come tidings to loved ones so sadly bereft. Those ser-
iously injured and discharged on account of such in-
juries were Sergt. S. W. Durrlinger, and Privates W.
H. Foster, Harvey D. Garrett and David Shaw. . . .
The post will come when we will have to examine in full the effect that Henry, Sr.'s death had on his family.  Census rolls show the family was completely broken up, his wife and his three children each went to live with a different relative.  Henry, Sr.'s widow married again but to a drunk and physically abusive man whom she quickly divorced nine months later.  She would marry again.  Henry, Jr. was less than a year old when his father died, and we know already of some of the trouble he got into (shooting his wife three times and going to prison).  His older sister Letta married a man almost thirty years her senior!  I do not know yet what life was like for the other sibling Samuel.  But all in all a case study for how broken homes can lead to broken lives.

 © 2010, Copyright Kevin W. Walker

05 May 2010

In the Beginning

It all started innocently enough. I have always had a very strong sense of "family," and therefore also had a deep-seeded need to know where I came from. And like most people, I started with my surname "Walker." Ironically for several reasons that would also prove to be one of the toughest nuts to crack, especially for a fledgling genealogist.

First, my paternal grandfather had passed away decades ago, and no one, including me, had the good sense to interview him before he died. Not to say he would have told us the truth anyway! But more about that later. He was the baby of his family, and all his siblings had also passed away, so that avenue was a dead end.

Second, my paternal grandfather had been raised for as long as he could remember by his mother and his step-father. He never knew his real father, and as far as we know no one ever told him who he was, or did they?

Third was all the "hearsay" stories about our family history. Nature abhors a vacuum so something had to go there. My paternal grandfather used to say we were "Pennsylvania Dutch." This was allegedly done, according to family history, because we were German and to dissuade negative encounters during World War 1. Following on that idea, came the speculation that our Walker surname had become anglicized, and was originally "Voker" or "Vokker" or some sort. None of which would prove true.

Finally, because I was such a newbie, I really made it harder than it had to be. I was often trying to force Ancestry.Com to give up what it didn't have, and that I could have gotten easily with a few letters to some courthouses.

But this is where I started. I talked to my Dad and his older sister Violet to get what I could on their grandfather, my paternal great-grandfather. We started with initials "H. Walker," then "H. M. Walker," and then "Henry M. Walker," each step was a possibility that required fleshing out, and as soon as I had meat, it was on to the next possibility.

I tried approaching the conundrum sideways, by researching my paternal great-grandmother Lucy Walker (nee. Chesley). After a lot of work, that got me a location of their wedding (Kansas), and a possible residence -- Illinois. But do you know how many Henry Walker's there were in Illinois around 1900?! Enter the process of elimination -- tracking the history of the other Henry Walker's so they can excluded from being my Henry Walker. Problems arose though, the only Henry Walker's that could not be excluded had dead ends and all in the same census. It was at this time a fellow member of Ancestry.Com pointed out to me that all the Walkers for that census, in that county, had been entered misspelled. Now I had a possible location for his birth -- Metamora, Woodford, Illinois. But that too did not come without complications, as the Henry Walker that I was researching was a "Junior" sharing the same exact name as his father.

It was about this time that my Dad and his sister recalled something about "Lena, Illinois" as a possible place for where Henry was buried. So it looked like a little research forward might be in order. I wrote the Lena Historical Society, and got a nice, helpful reply -- Henry's obituary, and a map to his gravesite in a town called Stockton, a few short miles from Lena. All things were coming together, this was indeed the Henry that I was researching from Metamora, but a mystery was still brewing. In his obit he made no claim to ever being married or having kids. On his census he said he was a "Widower," which my paternal great-grandfather could not have been. Factually he had been married, had five kids, and my great-grandmother survived their marriage.

Let me take a nota bene moment here and point out my naivete which only complicated things. First, I thought the Census records were seriously accurate. But now I can't remember a time when I opened them up and didn't find at least a misspelling and often worse like the bastardization of facts. Second, I believed people told the truth. Now I know you have to "trust but verify" what is said. Third, this last fact also relates to newspapers, books, records, and especially other genealogical research! Look, I am not saying you can't trust, I am just saying you don't know something until you know you know it. And if all you do is "trust" without the "verify" you wind up going down a lot of wrong roads, and even running into dead ends that really aren't. I learned all this the hard way.

About this time I receive an email from a Chesley descendent who saw my queries about Lucy. She sends me an email offering to share everything she has with me if I will share back, and then she baits the hook, "I even have the story about when Henry shot Lucy." HUH?!?!?!?!?!!!! Shock and utter surprise! Now another piece of the puzzle fell into place, the Henry Walker I found in the 1900 Census, residence the Nebraska State Penitentiary, was my Henry Walker!

My new found cousin sends me her Chesley family GEDCOM and a transcription from a Calloway, Nebraska history book that chronicles the time my great-grandfather shot my great-grandmother three times, in the back twice and once in the forehead, this last of which severed the small finger off her right hand as she tried to shelter her face. She survived, and he went to prison. I got out some pictures I have of Lucy and could make out what appears to be a dent in her forehead!

I sent off a quick letter to the Custer County (Nebraska) Historical Society. They confirmed the story, and sent me copies of the newspaper clippings, and their divorce papers. The nice elderly lady from the Historical Society sent me a private note, "It is no wonder you and your family never knew, back them people didn't talk about such things in 'polite society.' The people who did know, took their knowledge with them to the grave."

In essence my great-grandfather was a pariah, and intended to be forgotten. But I would soon learn he had ancestors who were heroes.

The next plan of attack was to follow Henry's father Henry (Sr.) and his siblings, with a two-pronged approach now, still looking to factually tie Henry Martin Walker of Metamora, Illinois as my great-grandfather, and to see what was behind him, but he fell off the Earth somewhere around 1865, the time of the Civil War. So I had to start researching Henry Sr.'s relatives. I found on the Internet another researcher who was researching the same Walker line behind Henry Sr., and I jotted him off a quick email, telling him what I was researching saying "I think we may be related?" He wrote back, "if we are you hit the mother lode" pointing me to the website Descendants of Captain Samuel Walker (1615-1684), there it was the whole Walker family tree researched and documented back to the first to step on this continent! I quickly went to the name index and there I found them, Henry Sr. (died in Louisiana during Civil War) and Henry Jr. of Metamora, Illinois. I got goosebumps and celebratory, and then teary-eyed. I felt more whole; I felt more complete. Some will think that incongruous and/or silly. Some know precisely what I mean.

To seal the deal, and tie up all my research in a big knot, I joined the Walker-Surname DNA Project and had my Y-chromosome mapped, and it confirmed I am related to that Henry, and that family line.

A couple years later my son and I drove up to Stockton, Illinois to visit Henry's grave. I had interviewed an elderly woman in Lena who knew him when she was a little child. If her recollections were accurate he was a very eerie man, not the kind I would want to know. But visiting his grave was like putting the period on the end of the sentence, the completion of all my hard work. An abstract question mark becomes a tangible identity.

He has a simple little marker, befitting the man. My son and I each put a stone on the marker, not out of respect as most do, but simply to show his grave had been visited. We took a couple pictures and left.

© 2010, Copyright Kevin W. Walker