31 May 2015

His Fifteen Minutes of Fame? James Gurwell (1834-1926)

From the February 23, 1908 issue of The Topeka (KS) Daily Capital -- 
There is a tradition that a great battle between the Sac and Foxes and Pawnees was fought on Wolf river, near where Severance now stands, in 1844. James Gurwell, of Highland Station, settled in Missouri, opposite the mouth of Wolf river, in 1838 and frequently hunted deer in what is now Doniphan county, during the '40s. He says, he was within hearing distance of the Indian battle when it was fought.
This long history article on the Wolf River in Doniphan County, KS was written by the noted historian George Remsburg whose papers are on file with the Kansas Historical Society.  They say George Remsburg "was a nationally known authority on the history and archaeological study of Indians in northeastern Kansas and northwest Missouri, as well as a noted author and journalist."

Quite a feat being quoted by such an authority!  And I have seen the story of James Gurwell's recollection in other published works too.

The article itself is interesting reading, you only need to click on the pics to enlarge.

James G. Gurwell was my 2xg-grandfather on my mother's paternal side.

Copyright © 2015 by Kevin W. Walker

29 May 2015

"Hey! A little help?" : Calling an Audible in Finding the Grave of Louisa L. Walker

Remember on the playground and a ball got past you and rolled over near someone else?  Sure you do! You would call out an audible, "Hey!  A little help?"  That is what I did with trying to locate the grave of my 2xg-grandmother Louisa Lorana Walker Easterling (nee. Dutton, 1833-1913).

Respected researchers before me had gotten her place of death wrong, so I had to start from scratch. It took a couple years but I traced her place of death to Farina, Fayette, Illinois.  The biggest hurdle was there is no vital record of her death there when there should be.  I inquired at the both the County Clerk's office and at the Illinois Regional Archive Depository (IRAD) at Illinois State University at Springfield, with no luck.  However, I was able to find newspaper accounts of both her death notice and her obituary separately, that cinched the location for me.  But her place of burial nor her funeral home are mentioned in the articles.  I looked in various publications, both digital and in print, that list and/or record tombstones and graves.  No score.

I finally called an audible.  I reached out on Facebook to the Fayette County Genealogical and Historical Society and talked to a volunteer named Kate.  She said that at sometime in the 1970s the historians in the area had collected the names and dates from all the area tombstones and she would check on her next trip to the library.

Twenty four hours later, I had this --

 -- I cried tears of joy.  The grave was in Farina Cemetery, and Kate found it listed in the society's own publication Fayette Facts (Vol. XVII, no. 3).

Thank God for Kate.  Thank God for genealogical and historical societies.  Thank God for a community of hobbyists willing to help each other in their searches for ancestors, when it becomes necessary to call an audible.

Copyright © 2015 by Kevin W. Walker

25 May 2015

Memorial Day: Horace Saxton Dutton (1843-1862)

(Click to enlarge.)

Memorial Day is the day to remember all who served in the armed forces and paid the ultimate price.  But it was originally called "Decoration Day" and was the day set aside to decorate the graves of those who died in the Civil War with flowers.

Horace Saxton Dutton was just a kid.  Nineteen years old when he died, from a religious family of avowed abolitionists, was this the proud, highly principled and determined child?  The first to speak up and the last to shut up?  I suspect but still need to find out.

He enlisted at age eighteen, a month before his nineteenth birthday.  He was dead less than four months later from the number one killer of soldiers during the Civil War -- illness.  He died at the regimental hospital while encamped in Memphis, Tennessee.

His father Norman drove a wagon from Metamora, Illinois down to Memphis to retrieve his son's body so it could be buried back home.

I have a cousin who has a family letter from the time documenting this story.  I am getting a copy and will transcribe and post to this blog.

Copyright © 2015 by Kevin W. Walker

24 May 2015

Newspaper Account of G-Grandfather Shooting G-Grandmother

From the Custer County (NE) Chief, May 29, 1896 --

Powell Canyon Farmer Attempts to Murder Wife
     Henry Walker, living three miles northeast of Arnold is in jail at Broken Bow charged with the most dastardly crime in the history of Custer County.
     On last Saturday, Walker attempted to kill his wife, firing three shots at her, one of them missing her.  He lives in Powell Canyon and the neighbors have known for years that he did not get along well with his wife.  He has often accused her of trying to poison him.
     Saturday morning Walker went to town and complained to Dr. Robinson that he was suffering discomfort, caused by the poisoning.  When he got home, he took a revolver he had purchased several days before, in Callaway and told Mrs Walker that  he was going to shoot her.  She ran from the house and got about ten feet away when he fired two shots at her, one missing her and the other entering her back.
     He then compelled her to return to the house and ordered her too get dinner.  When she became so weak from loss of blood, she had to lie down, he said, "Now, I'm going to finish you off", and pointed the gun at her head.  She begged him not to kill her and put her hands over her face.  He fired, the ball almost severing one finger, then lodging in her head.  After trying unsuccessfully, with a dull paring knife to dig the ball from where it was lodged, he sent the oldest boy to the nearest neighbor, Mr. Donaldson.
     Dr. Robinson and Dr. Matthews from Callaway were called and they removed that ball, but were unable to find the one in her back.
     All that saved Walker from being lynched was that some thought he was insane although he had never shown signs of insanity.  He was taken to Broken Bow the next day where the board judged him sane and he will stand trial for the crime at next term of court.
     Walker is about 35 years of age and has been in the county for a number of years.  Mrs Walker is suffering greatly, but it is believed her wounds will not be fatal.
From the Custer County (NE) Chief, December 1896 --
     The case of Henry Walker, Powell Canyon farmer accused of attempting to murder his wife was brought before the court.  Walker pleaded insanity and both sides fought stubbornly, but the verdict was guilty and he was sentenced to five years in the penitentiary.
On 27 July 1899, Lucy (Chesley) Walker married Warren D. Copeland, brother of Maria Jane (Copeland) Chesley, her sister-in-law.  My grandfather Keith was still a toddler when the shooting occurred.  Warren Copeland was the only father he ever knew.

For further information on what happened to Henry and Lucy and the kids after the shooting, search this blog.

Copyright © 2015 by Kevin W. Walker

23 May 2015

5/22/2015 Genealogy Road Trip

Ralph examines closely the marker next to Aaron's grave.  Note the stones on Aaron's marker to show we visited.
My son Ralph and I decided to make another research trip down to Woodford County, where by sheer coincidence so many of my ancestors behind both my parents resided.

Our first stop were two pieces of property in Montgomery township that were owned and lived on by my 3xg-grandparents McKee.  The first one we went to had some interesting visuals like a decades old fence surrounding some weeds and an atrium that leads to nowhere.  I approached the property owner, introduced myself, explained what we were doing there and asked if he had anything of interest to us?  He said he didn't, but I am not sure.  My son Ralph said I did fine, but I don't think I did a good job of expressing my reasons and what I might be interested in seeing.  But you live and learn.  The second piece of property had nothing to offer, there was nothing there.  My research says their residence was on the first piece of property anyway.

We then went to the county building in Eureka, the county seat.  We went to the County Clerk's office, and got my 2xg-grandmother Louisa Dutton's three wedding licenses.  That went real fast.  The lady knew exactly what she was doing.  The Clerk of the Circuit Court's office was not as smooth and required researching, but we got it going and done.  I had hoped to look at the actual dockets -- touch the same documents my ancestors touched.  But to do that you have to give them at least a day's notice.  I didn't know.  So I worked from microfilm which was not as good.  But I made a lot of copies of the probate records for my 2xg-grandfather Henry Walker and my 3xg-grandfather Aaron Walker, and it gave me a lot of information to research and play with.

Off to 3xg-grandfather Norman Dutton's homesite.  It is a cornfield.  Nothing there.  But we wanted to see it.  And I hope some day to come back with a metal detector.

On to beautiful downtown Metamora (population 3,616) where we found the block that Aaron and Henry owned and where they had their cobbler shop.  Old houses there now, likely from the 1930s.  My ancestors lived there from the 1840s to 1860s.

We ran to Subway, and grabbed lunch.  I called the sexton for the Oakwood cemetery and we agreed on a time to meet and headed out there.  Ralph and I found the Dutton family plot and put rocks on the markers to show it had been visited.  Then we headed over to Aaron's grave and waited for the sexton.  He arrived, he was an older gentleman, farmer, very nice and accomodating.  There is a stone marker next to Aaron's grave with the initials "A.W." (as in "Aaron Walker") and we are looking to solve its story.  I think it is a footstone that got misplaced when they transferred all the graves from the original cemetery site to this one.  But since we are still trying to locate the grave of my 3xg-grandmother, Aaron's wife Submit Walker, it is a question that keeps coming up.

The sexton and I looked at the platte maps they did not help solve it.  The maps appear to only list the names of the owners of the plots and not the graves or burials.  We discussed the length of sexton's research which he did the night before, looking through all the records, and was as thorough as anyone could expect.  No record of her there.  We put rocks on Aaron's marker to show it had been visited, drove around the cemetery a little bit looking at markers for other distant relatives, then left for home.

Now, this might sound like a unproductive trip.  But it wasn't!

Reportedly when Thomas Edison was struggling to invent the incandescent light bulb. He was told he had "failed 6000 ways."  He answered, "I have not failed 6000 ways!  I found 6000 ways that don't work!"

That is what this researching is like.  These were logical places to look for records of my ancestors, but they were not fruitful.  So you keep looking.

In sum, it was NOT an unproductive trip.  I knew I would be getting those papers at the county courthouse, and that alone was worth the trip.  And I have seen the platte maps and been assured by the sexton he has looked in all the databases for Submit and did not find her.  Checking those out was an accomplishment.  I can cross those off the list in my search.

Copyright © 2015 by Kevin W. Walker

22 May 2015

Don't Wait

When my grandparents died, they had thousands of pictures, not just of them and their three daughters, but of their relatives and ancestors.  My aunt who was the executrix of the estate, painstakingly went through them dividing the pictures up between herself and her two sisters.  However at the time, with no one interested in family history, she kept for herself any pictures that lacked duplicates, and where there were duplicates, she kept the ones that had names and dates on the back.

I inherited one of the incomplete sets from my mother.  And eventually got sucked into this hobby we call genealogy.  Seeing my interest, my aunt vowed to get me the complete set of pictures with the names and dates and single copies.  For over ten years she intended.  They were in her storage locker and she would just need to get out there to get them.  I negotiated -- I only need to scan the ones I don't have and copy the names and dates from the others.  I will return them!  Just let me get the names and dates!!  I will pay for the shipping, I will do everything.  For over ten years this went on.  Toward the end she even decided her kids were not interested in them, she will just give them to me because they mean so much to me.

"The end?" Yup.  She contracted a fast moving cancer and was gone quickly.  She never let her kids know her desires with the pictures.  I tactfully pleaded with my cousins.  But it is apparently a loss.

Heartbreaking, so much heartbreak.  Don't make this mistake.  Don't wait.

Copyright © 2015 by Kevin W. Walker

21 May 2015

Treasure Chest Thursday: Civil War New Testament

My cousin Tony comes through again.  During the Civil War my 2xg-grandfather (Tony's 1xg-grandfather) George Hall (1845-1908) enlisted in the 26th Illinois Infantry Regiment in 1861 for a three year enlistment.  When that was up he re-enlisted for another three years in the Veterans service.

This was his copy of the New Testament he carried with him during his time of service.  Click on it to enlarge.

Copyright © 2015 by Kevin W. Walker

19 May 2015

Passport Application for Marya Catherine (Casattas) Sivatoff, 1893-1970

(Click to Enlarge)
     Marya Catherine Casattas a native of the United States, born in San Francisco California on the 6th of January 1896.  Father Peter Casattas born in Greece, now deceased April 23, 1917, migrated from Greece, resided in the United States for 26 years from 1891 to 1917 in San Francisco, was naturalized in San Francisco.
     Marya has never lived outside the U.S., permanently resides in San Francisco, and works as a singer.  Plans to be gone only six months to Puerto Rico and Santa Domingo, working as a theatrical entertainer.  She will leave the port of New York, aboard the S.S. Caracas on February 19, 1919.  She has never had a passport before.  She swears an oath of allegiance.

Age: 23 years                 Mouth: large                            Stature: 5 feet 3 inches
Chin: round                    Forehead: medium                    Hair: brown
Eyes: Brown                  Complexion: dark                     Nose: Medium
Face: Oval                     Distinguishing marks: none

     Identifying witness Elinor Mary Cronin, resident of San Francisco, has known Marya for five years.  Elinor is also a singer and works on Broadway in New York.
     Marya requests passport sent to her c/o Mr. Odierno, 124 W. 41st St, New York.
     Picture attached

Marya Catherine Casattas was my wife's grand-aunt.

Copyright © 2015 by Kevin W. Walker

15 May 2015

What's In a Name?

My second cousin twice removed Levi from Nebraska decided to have our surname tattooed on his back.  His grandmother Orpha Walker told him, "You can't deny that name now."

Building on the work of others and my own, I can trace my surname back eight generations, all confirmed with y-DNA.  I have found heroes and pariahs.  I have found the good and the bad. I have found the practical and the principled.  I have found presidents and felons.  But most of all I have found just average people doing the best they can, most not looking to make a place in history for themselves.

What's in a name?  What's in your name?  What you make of it.

Copyright © 2015 by Kevin W. Walker

14 May 2015

Brickwall Comes Down: Gravesite of Henry M. Walker, Sr. (1829-1865), Part 4.

Moving Forward

I had discovered multiple records contemporary to the death of my 2xg-grandfather in 1865 saying he is buried in Chalmette National Cemetery.  The records list him by name, rank, company, and regiment; date of death, original burial site, and new grave location by number and section.  Yet no current records, including those at Chalmette list him by name.

The next day I called Chalmette National Cemetery, now a part of Jean Lafitte National Park, and told the Ranger who answered the phone my predicament and asked for the email address of the party I needed to address.  She politely gave me the email addresses of the cultural anthropologist and the curator.

I gathered my documentation, wrote a long email, attached all the documentation and emailed it.  The next day the anthropologist replied politely, thanking me and informing me the curator would need to see this and she was out of the office for a week.  While I waited I found more documentation the soldiers are at Chalmette, funny how once your questions are answered the floodgates open. I continued to forward copies to the curator.  I emailed the original ranger I talked to on the phone and asked her to run out to the cemetery and look for those graves by number.  She replied those grave numbers don't exist.

After about a week I received a very nice email from the curator, telling me pretty much what I already knew -- the men are not recorded in any contemporary databases.  She agreed with my documentation and asked for the formal bibliography of sources because she had never seen those records, and she required them at Chalmette in her capacity.

Another week passed.  I received the nicest email from the curator.  She researched everything about the regiment, the soldiers, the train accident, etc. into one large file, sending me a copy.  (She even used this blog as a source.)  It was a nice gesture, but for me it was nothing more than a trip down memory lane, for all that she had included, I had already collected and read at sometime over the last decade.

So, what's the delay?

The problem is that at some point during the last century and a half, the graves were all renumbered.  The one hundred and fifty-year old records I found have the original numbering for the graves of these soldiers, which does not match what is currently in use.

The section number is presumed to still be correct.  My ancestors and his comrades from Company A are recorded as having been buried in Section 86.  The curator informed me that of the ninety-six known graves in section 86, forty-six are marked "Unknown."  She is of the opinion I have "identified" some of the "Unknowns."  I am not the first to have done this, it has happened before.  I politely reminded her they were not "unknown" when they were buried there.

Keeping Moving Forward

It has been a little over two weeks now.  I know the wheels of government turn very slow, and am practicing patience.  The nice curator told me she had now started files for all the men so that they will have answers for any future inquiries.

But I have every intention of identifying the grave of my 2xg-grandfather Henry Martin Walker, Sr., and the graves of his comrades.  These are men who gave their lives in service to the national cause and deserve personal recognition and not gravemarkers reading "Unknown."  The location of the graves are identified by the original set of numbers, and on the burial ledger in the possession of the National Archives (NARA).  I am sorry that somehow, someway their records got misplaced along the way.  I wonder how many other "Unknowns" can now be identified with these new old records the curator will have in her possession?  It is now just a matter of the park service doing the painstaking research.

I told the nice curator, "The 33rd Regiment had two nicknames, first the 'Normal Regiment' and second, the 'Brains Regiment.'  Most of the soldiers were from the 'Bloomington-Normal' area of Illinois, thus the 'Normal' nickname.  Normal, Illinois is the location of Illinois State University, where many of the boys were enrolled, thus the 'Brains' nickname."

So far I could not be happier with the treatment I have received from the three ladies (the ranger, the anthropologist, and the curator) I have dealt with at Chalmette.  But I told the nice curator "this might make an interesting story for the local paper down there, the highly respected Bloomington Pantagraph?  And maybe even the local congressman might want to get his hands involved in making right this injustice?"  I will keep it moving.  You can be sure of that.

My dream is to fly down for the new gravemarker dedication if and when it occurs.

Copyright © 2015 by Kevin W. Walker

13 May 2015

Brickwall Comes Down: Gravesite of Henry M. Walker, Sr. (1829-1865), Part 3.

Lists and Databases

We need to talk about databases, and for this I will include all lists.  Lots, and lots of databases for the Civil War.  Some are published books, some are digital.  Some are public and some are private.  Some are indexed, some are searchable.  But it seems the one unifying factor of all of them is they are based on another list that went before them!  And as to that, some are updated, some are not.

The big daddy of all these databases for the Civil War is the Soldiers and Sailors Database maintained by the National Park Service and for my 2xg-grandfather Henry Martin Walker, Sr, it was in complete agreement with all the others.  It had him mustered, but not dead or buried.

What I knew was that the nine soldiers of the 33rd Illinois regiment that died in the train accident on March 2nd, 1865 three miles west of Boutte Station, Louisiana were on all the muster rolls of the living before the date of the accident, and after the accident they (except for one previously mentioned whose remains were shipped home) do not appear in any databases of the dead that we researchers routinely turn to for information.

 My idea was to sit down and begin taking apart the various databases to find their pedigrees, tracing the "ancestry" of the databases themselves, hoping to cover all bases at the root.  It would be simple enough to do, they are pregnant with misspellings and misinformation that are continuously shared from one generation of databases to the next.  You can identify which family of information a database belongs to by the misspellings and misinformation it contains.

The "Catacombs" (Well, not really.)

I am a history nut.  I love history, and seemingly can't get enough of it.  When I was in college one of my favorite activities was to go all the way down and back into the "catacombs" of the library where the oldest books were housed.  My eyes would open wide and my heart would come alive to handle and thumb through the centuries old books that for me represented a tangible connection to the past.

I venture that the vast majority of members of Ancestry.Com are not aware that the website too has a "catacombs" of sorts.  I am afraid most users limit themselves to doing perfunctory searches and then sorting through the results, rarely venturing past the home page.  But if you go to the deep recesses of the website via the "card catalog" instead of the search engine, you discover thousands of databases that never appear when doing searches.  And it was here my brickwall "fell down."


As I collected the databases (and lists) I would of course check them for the names of any of the missing soldiers, not just the name of my ancestor. I was adding the Chalmette, Louisiana edition of the Roll of Honor and searched for the sergeant Spillman F. Willis --

(Click to Enlarge.)
"Willis, S.F.......Sergeant..........Co. A ...........33d Illinois......"
Wait.  What?  Double-take.  He is listed?  I flip the page and look for Jerome Wolfe --
"Wolfe, -----......Private............Co. A ...........33d Illinois....."
My heart raced!  I flipped back three pages looking for my ancestor H.M. Walker --

"Walker, W.E....Private...........Co. A ............33d Illinois....."
I blinked and looked again.  The initials are wrong, but it is surely him.  He was the only Walker in Company A.  I sat back in my chair, my eyes got misty, and it felt like my heart stopped.  I had found him.  He is at Chalmette National Cemetery, as I suspected.

Or had I found him?  This was only one document.  I returned to the National Park Service's Soldiers and Sailors database.  No record for W.E. Walker, S.F. Willis, or ----- Wolfe, or any of the other men.  That is very strange!  That is the database that includes all the burials of all the national cemeteries!

Off to the Chalmette National cemetery website to search two of their databases one by name, and one by war.  No hits for any of the men.  Are you serious??  What the heck?!

Research showed that the Rolls of Honor were mostly compiled using the Quartermaster General's burial ledgers, again available in the "catacombs" of Ancestry.Com.

Handwritten in 1868, recording their dis-internment from their original burial site and re-internment at Monument National Cemetery (original name for Chalmette National Cemetery) in New Orleans, three years after their death, we have the following documentation.  Index, listing all eight of the missing soldiers --

(Click to Enlarge)
And the record itself, specifying the actual location of the graves --

Here I had their names, their ranks, company, and regiment; their date of death, the location of their original burial, and the location of their new internment at Chalmette including their grave number and section number.  Once again I returned to the Chalmette website and looked for the men in a third database, listing graves by section, and the men are still not there.

I sat with my mouth agape.  So the handwritten records contemporary to the death of my ancestor and his comrades show them buried, by name (albeit misrecorded for most) and grave number in Chalmette National Cemetery.  But none of the databases contemporary to us one hundred and fifty years later list them by correct name or incorrect.

Were the graves lost?  Were the records lost?  Were graves shared?

Well heck, time to contact Chalmette!

Tomorrow, PART 4, moving forward.

Roll of Honor United States. 1869. Names of soldiers who died in defense of the American Union, interred in the national cemeteries at Memphis, Tennessee, and Chalmette, (near New Orleans) Louisiana. Washington [D.C.]: G.P.O.
Burial Ledgers. The National Cemetery Administration, Washington, D.C. (Original records transferred to NARA: Burial Registers, compiled 1867-2006, documenting the period 1831-2006. ARC ID: 5928352. Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs, 1773–2007, Record Group 15. National Archives at Washington, D.C.
Burial Ledgers.  Department of Defense. Department of the Army. Office of the Quartermaster General. (09/18/1947–08/01/1962). Burial Registers of Military Post and National Cemeteries, compiled ca. 1862–ca. 1960. ARC ID: 4478151. Records of the Office of the Quartermaster General, 1774–1985, Record Group 92. National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C.

Copyright © 2015 by Kevin W. Walker

12 May 2015

Brickwall Comes Down: Gravesite of Henry M. Walker, Sr. (1829-1865), Part 2.

Location.  Location.  Location.

So I needed to identify the location of the accident.  All the reliable sources reported a number between three and four miles "west of Boutte Station."  I looked at many dozens of maps.  I was blessed that since we are dealing with an accident on a railroad, maps contemporary to the accident were plentiful.

(Click to enlarge.)
The reported location would have put the accident somewhere in the vicinity of what is now Paradis, LA.  Now what is interesting is that right around this point there is a canal with a crossing.  The witnesses to the accident said that there were a horse and a mule racing the locomotive on the track, and as they approached "a crossing" they expected the animals to take it, which the mule did and the horse started to, but changed its mind and turned back onto the track instigating the tragedy.  I can easily envision this being the site of the accident, and seeing the animals not wanting to enter the canal veering off.  Further, we are told that as many as six of the men "drowned" under the overturned trains, including my 2xg-grandfather.

In any case this is conjecture.  As of now, having broken through the brickwall, I no longer need to pinpoint the exact location except the desire to put a bow on this story.  So I believe inevitably I will return to finding the exact location.

The "enemy."

One of the most interesting eyewitness accounts by one of the soldiers describing the immediate action following the train accident, came from page 261 of 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 --

The wounded and killed were removed as fast as recovered to the nearby farm house. There was a veranda on three sides of the house. On this and under the trees the dead and wounded were placed. Dr. Rex asked permission of the occupants of the house to use these and some tables. The request was refused. As a result of the refusal, the piano served as an operating table and the Brussels carpet deadened the sound of the feet of the operators as they moved among the furniture in the parlor.
This mean, heartless antagonism toward the hurt and dying is easy to envision as belonging to someone deeply committed to the Confederate cause.  Would this be, could this be a case of the Union Army burying their dead on their antagonists doorstep?

Feret, Ferret, or Freret?

For reasons of story cohesion I would like to jump ahead a bit here.  I discovered that the men who were killed in the train accident, including my 2xg-grandfather were originally buried on the "F.G. Ferret(sic) Plantation."  In other records this is spelled "Feret" and also "Freret."  I spent weeks putting flesh on this subplot, and am leaving much out of the story. I again returned to contacting local researchers in the New Orleans area, even a PhD anthropologist who wrote a paper on a related matter on a "G.F. Freret."

(Click to enlarge.)
Long story short, I discovered there was a Frederick George Freret who, along with his brother, owned two plantations in the area of Boutte (St. Charles Parish): the Louisa Plantation was east of Boutte and the Anton Plantation was west.  There is some question if the Anton Plantation extended far enough south from the Mississippi River to buttress the railroad tracks anywhere near the site of the accident?  But then again, it might not matter -- the Frerets owned a third piece of property that did.

As for antagonism toward the Union soldiers?  F.G. Freret owned over a hundred slaves, was a sergeant in the Louisiana cavalry, and a prominent citizen of New Orleans.  Following the war, his wife was a leading officer of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, and on the committee to erect the Confederate War Memorial in New Orleans.


Just as a reminder, these are the pieces of the puzzle I had and have on the research table right now.  Collecting all these pieces of the story and so many more, looking them over, evaluating them, got me through the brickwall.  I have not completely enjoined these last pieces together yet conclusively, because my goal was breaking the brickwall and finding where my 2xg-grandfather is buried.  But I seriously want to go back and completely put the puzzle together!  One day.  As time allows.

Tomorrow PART 3 -- the wall comes down.

Copyright © 2015 by Kevin W. Walker

11 May 2015

Brickwall Comes Down: Gravesite of Henry M. Walker, Sr. (1829-1865), Part 1.

It seems like one of the most basic desires of a family historian is to know where ancestors and relatives are buried.  For research purposes, knowing could potentially open up a treasure trove of information.  However, on a personal level there is something more fundamental -- this is "family."  I may not have ever known them, but this is family!

In this regard, the location for the gravesite of my 2xg-grandfather Henry Martin Walker, Sr. has been the biggest brickwall for me.  As faithful readers of this blog remember, he was killed in a railroad accident outside New Orleans while serving in the Civil War.  I started looking for his gravesite well over ten years ago, and would keep coming back to the search off and on.  I know all the other researchers reading this understand what I am talking about.  You don't just give up when you start running into obstacles.  Often it is to ones benefit to put down your research and come back to it with fresh eyes.  Maybe new data will be made public.  But you don't give up.

I worked hard on it!

I did the fundamental research.  I ordered his service record and the widow's pension file from NARA.  I searched cemeteries, government databases, private databases, federal quartermaster's records.    I searched out newspaper articles from New Orleans, the hometowns of the soldiers, and as far away as New York.  I read all the regimental histories, and the testimonies of the eyewitnesses to the wreck.  I drove down to McLean County Museum and Library (twice!) where the records are kept from Co. C (my ancestor served in Co. A).  I contacted the head archivist at Illinois State University that held the records for the commanding officer of the regiment.  I paid a professional researcher to look through the state archives at the state capital, and in particular the quartermaster's records and journals.  I contacted various researchers in the New Orleans area, and historical societies. I couldn't find my answers anywhere.

Thousands of questions ran through my head?  What about misspellings?  Loss of records?  I read where the body of the sergeant of the Company was rendered "impossible to recognize as human" by the accident.  Had this happened to my 2xg-grandfather too and there was nothing left to bury?  What was the customary procedure for the disposal of the dead by the army during the Civil War?  All these questions and so many more had to be explored and researched.

I tried the F-A-N method (Friends-Associates-Neighbors) by researching my ancestor's comrades who also died.  Maybe the research has already been done on one of them?  No such luck. I started all over and tried tracking them, with one exception (a soldier's whose remains were returned home for burial),  I found all the other eight men killed instantly in the railroad accident were missing just like my 2xg-grandfather, and I found no other researchers descended from the soldiers who were looking for them.

You always learn.

But research is never a no-sum gain endeavor.  In addition to all the information about the crash itself, I did learn some things.  First, in the southern states it was unpredictable where the military would bury their dead, this was especially true toward the beginning of the war.  They might choose where the body lay, or an out of the way spot, or a nearby cemetery was always popular.  Sometimes the soldiers would be punitive and bury their dead om the land of confederate officers or leaders.  One location might be popular enough for soldiers to return to for burying more of their dead, but it was not the norm.  However, by and large there was no uniformity.

Second, after the war was over, the federal government made a concerted effort to reclaim and identify the remains of all their service dead and with few exceptions relocate them to National Cemeteries.  In the south these included national cemeteries at Alexandria, LA., Brownsville, TX, Louisville, KY, New Orleans, LA, Fort Donelson, TN, Jefferson Barracks, MO, Nashville, TN, Salisbury, NC, Shiloh, TN, and Springfield, MO.  The Quartermaster General's office, who was in charge of the process, reviewed records, interviewed living officers and comrades of the deceased, and did the best they could to find and identify the remains.  But frequently men were buried in mass graves and for that reason or another, individual identities could not be made.  Their remains would still be moved to a national cemetery, but they would be buried in a grave marked "unknown."

Sometimes you just get a feeling.

It was 2005.  Hurricane Katrina slams into the gulf coast.  Among the hundreds and hundreds of the descriptions of the devastation that I heard on TV, radio, and social media, one rang out the loudest, "Chalmette National Cemetery, home to thousands of Civil War dead, is under water and receiving damage."  I looked at the pictures.  I felt sure he was there.

Tomorrow, PART 2 -- it is all about location.

Copyright © 2014 by Kevin W. Walker

04 May 2015

Death Announcement: Jane (Combs) Hall, 1814-1874

From the Wednesday, April 22, 1874 issue of The Weekly Reader (Bloomington, IL) --
 Mrs. Jeremiah Hall died on Thursday evening, of lung fever.  Funeral services were held at the Methodist Church on Saturday, 18th inst., by the pastor, Rev. B.W. Baker.
Mrs. Jane (Combs) Hall of Danvers, McLean, Illinois, was my 3xg-grandmother on my mother's maternal side.

Copyright © 2015 by Kevin W. Walker

02 May 2015

My Genealogy Laptop

Like most of us I wanted something digital to work on when I go to libraries, courthouses, museums, family history centers, conferences, society meetings, etc.

I thought about a Chromebook.  But I just could not be sure I would have WiFi everywhere I go.  I have an ASUS Transformer Tablet with attachable keyboard, and that is what I started with.  But the keyboard is tiny and I have fat fingers.  Everytime I went to hit the space bar I would miss and hit the touchpad, closing the window I was working in.  And if I wanted to use my flatbed scanner it would not work because the tablet was Android.

Here is my compromise, and old 14.1 inch Dell, with five-year old technology.  It can be had for $100 on the refurb market.  A slower quad-core processor and a smaller hard drive.  It came with Vista loaded, but I put Windows 7 on it.  I am going to do one thing and one thing only with it -- genealogy.  It has WiFi.  My flat-bed scanner will work with it.  And I will only keep a working family file on it, not my perfectly researched and sourced one I keep at home.

(Click image to enlarge.)

I went ahead and customized it with custom decals, including the principle surnames I am researching.  It looks cool, but I am not sure it is a good idea?  The possibility is I will run into others researching the same surnames.  But with false leads distracting me from my work, that could be bad more than good.   We will see.

Anyway, if you see this computer when you are out and about where family historians and genealogists congregate, come up and say hi.

Copyright © 2015 by Kevin W. Walker

01 May 2015

Newspaper Account #3 of Railroad Accident that Killed Henry Martin Walker, Sr.

This is from The Times-Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana), Sat, Mar 4, 1865, Page 1.  The best I can figure this is the article The Pantagraph was citing in my last post of this series.  It is the only New Orleans newspaper I could locate called "The Times" for that time period.  And it was published on March 4th not March 3rd.  You will note that it is well written.  But overall it does not resemble the article The Pantagraph allegedly republished.

One thing I found interesting is that yesterday's article was published in a Union state in the hometown paper of most of the boys in the regiment.  This article was published in a Confederate state, that is under occupation by the same forces who were killed in the accident.  Very interesting to compare.  The former was full of emotion.  I find this one rather dry.
Railroad accident on the Opelousas Railroad. 
Nine Persons Killed 
Forty-Six Wounded 
(Click to Enlarge.)
     In these days of battles and death dealing marches, the loss of life consequent upon accidents by railway or steamboat seems insignificant in narration; Nevertheless, it has its horrors to us, when it comes near own door.
     Yesterday, about noon, a train bound down from Brashear, under the charge Mr Cregier, was coming along at a very moderate speed, had passed Bayou des Allemandes. and had arrived nearly to Boutte Station, when a horse and a mule, which had got upon the track, seemed disposed, as usual in such cases, to run a race with the train, but it was believed that they could hardly attempt to remain. The mule did leave, and so did the horse, but bewildered, it would seem, turned back and jumped upon the track directly before the engine as it was about to reach him, leaving no time for reversal or stoppage, and thus the locomotive, tender and first car passed over it.  The next car, a box car, was drawn cross-ways over the track, and the other cars were driven against it, and the great portion of them broken to pieces against it.
     In these cars, such as are, need for freight ordinarily, were the members of the 33rd Illinois Regiment, which had just been relieved from duty along the line of the railroad, and were on their way to this city.  The officers were chiefly in the passenger car, at the rear of the train.
     The only sufferers were members of this regiment, but one commissioned officer, Capt. H.H. Rosecrans, of Company D, being among them.Those in the passenger car escaped injury, though the shock was great.
     Nine of the soldiers were either killed or found in a dying condition on examining the wreck, and over forty-six seriously injured.  the surgeons of the regiment Drs. Rex and Antis, were happily along, and soon administered such relief as was possible to the injured.  Quite a number of amputations were required, one poor fellow losing both his legs.
     In the meantime advice was promptly sent to Algiers, and in due time a relief train arrived, and the injured, as well as the uninjured, were conveyed there last evening.  The regiment is now at the depot.
     Much praise is awarded to Col. Lippincott and his officers, to the conductor, Mr. Creiger, and in fact to all passengers and soldiers, black and white alike, for their attention to the victims of this accident.  All concur in saying that there was no neglect on the part of the engineer, firemen, or employees on the train.  The train was proceeding at even less than usual speed, and the accident can only be attributed to the perverseness or delirium of the hose in leaping back upon the track.
Please forgive me if the articles are getting repetitive.  I want to document on this blog this accident and the death of my 2xg-grandfather.

Copyright © 2015 by Kevin W. Walker

Status Update on Broken Brickwall: Grave of Henry Martin Walker, Sr.

I didn't want to keep readers in the dark.  As I relayed previously, according to records of the period, eight of the nine men killed in the railroad accident three miles west of Boutte Station (LA), including my 2xg-grandfather, were disinterred in June of 1868 from the plantation where they were originally buried, and moved to Chalmette National Cemetery in New Orleans for reinterment.  The original documents list the grave numbers and sections.

However, the soldiers are missing from all contemporary records.  Neither the National Park Service nor the officials at Chalmette National Cemetery have any current records of their burials or remains, by name, regiment, or cemetery section.

The curator of the cemetery is working with me to solve this mystery.  I will report back as soon as I have something worthwhile to post.  There seems to be agreement they are there!  The question is where.  The numbering system for the cemetery graves has been changed  somewhere during the last 150 years.
Copyright © 2015 by Kevin W. Walker