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 --
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"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 --
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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