Sort Out Your Questions about Your Ancestor

It seems like for every genealogy discovery I make, I uncover another riddle or puzzle to keep me working. When I find several versions of a name, I wonder is it a misspelling? Which is the correct one and how can I find out? The same problem happens with birth dates, death dates and marriage dates.

Then there are the questions that can’t be answered by the facts listed in a census. I wonder about the way my ancestors lived, why they moved from one state to another. What happened to some family members that don’t show up in later census records? Who are the children with different names that are living with the family?

Unfortunately many of these family history questions will remain unanswered. I’m listing my puzzles here and cross my fingers. Maybe someone will stumble across them in working on their own family history. Maybe they will even have some of the answers for me. Miracles do happen.

???  Why was his 7th child, Ezakins Zacheus Tower (1875) born in Indiana when the family was living in Tyro, Kansas in 1873? Did the infant die in childbirth? I’m not finding further information about him.

??? The 8th child, Rueben Theodore Tower was born May 13, 1876 in Boone County, Arkansas. What was the family doing in Arkansas, when the previous year they were in Indiana?
UPDATE: I found online Rueben Tower’s grandson’s essay about the family. He says Civil War veterans were offered free land in Arkansas. I need to find out more about that.

??? Abraham’s 9th child, Malissa Angeline Tower was born in Arkansas in 1879, but the 10th child Emma Lillian Tower born in 1881 was in Indiana. Were they visiting in Indiana or living there again? I’ve also seen Malissa listed as Melissa which would be a more ordinary spelling.

??? Which of Nancy Angeline Tower’s sisters was living in Missouri? The family story is that she went to Missouri to stay with the sister when she thought Abraham was dead after the Battle of Brice’s Crossroads.

??? Prisoners were allowed to send letters to their family while in Andersonville. Abraham did not. It wasn’t due to illiteracy, as he kept a pocket diary after the war. Perhaps he did not have any money for stamps? Perhaps he sent a letter but it went astray due to wartime conditions. Possibly that wasn’t allowed any longer by the time he entered the prison. (I need to find out when the mail was stopped at Andersonville)

??? Prisoners were formed into groups upon arrival for purposes of roll call and food distribution. Was Abraham with other Company G comrades at this time or did they get separated as the influx of prisoners arrived?
(Strategy: make a list of Company G, 93rd Infantry soldiers in Andersonville, date of capture or arrival, died or survived)

I think I’ll get this to help me work out these questions. The Historical Biographer’s Guide to Individual Problem Analysis: A Strategic Plan (Quicksheet)

It looks very helpful in asking the right questions, looking for the right information, and so on. It’s great to have a checklist by you when taking on the big task of genealogy! Make sure you don’t miss anything important, and you know what you’re looking for!

Tracking Down Your Ancestor in the Census

Don’t give up if at first you aren’t finding your Civil War ancestor in the census for the years or locations you expect. Here is one roadblock you may encounter:

He may have moved. My great-great grandfather lived in Indiana, Missouri, Arkansas, Kansas, and was back and forth in those states over the years.

When I finally found him in the 1910 census, he was in the household of his daughter. She was widowed with 5 children, married again, then widowed again.  It wasn’t that easy to find her, but when I did, BINGO.

Here Abraham Tower returned to Indiana and is in the household of his daughter when the census taker comes around.

Here Abraham Tower returned to Indiana and is in the household of his daughter when the census taker comes around.

TIP: Track down their children or their siblings for the missing census year. Sometimes they are living with them.

Look for Land Records on Your Civil War Ancestor

I’d seen a reference to my ancestor and the word “patent.” Had he invented something? No. It turned out to be a land patent.

The place to search for these is the U.S. Department of the Interior in the Bureau of Land Management’s records. It lets you search online for transfer of land titles from the Federal government to individuals. The place to search is the General Land Office Records (called GLORecords).

The records include Cash Entry, Homestead and Military Warrant patents. This helps you locate a place and time where your ancestor was based on a land transaction with the federal government.

Here's the search form for the land records.

Here’s the search form for the land records.

Just click on the examples here to see them larger.

My great-great grandfather's listing.

My great-great grandfather’s listing.

You can view the actual land patent.

You can view the actual land patent.




Put the Power of Facebook to Work for You

There’s an amazing range of interest groups on Facebook. Some have thousands of members. I’ve found ones that specialize in the Civil War and these groups put you in daily contact with some very knowledgeable history buffs, authors, re-enactors and genealogists.

To find these groups, search on Facebook by keywords. The ones I’ve found helpful are:

  • Civil War
  • The American Civil War
  • Civil War Faces
  • The Civil War Buff
  • Descendants of Andersonville Prisoners

There are groups for certain regions, certain battles, for Civil War recipes and many more topics. For groups listed as “closed,” you have to get an invitation from someone in the group to join.

You can join a group and then search the back postings using the little magnifying glass. Search by the last name of your ancestor or a battle or a regiment. At first, I like to get acclimated in a group by liking and commenting on a few interesting things. Then you can put a question or share some information you have once they are used to seeing your face on the site.

Be polite and show appreciation when others help you.

Here's an example of a Civil War interest group on Facebook.

Here’s an example of a Civil War interest group on Facebook.

Make Copies of Information You Find Online

You may think it sufficient to bookmark a site that relates to your ancestor. Alas, the Internet shifts, changes, and sites can disappear.

I recommend saving a screen shot on your computer or using a clipping app like Evernote. Even that isn’t enough insurance. What if your computer crashes. Go one step further and print a paper copy to keep.

Last year I’d found a great website about Belgians in the Civil War. It included half a dozen men who were in my great-great grandfather’s company and several were in Andersonville with him. The profiles on this site were most informative and probably written from the pension files of these individuals.

I made a few notes and saved a link, thinking I could always go back for more details later. Unfortunately the profiles are now gone from online. If I want that information, I’ll need to order their pension records. That’s an expense I wasn’t planning on, so I’m really regretting that I didn’t print all that information when I first found it.

Henri Devillez served in Company G, 93rd Indiana Volunteer Infantry with my ancestor. In 2012, I visited his grave in Leopold, Indiana.

Henri Devillez served in Company G, 93rd Indiana Volunteer Infantry with my ancestor. In 2012, I visited his grave in Leopold, Indiana.

I’ve included a few notes about him and other enlisted men of Company G on a web page where I was stockpiling links. From now on, I’m also printing out all that I find.

Travel Back in Time

When planning your summer vacation, take a trip back in time. Visit places where your Civil War ancestor lived or where he participated in a battle.

Not all information is available online and certainly there’s no substitute for actually being there yourself. For instance, I’d read a number of diaries and accounts of Andersonville, but actually walking through that recreated gate for that prison brought it home to me what his experience was. Although I saw open ground with a small creek running across it, my imagination peopled that space with the thousands of desperate and hungry prisoners.

The previous year, we used part of our vacation to tour Vicksburg. My ancestor’s company participated in the siege and tearing up railroad tracks near there. Seeing the exhibits and walking the land where it all took place really helps you understand what happened.

More recently, we traveled to the area in Southern Indiana where Abraham Bates Tower grew up. Again, seeing the terrain, the small towns and the massive Ohio River gave me insight into his life.

Visiting the county historical society and the public library turned up valuable information that isn’t online. I scanned Abraham and Nancy’s marriage license, photographed all the graves in a Tower family graveyard and gathered background information of life in that area for 1830 – 1860.

Tell me about your travel plans. Best of luck finding out more about your Civil War ancestor.

Photo by Virginia Allain - Guard post at Andersonville Prison in Georgia

Photo by Virginia Allain – Guard post at Andersonville Prison in Georgia

Try Searching with Mocavo

I didn’t want to pay for a membership to Mocavo, but it can be useful even without the paid subscription. This site is a search engine but it focuses on genealogy searches so you don’t end up with all the clutter that searching a name on Google brings.

Since I once signed up for a free trial, Mocavo sends me reminders and links frequently. I click on those and it shows a thumbnail view of what it found. When you click on that, the site asks you to subscribe.

At that point, most searchers just say “darn” and abandon it. Look again at the snippet it shows you. If it looks like a match for the person you seek, you can use the clues it provides to sometimes find the same information on Google.

Here’s an example of how it helped me. My search was “Abraham Tower.” It brought up this:

Full text of “History of Dubois County from its primitive days to 1910″

… H. Burt, Abraham B. Tower, John … later Governor Hovey, was its colonel. It served its country in Missouri, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mis- sissippi, Louisiana, Alabama, and Texas. It took part in the sieges …

This is somewhat cryptic but I wanted to read the whole passage. As usual, I couldn’t click through to see the content. I took this phrase “Full text of “History of Dubois County from its primitive days to 1910″ and searched it in Google. That brought up a site with the full text of the book for me to read online. I could even search within the text.

I found that Abraham Bates Tower was a charter member of the E.R. Hawn Post #266 of the G.A.R. that was located in Birdseye, Indiana. It was chartered 28 December 1883. Other charter members were Eleven R. Huff, S.M. Nash, S.V.C., E.H. Baxter, John W. Mason, E.E. Inman, Robert McMahel and Fred Miller.

This was useful information for me, showing where my ancestor was in 1883 and that he was active in the G.A.R.