Authenticating a Photo of a Civil War Soldier

With delight, I saw a photo posted by a distant cousin on Veteran’s Day of a Civil War soldier. “It’s our grandfather Tower,” he wrote on Facebook. Wow, I’d never seen this photo before.

Then I paused and a few skeptical thoughts crossed my mind. How could I be sure that it really was our mutual ancestor who served in the 93rd Indiana Volunteer Infantry? When I queried to be sure it was Abraham Bates Tower, my cousin said that he’s been told that it was, but “How that was authenticated, I don’t know, so I ain’t gonna swear on a stack of Bibles.”

So now I have a mystery to solve. Can I prove that it is who we want it to be? Here’s how I’ll proceed.

    • I’ll check the photo against some that I have showing him later in life. This is complicated by his having a beard in his other pictures.
    • I’ll show the photo to another distant cousin who works on the family tree. Maybe she knows more about it.
    • Could this be Abraham Bates Tower in the Civil War?

      Could this be Abraham Bates Tower in the Civil War?

    • I’ll run the photo through some Internet searches using Tineye, Google and Bing. Tineye looks for a photo to match the one you have. If the photo shows up on the web, there may be some information about who it is.
    • I’ll post the photo to a Civil War forum or a re-enators site to see what they can tell me about the uniform and the accessories in the photo.
    • I could also send the photo to the Photo Detective, Maureen Taylor. I recently heard her speak at a genealogy conference in Orlando. She has a book titled Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album and a number of others about identifying photos.
    • Another method is to post the photo online like I’m doing here, then wait for comments. If someone else claims this as their ancestor, they will contact me.

Well, it didn’t take long to find out about who was in the photo. Click the link to read about the results.


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.




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.

Create a Timeline

I’m finding it very useful to assemble the dates and information that I have into a timeline. Then I can see what I have and where there are gaps. You can make one just on the Civil War years or include those with the complete timeline of your ancestor’s life.

For the time he was in the service, consult regimental histories to determine where the regiment was and what they were doing on different dates.

Here’s my example, a timeline for the life of Abraham Bates Tower.

I used Squidoo to create my timeline, but you can put it online with a blog or your own website. Be sure to back it up regularly in case anything happens to the site.

Saving your genealogy research

Saving your genealogy research

Is There Another Diary?

Recently I had an email from a great-uncle. I’d told him about my research on my civil war ancestor. He asked if I knew about the diary from Andersonville. My heart skipped a beat…

I have a very worn pocket diary that belonged to Abraham Bates Tower, but it starts at the time of his mustering out. In it, he recorded the names of the men in his company and later added family births, marriages and deaths. I’d always wondered if there were earlier diaries. I assumed that if there was one that it was lost as he became desperately ill in that horrible stockade.

Now I had a clue and was ecstatic at the idea that such a diary might exist. The email gave a name of a lady in Oklahoma and said he would try to find her contact information for me. Impatient for that, I started casting about on the Internet. The lady proved elusive. I’m still working on it.

Pipe Smoking Detective Postcard
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