It's possible you have an ancestor who served in World War I, or the Civil War, or the American Revolution — and their story was never passed down. You can find them.
Two of my recent clients had no idea that their ancestors had served in a war.
Jules knew very little about her grandfather, just the name of the town where he had lived and a vague description of his job. When I uncovered that her grandfather had served in World War I, and had even been on a special assignment to tour the battlefields of Europe after the war, Jules was floored. “Wow wow wow. I’m flabbergasted. To think he would have been forgotten.” You can check out the story of “Finding Jack Miller” here.
Alison’s family had lived “forever” in a tiny town in Indiana, and she assumed that meant their background was “kind of boring". She and her sisters still visit the town once a year with their dad as tour guide, connecting with distant cousins and exploring the streets that haven’t changed much in a hundred years. When a family lives in one small town, decade after decade, there’s a good chance that they will turn up in the town newspaper, and that was case with Alison’s family.
We discovered that Alison's great-great-grandfather, Charles P. Dutchess, had served at the age of 13 as a drummer boy in the Civil War! Beyond keeping the beat as troops marched from one place to another, drummer boys served a critical role in battle. When it was difficult to hear the officers’ shouted orders, the drummers used a system of drumroll signals to communicate with the soldiers. The photo above of an unidentified Union Drummer Boy, gives us a sense of what Alison's 2nd great-grandfather might have looked like in uniform.
In my own family history, I only learned about my great-great-grandfather’s service with the Union Army in the Civil War when I connected on the internet with a distant cousin who shared the story. Through research I learned that my ancestor's father also served, fighting on horseback in the Cavalry. In a different branch of my family, I uncovered another father and son pair of soldiers, fighting in the American Revolution from what was to become Vermont. None of these stories were passed down.
And by the way, military records can be fabulous sources of family history. There may be draft records of your ancestors, or applications for a military headstone. Pension records can be incredibly revealing. My ancestors wrote letters decade after decade, trying to get a pension payment from the government for my 3rd great-grandfather's service in the Civil War. Those letters include details about where and when my ancestor was married, names and birthdates of all his children, and even include the handwritten signature of my 2nd great-grandfather. That file is an incredible family history treasure.
Here's the point: You too may have ancestors who served our country in some way, perhaps in one of the major wars. This would be a good weekend to start the search for your military heroes. So that they, and their service, are not forgotten.
Laura Clark Murray
I help people capture and expand the knowledge of their family history, and guide them on using online research to find the stories of their ancestors.
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