Monday, February 27, 2012

Military Monday - Isaac E. Wentz

I think that most people, when researching their family tree, secretly (or not so secretly) hope that when they give their family tree a good shake, a war hero will fall out.  It's understandable, hoping for a little excitement and deeds of daring-do amongst the dry recitation of names, dates and places that are, by necessity, the staples of genealogical research.  And, "Would you like to hear the story of how your great-great-great uncle Hezekiah won the battle of Nobbled Ridge?" is a much better icebreaker to family not familiar with your research than an introduction to pedigree charts and family group sheets.  (The battle of Nobbled Ridge never really happened, but Hezekiah would have been magnificent there if it did).

The reality of the situation is that this scenario is almost never the case, and most "war hero" stories suffer from significant embellishment, often growing in magnitude as the story is passed down through the generations. You won't get that here - no embellishment, just the truth as I know and learn it.  The truth is that most soldiers that go off to war are lucky (and happy) to get home under their own power with most of their limbs and major organs in

One of my favorite sources of genealogical information are Civil War pension application files, particularly if the application is being made by a widow. Depending on how soon after the War the application was filed, there can be a huge wealth of information, as marriages have to be proved and dates of birth of minor children have to be established.  The right application file can crush a brick wall and give you leads to research that can move a live generations back in time.  Not all application files are this fruitful, but some are, and they almost all contain some parcel of information worth having (although some might not be worth the $75 that NARA currently charges for the file by mail).

One thing I really like that is often found in these files are bits and pieces of correspondence - letters and notes that add some real depth to the people involved in the process, and that is where the tale of two soldiers begins.  On my father's side of the family, I have two known, confirmed civil war veterans, Isaac Edward Wentz and William J. Miller, and I have pension files for both soldiers.  Today's discussion is about Isaac Wentz.  William Miller's story will have to wait for another day

Isaac Edward Wentz is my great x 3 grandfather (through my father's paternal grandmother). He was born in 1831 in Bedford County, Pennsylvania and married Susanna Fickes in 1857. They had four children - John H. (my great x 2 grandfather), Leah, Rebecca, and Elizabeth. He enlisted in Company E of the Pennsylvania Cavalry and mustered in in early 1864.  He saw action, and by his own account was taken prisoner in early 1865.  A letter to his wife dated May 4, 1865, posted from Raleigh, North Carolina states:

Dear Wife,
  Availing myself of the services of our Chaplin, I hereby inform you that at present I am here in the 1st Division Hospital, 23rd Army Corps, suffering from chronic diarrhea.  I came here on the last day of April, and I can not say that I any better yet, though I am able to go about.  The weather is very fine & health-inspiring, and I hope by careful attention & medicine soon to recover & return to my ? ?. On the 13th day of April when our cavalry were making a charge on the rebels near Raleigh, I was taken prisoner & I remained in their hands at Greensboro until the 30th of April, when they discharged me, after the surrender of the rebel Gen. Johnston, and sent me down here, where I am now in hospital.  The war being now about over, the general impression prevails that we will all soon go home and out of the service. Hoping that you and the children are well, I am ever
  Your faithful husband Isaac Wentz

(The images are scans of photocopies and quality-wise, are the best I can do with the materials I have available to me.)

So at the beginning of May, Isaac was laid low with diarrhea, but hopeful that he would be home soon to see his wife and children.  This, however, was not to be.

On June 29th, 1865, a Mr. M. H. Hadley posted a short letter to an unidentified "Sir" of Union Township, Bedford County, Pennsylvania from the Sick Soldiers Rest in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

Dear Sir:

Isaac Wentz of 13th Regt. Penn Cavalry Co. E is nearly dead with chronic diarrhea at this "Rest". He was brought here at 3 o'clock this morning.  If he has any friend who can attend to him, he had better come here at once.  I do not believe he can live a week, perhaps not three days.  He says he has a wife and other friends in your township.  Can you notify them?

  Yours truly
   M. H. Hadley
   Supt S.S. Rest, Harrisburg 

Isaac Edward Wentz died on 29 June 1865, the day the letter was posted, never making it home to see his wife and children. 

The Pension Application file is full of great information, lots of proof of relationship, name and date.  But those two letters breathe some life into the story, make Isaac a person, not just a collection of facts.

I have a Pension Application file for William Miller and will be tracking down some others (from my mother's side of the family and my wife's ancestors) the next time I make it to DC and can go to NARA. More stories to be told. 

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Busy week, Busy week

The past week has been busy, mostly with matters non-genealogical.  So much to do with a little one set to arrive at the end of May, and add in taking care of a one year old, working and the day to day routine, and that doesn't leave much time for genealogy (or much of anything else).

That's not to say that I haven't taken the odd moment here and there and tried to take care of some family history research.  Most interestingly, I spent some time looking at the indexes for Pennsylvania deaths at the Pennsylvania Department of Health Public Records  page.  Pennsylvania has finally began to unclench the iron claw it held around birth and death records with the passage of Senate Bill 361, which makes public death and birth records after a specified time (105 years for birth and 50 years for death), so birth records from 1906 (the first year Pennsylvania maintained vital statistics at the state level) and death records from 1906 through 1961 are available as public records. 

The biggest issue right now are the indexes. For each year, the index consists of 4-6 PDF files which appear to be scans of a paper index the department maintained.  They are not electronically searchable, but are in either alphabetical or Soundex order, depending on the year.  In most cases, for most people, this should work out fine, but I have one ancestor, my great x 2 grandmother Anna Martha McNally nee Myers (date of death 11 Apr 1915), that I have been unable to locate in the index.  Here's her obit:

Of course, Pennsylvania couldn't find her any of the times I requested her death certificate over the past few years.  I'm hoping that some organization (Ancestry or Familysearch) will digitize the records and create their own index from the digitization, and her death record will come out from hiding.  The main reason I want her death certificate, apart from completing the record, is that it will verify where she is buried.  I've been told she is buried at the cemetery next to the Albright Church of the Brethren in Roaring Spring, but that her grave is unmarked.  I've walked the cemetery quite a few times (it's not very big) and have never found a stone.  And the church has not been very helpful - I have two or three requests for information outstanding, sent some number of years ago and never even acknowledged. 

In the very near future, I'm going to make a list of all the death certificates I currently do not have from Pennsylvania that fall within the time span and queue up the requests - a bargain at $3.00 a pop, particularly when I've been told that copies cost $.50 at the archives (where the originals are held) and it's a good six hour drive from my present location to Harrisburg (farther than a day trip).  Maybe I can make a deal with one of the good folks from the Blair County Genealogy Facebook group who are much closer to the archives.

I'm slowly but surely integrating my wife's family history into my tree.  It's not a fast process, as I need to take the time to really learn about these people who helped to make my son and unborn son the people they are.  But it's going forward, and giving me research and blogging ideas along the way.  I'm already making plans to build some time to go to NARA on my next trip to Washington D.C. to obtain Civil War pension applications - much easier to go to NARA when I'm going to be in D.C. than fork over $75 per application and get them in the mail. 

Keep on searching.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Tombstone Tuesday - Rand J. McNally

I decided that I would give some of the daily prompts from Geneabloggers a try.  I like collecting tombstone photographs, so Tombstone Tuesday seemed to be a natural fit.

Rand McNally was my uncle, a few years younger than my father.  Not a direct ancestor, but a branch on my tree and one that I knew when I was a child.  When he got out of the Army, after serving in Vietnam, he came to live with us for a while.  I think he slept on the living room couch.  I would have only been four or five years old at the time, maybe six, so I don't have many linear memories, rather, sporadic images without much in the way of context or sequence.  I remember having a lot of fun when he came - he bought water guns and he, my sister, and I battled out in the yard.  After a month or two, I think, he headed out to Iowa where my grandfather and a few of my aunts lived and opened a radiator repair shop

I got to see him at least one more time before he died, on a family trip to Iowa a few years later.  He and my dad competed in a demoltion derby at a county fair (which I did not get to see because I got sick on that trip), but that was only for a week or so.

After that, the next time I saw him was at his funeral. On the evening of September 28, 1978, Rand fell asleep in the trailer he lived in while smoking a cigarette, and died in the fire that followed, a horrible, horrible, senseless way to die.  His is the first funeral I remember attending.  I remember looking at his body in the coffin and not really fully accepting what was going on - I was eight years old at the time.  Funerals are tough at that age, the normal eight year old urge to run wild like a barbarian is strong and difficult to restrain, even when the mood suggests it would be a bad idea.  So I mostly sat there very quiet and more than a little sad.  He is buried at the cemetery at the Albright Church of the Brethren in Roaring Spring, Pennsylvania.

Rand never got to meet my brothers, one was a year old and the other not yet born when he died.  He never married, never had children of his own.

A life too short.  We miss you.  Rest in peace.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

A quick follow up on Christopher McNally

I had a request to post the complete picture from which I cropped the photo of Christopher.

Back Row: Hilda Kennedy; Maggie Kennedy (Kyler); Lavina McNally Kennedy (daughter of Christopher)
Front Row: Collie Kennedy; Christopher McNally; Bessie Kennedy (Reed)

I cannot vouch for the names, but they look reasonable based on what I know about the Kennedys.  Thanks again to Deb Pfieffer for sending me this photo, along with a few others of some of Christopher's descendants through his son Edward.  I'll post those at an appropriate time.

More soon.