Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

Free Access to Confederate Records on Fold3 in April

Posted in Genealogy by Andy Hall on April 3, 2013

Fold3The commercial subscription service, Fold3, is providing free access to Confederate records for the month of April in recognition of Confederate History Month. It’s a good opportunity to become familiar with the resources available, particularly compiled service records (CSRs) of individual soldiers. Have at it.

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Third Assistant Engineer William Francis Law, U. S. Navy

Posted in Genealogy by Andy Hall on February 2, 2013

Will Law SmallThe other day, when I was poking around the web for images to go with my post on the H. L. Hunley spar, I came across this image (right) of a U.S. Navy engineer officer. My immediate reaction was, that’s a kid dressed up in somebody’s uniform. But it’s not; the notation on the back of the CDV reads, “Uncle Will Law as a Naval Officer Civil War.” Uncle Will was Third Assistant Engineer William Francis Law, appointed in November 1861. Law died on September 24, 1863 of unstated causes.

I’ve been able to find very little about Law in readily-available sources. The second image in the auction lot is a photograph of U.S.S. New Ironsides, that served off Charleston; written on the back of that card, in the same hand, is the note “Uncle Will Law’s ship Civil War.” According to Porter’s Naval History of the Civil War, Law was serving aboard U.S.S. Pinola at the capture of New Orleans in April 1862, and was still part of her complement the following January 1, as part of Farragut’s West Gulf Blockading Squadron. It seems he turns up exactly once in the ORN, a one-sentence mention in a routine report from Commander James Alden to Farragut on September 14, 1862: “Mr. Law succeeded in repairing the Pinola by making a new stem to her Kingston valve.”

About Law’s civilian life, I’ve been able to find even less. He is almost certainly the William F. Law, age 17, who was the eldest child of Benedict and Anna C. Law of Carlisle, Pennsylvania, just west of Harrisburg, at the time of the 1860 U.S. Census. He graduated from the Carlisle Boy’s High School in 1858 and, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer of June 28, 1861,  graduated from the Polytechnic College of Pennsylvania with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering, specializing in road building.  Polytechnic was one of only a handful of universities in the United States at that time that offered engineering degrees, and Law’s academic background may have set him a little apart from his fellow engineers. Seagoing engineers in that day, both in the Navy and in the merchant service, were more commonly men with practical experience on shore in machine shops, foundries or similar trades.

I haven’t been able to confirm Law’s service aboard U.S.S. New Ironsides, as indicated on the back of the auction house photo; his name does not appear on these lists of ship’s officers transcribed from the National Archives. If he did serve aboard that ship in the summer of 1863, he saw a tremendous amount of action off Charleston.

One final note — in his undated portrait, taken at the Bogardus studio on Broadway in New York, Third Assistant Law looks to be wearing a gold-braided hat borrowed from a much more senior engineering officer. Maybe the sword, too. Gotta look good for the folks back in Carlisle, I suppose.

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Private Kirkland, Battery D, First Missouri Light Artillery

Posted in African Americans, Genealogy, Leadership, Memory by Andy Hall on January 4, 2013
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A postwar image of part of Wilson’s Creek Battlefield, believed to be the cornfield behind the Ray family springhouse. Image via Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield; WICR 31376.

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Like probably a lot of people, I was surprised by the scene in Lincoln where Elizabeth Keckley, Mary Lincoln’s modiste and confidante, says to the president, “as for me: my son died, fighting for the Union, wearing the Union blue. For freedom he died. I’m his mother. That’s what I am to the nation, Mr. Lincoln. What else must I be?”

I was unaware that Keckley’s son had died as a Union soldier, but it’s true — at Wilson’s Creek, in 1861. Over at The Sable Arm, Jimmy Price has the details.

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A Boy Named Quarantine

Posted in Genealogy, Memory by Andy Hall on November 7, 2012

One of the interesting things about doing original research and putting it out there for the public — either on a blog, or in longer, more tangible form as a book — is hearing from folks who have stories or documents or information you never knew about. It can be a little frustrating, too, especially when that new information is something you could have used when you were writing, but hey — that’s what second editions are for, amiright?

My friend and fellow blogger, Jim Schmidt, has been researching the history of yellow fever epidemics in the Civil War era for a while now, and the subject figures prominently in his recent (and highly recommended) book, Galveston and the Civil War: An Island City in the Maelstrom. So imagine Jim’s surprise to get an e-mail from a reader telling the story of a Galvestonian with the improbable name of Quarantine B. Schmidt.

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Did Jefferson Davis’ Son Serve in the U.S. Navy?

Posted in African Americans, Genealogy, Memory by Andy Hall on October 14, 2012

Slave quarters on Jefferson Davis’ plantation, Library of Congress.
 

Did Jeff Davis’ son by an enslaved woman serve in the U.S. Navy on the Mississippi?

Over at Civil War Talk we had a discussion over this item that appeared, almost word-for-word, in numerous Northern newspapers beginning in February 1864:

 
The London Star of January 15th says a letter from a gentleman occupying a high position in the United States, contains the following story: This reminds me says the writer, that Jeff. Davis’ son, by his slave girl Catherine, was in the Federal service on board of one of our gunboats, in the Mississippi, for several months—a likely mulatto. Among the letters of Jeff, taken at his house by our Illinois troops, there was a batch of quarrelsome epistles between Jeff. and Mrs Davis, touching his flame Catherine. Mrs. Davis upbraided her husband bitterly. I have this story from one of the highest officers in the squadron, who had the negro Jeff. on board his gunboat, and who himself read the letters and suppressed them.
 

It sounds exactly like the sort of scurrilous accusation that Northern readers would want to hear about Jeff Davis, like the story the following year about his being captured by Federal troops while wearing a dress. It has the ring of tabloid-y trash, and it’s easy to dismiss on that account.

However, there’s another, longer story from the Bedford, Indiana Independent of July 13, 1864 (p. 2, cols. 3 and 4) that, while differing in several details, largely supports the claim in the London Star, and provides substantial corroborative detail:

 
Jeff. Davis and His Mulatto Children — Abolitionists are constantly accused in copperhead papers of trying to bring about an amalgamation of whites and blacks; but those papers are very careful to conceal from their readers, as far as possible, such facts as those related in the following extract of a letter from an officer in the Army to a Senator in Washington:
 
“While at Vicksburg, I resided opposite a house belonging to a negro [sic.] man who once belonged to Joe Davis, a brother of Jeff. Learning this, I happened one day to think that he perhaps would know something about the true story told in the London Times, that there was a son of Jeff. Davis, the mother of whom was a slave woman, in our navy. The next time I met the man I asked him if he had ever known Maria, who had belonged to Jeff. Davis, and was the mother of some of his children? He replied that he had not known Maria, but that he knew his Massa Joe Davis’ Eliza, who was the mother of some of Massa Jeff’s children. I then inquired if she had a son in the navy? He replied that she had — he knew him — they called him Purser Davis. He said that Eliza was down the river some thirty miles, at work on a plantation. The next day, as I was walking down the street, I met the man, who was driving his mule team, and he stopped to tell me that Eliza had returned. A few moments afterwards he came back, and pointing to one of two women who came walking along, he said she was the one of whom we had been talking. When she came up, I stopped her, and inquired whether she had not a son who would like to go North. She replied yes and added that she would like to go too. I told her that I only wanted a lad. She said that her son had gone up the Red River on board the gunboat Carondelet, but when he returned she would be pleased to have him go. ‘Well,’ said I, ‘some say that Jeff. Davis is your son’s father — do you suppose it’s so?’ ‘Suppose,’ she cried with offended pride, ‘I’s no right to suppose what I knows — am certain so. Massa Jeff. was the father of five of my children, but they are all dead but that boy, and then I had two that he wasn’t the father of. There’s no suppose about it.’ Perhaps if the boy gets back safe on the Carondelet, you may see him in Boston some of these days.”
 

Here’s where it gets interesting. The correspondent recorded the young Carondelet sailor’s name he was told as “Purser Davis.” There was, in fact, not a Purser Davis, but a Percy Davis in the crew of U.S.S. Carondelet at that very moment. According the NPS Soldiers and Sailors System, a fourteen-year-old named Percy Davis was enrolled for a term of one year as a First Class Boy on the ship at Palmyra, Mississippi on November 16, 1863 — almost exactly two months before the original news item appeared in London. He remained on board Carondelet at least through the muster dated January 1, 1865. Davis is described as being mulatto in complexion, and five-foot-one. Percy Davis gave his birthplace as Warren County, Mississippi — the county of Vicksburg, and where both Jefferson Davis and Joseph E. Davis were major slaveholders, with 113 and 365 slaves respectively at the time of the 1860 U.S. Census.

Does this prove the original story is true? No, but it does add considerable additional detail, some of which is corroborated. The first news item is vague, without any specifics, but the second is detailed and at least partly verifiable. There’s enough here that the claim of Davis’ natural son having served aboard a Union gunboat cannot, in my view, be dismissed out-of-hand as Civil War tabloid trash. The possibility of its truth merits further digging.

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1940 Census Update

Posted in Genealogy by Andy Hall on July 30, 2012

A couple of months ago I predicted that Ancestry was going to take a very long time indexing the newly-released 1940 U.S. Census, which allows users to search for individuals by name. Searching a specific address was already possible, but that’s only useful if you have a good idea of where they lived at the time.

Anyway, Ancestry is making rapid progress, now having indexed some 38 states and territories, including New York, California, Ohio, Georgia and the District of Columbia.

As someone who uses Ancestry all the time, and mostly not for personal genealogy work, color me impressed.

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Juneteenth, History and Tradition

Posted in African Americans, Genealogy, Memory by Andy Hall on June 19, 2012

[This post originally appeared here on June 19, 2010.]


“Emancipation” by Thomas Nast. Ohio State University.

Juneteenth has come again, and (quite rightly) the Galveston County Daily News, the paper that first published General Granger’s order that forms the basis for the holiday, has again called for the day to be recognized as a national holiday:

 
Those who are lobbying for a national holiday are not asking for a paid day off. They are asking for a commemorative day, like Flag Day on June 14 or Patriot Day on Sept. 11. All that would take is a presidential proclamation. Both the U.S. House and Senate have endorsed the idea.
 
Why is a national celebration for an event that occurred in Galveston and originally affected only those in a single state such a good idea?
 
Because Juneteenth has become a symbol of the end of slavery. No matter how much we may regret the tragedy of slavery and wish it weren’t a part of this nation’s story, it is. Denying the truth about the past is always unwise.
 
For those who don’t know, Juneteenth started in Galveston. On Jan. 1, 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation was issued. But the order was meaningless until it could be enforced. It wasn’t until June 19, 1865 — after the Confederacy had been defeated and Union troops landed in Galveston — that the slaves in Texas were told they were free.
 
People all across the country get this story. That’s why Juneteenth celebrations have been growing all across the country. The celebration started in Galveston. But its significance has come to be understood far, far beyond the island, and far beyond Texas.
 

This is exactly right. Juneteenth is not just of relevance to African Americans or Texans, but for all who ascribe to the values of liberty and civic participation in this country. A victory for civil rights for any group is a victory for us all, and there is none bigger in this nation’s history than that transformation represented by Juneteenth.

But as widespread as Juneteenth celebrations have become — I was pleased and surprised, some years ago, to see Juneteenth celebration flyers pasted up in Minnesota — there’s an awful lot of confusion and misinformation about the specific events here, in Galveston, in June 1865 that gave birth to the holiday. The best published account of the period appears in Edward T. Cotham’s Battle on the Bay: The Civil War Struggle for Galveston, from which much of what follows is abstracted.


The United States Customs House, Galveston.

On June 5, Captain B. F. Sands entered Galveston harbor with the Union naval vessels Cornubia and Preston. Sands went ashore with a detachment and raised the United States flag over the federal customs house for about half an hour. Sands made a few comments to the largely silent crowd, saying that he saw this event as the closing chapter of the rebellion, and assuring the local citizens that he had only worn a sidearm that day as a gesture of respect for the mayor of the city.


The 1857 Ostermann Building, site of General Granger’s headquarters, at the southwest corner of 22nd Street and Strand. Image via Galveston Historical Foundation.

A large number of Federal troops came ashore over the next two weeks, including detachments of the 76th Illinois Infantry. Union General Gordon Granger, newly-appointed as military governor for Texas, arrived on June 18, and established his headquarters in Ostermann Building (now gone) on the southwest corner of 22nd and Strand. The provost marshal, which acted largely as a military police force, set up in the Customs House. The next day, June 19, a Monday, Granger issued five general orders, establishing his authority over the rest of Texas and laying out the initial priorities of his administration. General Orders Nos. 1 and 2 asserted Granger’s authority over all Federal forces in Texas, and named the key department heads in his administration of the state for various responsibilities. General Order No. 4 voided all actions of the Texas government during the rebellion, and asserted Federal control over all public assets within the state. General Order No. 5 established the Army’s Quartermaster Department as sole authorized buyer for cotton, until such time as Treasury agents could arrive and take over those responsibilities.

It is General Order No. 3, however, that is remembered today. It was short and direct:

Headquarters, District of Texas
Galveston, Texas, June 19, 1865
 
General Orders, No. 3
 
The people are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property, between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them, becomes that between employer and hired labor. The Freedmen are advised to remain at their present homes, and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts; and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.
 
By order of
Major-General Granger
F. W. Emery, Maj. & A.A.G.

What’s less clear is how this order was disseminated. It’s likely that printed copies were put up in public places. It was published on June 21 in the Galveston Daily News, but otherwise it is not known if it was ever given a formal, public and ceremonial reading. Although the symbolic significance of General Order No. 3 cannot be overstated, its main legal purpose was to reaffirm what was well-established and widely known throughout the South, that with the occupation of Federal forces came the emancipation of all slaves within the region now coming under Union control.


The James Moreau Brown residence, now known as Ashton Villa, at 24th & Broadway in Galveston. This site is well-established in recent local tradition as the site of the original Juneteenth proclamation, although direct evidence is lacking.

Local tradition has long held that General Granger took over James Moreau Brown’s home on Broadway, Ashton Villa, as a residence for himself and his staff. To my knowledge, there is no direct evidence for this. Along with this comes the tradition that the Ashton Villa was also the site where the Emancipation Proclamation was formally read out to the citizenry of Galveston. This belief has prevailed for many years, and is annually reinforced with events commemorating Juneteenth both at the site, and also citing the site. In years past, community groups have even staged “reenactments” of the reading of the Emancipation Proclamation from the second-floor balcony, something which must surely strain the limits of reasonable historical conjecture. As far as I know, the property’s operators, the Galveston Historical Foundation, have never taken an official stand on the interpretation that Juneteenth had its actual origins on the site. Although I myself have serious doubts about Ashton Villa having having any direct role in the original Juneteenth, I also appreciate that, as with the band playing “Nearer, My God, to Thee” as Titanic sank beneath the waves, arguing against this particular cherished belief is undoubtedly a losing battle.

Assuming that either the Emancipation Proclamation (or alternately, Granger’s brief General Order No. 3) was formally, ceremonially read out to the populace, where did it happen? Charles Waldo Hayes, writing several years after the war, says General Order No. 3 was “issued from [Granger’s] headquarters,” but that sounds like a figurative description rather than a literal one. My bet would not be Ashton Villa, but one of two other sites downtown already mentioned: the Ostermann Building, where Granger’s headquarters was located and where the official business of the Federal occupation was done initially, or at the United States Customs House, which was the symbol of Federal property both in Galveston and the state as a whole, and (more important still) was the headquarters of Granger’s provost marshal, Lieutenant Colonel Rankin G. Laughlin (right, 1827-78) of the 94th Illinois Infantry. It’s easy to imagine Lt. Col. Laughlin dragging a crate out onto the sidewalk in front of the Customs House and barking out a brief, and somewhat perfunctory, read-through of all five of the general’s orders in quick succession. No flags, no bands, and probably not much of a crowd to witness the event. My personal suspicion is that, were we to travel back to June 1865 and witness the origin of this most remarkable and uniquely-American holiday, we’d find ourselves very disappointed in how the actual events played out at the time.

Maybe the Ashton Villa tradition is preferable, after all.

Update, June 19: Over at Our Special Artist, Michele Walfred takes a closer look at Nast’s illustration of emancipation.

Update 2, June 19: Via Keith Harris, it looks like retiring U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison supports a national Juneteenth holiday, too. Good for her.

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New Feature for the Civil War Soldiers & Sailors Database

Posted in Genealogy, Technology by Andy Hall on May 31, 2012

One of the most consistently useful online research tools available for Civil War folks is the National Park Service’s Civil War Soldiers & Sailors (CWSS) database. It has a number of features, but the most important is the database of soldier’s names and units, which can be searched a number of ways. If you’re looking for a specific Civil War soldier, it really is the place to start before going on to more in-depth primary sources, like the national Archives’ compiled service records (CSRs) at subscription sites like Fold3. One nice aspect of the NPS database is that it seems to be drawn from the CSRs at the National Archives (Mike, is this correct?), which means that if you find an entry in the database, there should be ay least something at NARA. As I say, it really is the place to start.

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Confederate “Body Soldier” Honored with Fake Grave, Yankee Headstone

Posted in African Americans, Education, Genealogy, Memory by Andy Hall on May 29, 2012

Update, June 12: The researcher behind the stone, Julia Barnes, pushes back hard against my piece below:

Andy, as with many issues, reporters make mistakes. The reporter did a good job and was trying to do a public service. The records for Wade Childs stated that he was a “body servant,” not “body soldier.” The burial site for both men, Lewis and Wade Childs, was the West View cemetery in Anderson. This is not supposition. It is based upon the death certificates. Both were buried in the same cemetery, by the same undertaker, about 12 months apart. This is not a fake grave. It is a placement based upon the records of the Anderson Cemetery records office, the South Carolina Vital Records department, and the Pension records found in the SC Archives, which noted his burial location and date. All of this was reviewed by the City attorney for approval of the placement of the headstone.

Fair enough. More in the comments.

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Even in the muddle of half-understood documents, vague definitions and simplistic, patriotic tropes one comes to expect of news stories about black Confederates, this one’s a mess:

Childs served as a body soldier with Orrs Regiment of the South Carolina Rifles in the Confederate army during the Civil War. He carried the belongings and camp supplies of white soldiers, one of some 20,000 to 50,000 slaves who labored during the war.

[Julia] Barnes believes he might also be one of the 3,000 to 10,000 black Confederates who Harvard researchers suspect fought for the South. The Southern army did not record black soldiers, said Barnes, an Anderson County historian.

I’ve never heard the term “body soldier” before, but I suspect I will again. It’s a modern obfuscation that both sounds substantive and conveniently elides the terms used 150 years ago. It’s not a term real Confederates would have understood or used. Childs would have been known as a “body servant,” or simply as a slave. There is a passing reference to Wade Childs’ being enslaved, but no reference to soldiers Private John Chiles or Captain James S. Cothran, to whom (according to his pension record) Childs was acting as servant. Childs labored for those men, not for the Confederate army. The headstone makes no reference to Childs’ role whatsoever. That’s almost unheard of on such stones, and suggests very strongly that the folks who put it up feel like the less said about that status, the better.

Mike Barnes, the local SCV camp commander, is quoted as saying that “they are considered veterans by the state of South Carolina,” but in fact the state viewed men like Childs very, very differently than it did rank-and-file Confederate soldiers. South Carolina first awarded pensions to disabled white veterans and their widows in 1887, and gradually expanded eligibility for other white veterans in the decades following. It was almost forty more years, though, before men like Childs were made eligible:

Act No. 63, 1923 S.C. Acts 107 allowed African Americans who had served at least six months as cooks, servants, or attendants to apply for a pension. Then in 1924, apparently because there were too many applications, the act was amended to eliminate all laborers, teamsters, and non-South Carolinians by extending eligibility only to South Carolina residents who had served the state for at least six months as “body servants or male camp cooks.”

The evidence for Child’s involvement with the Confederate military seems to rest entirely on his 1923 pension application (read it here), which is fine as far as it goes. (See another example of the limits of Confederate pension records here.) But the pension application is very clear about what Childs’ (or Chiles’, as it’s given in the application) role was during the war as a servant — none of this vague “body soldier” business mentioned there.

It’s also important to note that, as is often the case with such applications, the case for Childs’ worthiness for such a pension was made not only on his wartime service to his master, but also on his continued adherence to the racial status quo antebellum in the South. “Wade has been a faithful, dependable negro [sic.],” his primary sponsor writes, “humble to white people and always willing to serve them.” Contrary to the assertions of the local SCV camp commander, this is hardly a case of Childs’ service being recognized by the state as being anything like that of white veterans, armed and in the ranks.

Make note also of the fact that, as of 1924, African Americans who had worked as laborers and teamsters, men whose activities were arguably more directly beneficial to the South’s military effort, were explicitly excluded from the pension program in favor of those men like Childs who had served individual white soldiers. Cooks and personal servants counted; the men who built earthworks and drove wagons did not. That was the policy of the state of South Carolina.

All of this is par for the course in “honoring” black Confederates, but there’s an additional element here that adds another layer of dubious research findings:

Barnes and her husband discovered that Childs’ brother Lewis was buried at Westview, a historically black cemetery. They concluded that Wade Childs must be buried there, too.

Westview’s military corner facing Reed Street is “wall-to-wall” with unmarked graves, Barnes said.

“I had been looking and found his brother there,” Barnes said. “It’s logical that he would be there since his brother is there. We don’t know where, but when we saw Lewis, we felt his was there, too.”

Yes, you read that right — they have no damn idea where Wade Childs is actually buried. They’re guessing, and placed a stone in that cemetery, on that spot, because they “felt” that was the spot, that it was “logical” to them. It’s a fake grave, just like the ones in Pulaski — with the exception that the folks in Tennessee at least added fine print noting that location of the person mentioned is unknown. No such truth-telling here.

To add an extra bit of irony, these noble defenders of Southron Honour™ put up a stone with a rounded top, like those of of U.S. veterans, not the peaked top usually used for former Confederates. How on earth did they get that one wrong?

I dare say these folks found a local African American man in the South Carolina pension rolls, and ended up so determined to commemorate their very own black Confederate that little details like, oh, actually knowing where he’s buried became irrelevant to putting up a marker and chalking up another “forgotten segment of South Carolina’s past.” Thank goodness these folks are only promoting heritage — if they called this half-baked foolishness history, they’d be laughed out of town.

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Update, May 31: I originally put this down in the comments, but it might be useful to explain further why I’m a bit exercised about this “fake grave” business, an action that I (still) consider to be so misleading as to border on willful dishonesty.

Long-time readers may recall my post just about exactly a year ago on Peter Phelps, a white Confederate soldier who’d been named as a “black Confederate” by another website. In researching Peter Phelps, I found documentation not only of the cemetery he was buried in, but also the section. Unfortunately, there is no marker there now to identify the exact spot, so I posted a photo of the area with a caption that it showed the area where he was buried, but the precise location is not known. That’s fair, that’s accurate, and that’s honest. What I did not do is take a picture of an empty patch of soil and state, “this is Peter Phelps’ grave,” which is essentially what the Barnes are doing with Wade Childs.

As for their assumption that Wade Childs is buried next to his brother, the Phelps case is also instructive. Peter’s wife, Lucinda, died several years before he did, and we know (again from interment records) that she was buried in a plot in the same part of that cemetery. But section and plot numbers also make it clear that they are not buried together, as one might assume a married couple would be. While it may seem “logical” to think that Childs is buried near his brother, in the absence of actual evidence of that, it seems foolhardy to me to make that assumption and set it in stone (literally) for future generations. Visitors to that South Carolina cemetery a week from now, a year from now, fifty years from now, are going to be left with the belief that they saw the grave of Wade Childs, when in fact they might not have been within fifty (or a hundred) yards of it. Does that sort of precision really matter? Yes, I think it does, especially when it involves placing a marker that’s intended to last for generations to come.

As I’ve said, there are many ways to recognize a person, or a burial, without setting up a fake grave. It can be done. Even the faux cemetery for black Confederates at Pulaski, which is disingenuous and misleading in so many ways, acknowledges that the men so “honored” do not actually lie under those stones.

For those who want to engage in the heritage vs. history debate, this commemoration of Wade Childs offers lots to chew on. It’s a great example of the difference between two different approaches. Serious historians know the limits of their knowledge of a subject, and are willing to say “we don’t know that; we don’t actually know where Wade Childs is buried.” A serious historian does not go around setting up a simulated gravesite as a means of “honoring” a deceased person, or making up a term like “body soldier” to muddy the waters around the man’s actual role in the war, while ignoring critical elements of the primary, documentary record that undermine the chosen narrative. “Heritage” advocates do that sort of thing all the time, and aren’t even aware they’re doing it, or understand that it’s a problem.

So by all means, “forward the Colours,” y’all. Just don’t think what you’re doing counts as history.

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Image: Jennifer Crossley Howard, IndependentMail.com.

1940 Census Update

Posted in Genealogy, Technology by Andy Hall on May 23, 2012

As many of you know, Ancestry recently added the enumeration pages from the 1940 U.S. Census to its website. (The same files can be viewed for free at the National Archives, here.) Indexing the several million pages by name, however, is going to take much longer — months, at least — so it will be a while before users can simply type in a name and find the person they’re looking for, anywhere in the country. For now, you have to start looking by location.

If you know the street address you’re looking for, though, there’s a handy tool available here, developed by two census researchers, Stephen P. Morse and Joel D. Weintraub, that lets users identify the specific enumeration district, which can then be accessed through Ancestry. You’ll still have to look through a number of pages of enumeration rolls, but it’s a heck of a lot easier than going by-guess-and-by-golly.

I looked up several addresses that are of interest to me in this way, and it worked pretty well. I looked up my own address and found who was living in my house 72 years ago. We’d always known what family it was, but it was interesting to see who was actually present, living in the house at that time.

What unexpected discoveries have you found in the 1940 census?

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From the original caption: “Herman Hollerith invented a ‘unit tabulator,’ shown on left of photo being operated by Operator Ann Oliver. This machine is fed cards containing census information at the rate of 400 a minute and from these, 12 separate bits of statistical information is extracted. Not so long ago, Eugene M. La Boiteaux, Census Bureau inventor, turned out a smaller, more compact machine, which extracts 58 statistics from 150 cards per minute. This machine is shown on the right and is being operated by Virginia Balinger, Assistant Supervisor of the current Inquiry Section. With the aid of this machine, statistical information from the 1940 census is expected to be compiled in 2 1/2 years.” Library of Congress.