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Volume 6, Number 21 Mountain Press, P.O. Box 400, Signal Mountain, Tennessee 37377, 1-423-886-6369 October 7, 2014
In this article we will discuss those missed opportunities. I have had several missed opportunities throughout my genealogy research, but sometimes you can find some of the answers if you just keep digging.
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James L. Douthat
If you have been in research for any length of time, you have missed at least one opportunity to get the answers to some of your questions. So many times, I have wanted to kick myself for those missed opportunities. Then I realize that we can’t undo what has been done, we have to move on.
This came home to me recently as I was working on some Confederate soldiers in Virginia. We all know that the information on them is harder to find than on the Union troops. The south was not into the record keeping business. I missed a great opportunity to quiz my grandfather about his father who was in the Confederate Army. I was married with two children when he died and he was a grown man when his father died,so he definitely knew his father and some of his stories. His father served in one of two units with all of his brothers during the war. His father met and married before the war ended and then along came six children. His wife died and he married a second time and my grandfather was the eleventh child out of twelve.
There are so many questions that I would like to have asked Granddad about his father’s Confederate service. If would have been great to know if his Dad had talked about his war time. Most soldiers do not like to talk about that time in their life. I would have liked to have heard some of the camp fire tales that were told if Granddad had heard them. So many questions I would like to have heard, but I didn’t and there is nothing I can do about it now.
At least I thought there was nothing I could do about it. Nearly every unit in the Civil War has had a history written about their battle times and events that were important to that particular unit. I have a couple of dozen such histories of Confederate Virginia units in my library and in most of them I have no one involved with that unit. I reread some of these recently and discovered that there are many points of similarity between the various units. Some of them have the roster of those who served in that unit and unfortunately most of them only mention the officers. Most all of the couple of dozen ancestors in that conflict, on both sides, were up to the rank of Private. However, privates seldom get mentioned in the official records. You can find those rosters of all the units if you are willing to work to find them. The first place that most people go are to the pension records and these records work for only a small portion of those who served.
I was fortunate to find a roster of several units in one county in Virginia. Early in the twentieth century a county historian compiled the listing and then made notes of what happened to the majority of the men. These notes were worth their weight in gold as the saying goes. One of the men died in battle and his friends covered his body with rocks to protect it from wild animals. If that was an ancestor of yours, would you not wanted to know that your ancestor’s friends thought enough of him to protect him even in death?
Each local area has some of the more interesting records of this time period. In Tennessee long after the war, a group started with questionnaires to each of those surviving veterans. The end product of this project was a five volume set that gives some of the best personal information about those who fought in the Civil War on both sides, Union and Confederate. In this survey many of the questions were normal such as name, address, and occupation. One such question was #12 – “As a boy and young man, state what kind of work you did. If you worked on a farm, state to what extent you plowed, worked with hoe, and did other kinds of similar work.” They even wanted to know if they attended school and was the teacher a male or female? One of the more important questions was to name as many of those in your unit as you can and what happened to them, and if living where are they now? This set is one of those gold mines if you have Tennesseans in your background during the Civil War.
Another unusual source from this time period are the pleas for pardons from the President of the United States who was Andrew Johnson at the time most of them were received. He was a Tennessean as Vice-President under Abe Lincoln. These give a lot of details about the personal side of life at that time. If a person was not pardoned in the general amnesty following the war, then they had to seek a Special Presidential Pardon. There were thirteen reasons someone would not be pardon generally. An officer in the CSA army was one of those exclusions. As one lady wrote that her son-in-law was forced by his neighbors to serve as a General. He never fired a shot and was never in battle. He received a pardon. I would say primarily by the fact of who the lady was signed the request - “Mrs. James K. Polk”.
You may not have asked the right questions when you had the opportunity and you missed out. All is not lost, you just have to dig a little deeper and go many different routes to get the answers that you could have gotten first hand if you had only known.
James L. Douthat Library Collection
We are pleased to announce that we are starting to list books from James L. Douthat's private library. We have about 50 books up so far, but there will be many, many more to come in the following weeks and months. With have listed a few below, but the entire collection can be seen at the James L. Douthat Library Collection.
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