In honor of Memorial Day, a photo of my dad and his training station mates during World War II. My father, Peter Haigney, is kneeling in the front row on the right. Here’s to all the veterans in everyone’s families, and best wishes for a safe and sunshine-filled Memorial Day.
P.S. The links will be back tomorrow!
The other day I was reviewing my online files, which are in a quite a state, and I rediscovered one of my signature Primitive Word Charts™ compiling data encountered in a Civil War pension file about my gg-grandfather Martin Haigney’s date of birth.
It’s another one of those exercises in How Old Do You Think You Are? Here goes!
|1890||Martin says he is 57 on his initial application.
Birth year: Approximately 1833.
|1890||Martin’s neighbors say he is “about sixty”.
Birth year: Approximately 1830.
|1897||Martin says he is 66 on his application for an increase.
Birth year: Approximately 1831.
|1907||Martin gives his date of birth as 2 March 1831 on his declaration for continuance of his pension. He states age as “past age of 75 years.”|
|1907||Army records supplied in support of Martin’s declaration of 1907 state his age on (a) 7 Mar 1859 as 27 and his age on (b) 7 Mar 1864 as 32.
Birth year (a) 1832; Birth year (b) 1832.
|1907||Martin’s affadavit affirms that to the best of his recollection he was 22 years old on his first enlistment, 7 March 1854. He says he must have been born in 1832, not 1831 as stated on his initial 1907 application.|
|1908||Martin gives his date of birth as 18 March 1832 in an application for an increase.|
|1908||Martin’s date of birth is noted as 18 March 1832 in approval of increase|
- Martin did not know the exact date or year of his birth:
- He gives an age on his initial application that doesn’t agree with the age he would be from information on later applications.
- He furnishes two different birthdays – 2 March and 18 March – on different documents.
- In his affidavit of 1907, he says his age at the time of his first enlistment is “to the best of my recollection.”
- Note that the birth month and the enlistment month are the same. It is possible that the birth date given was a guess pegged to a date everybody did actually agree upon – the date Martin first enlisted in the army.
- The pension forms do not uniformly require birth dates. The early forms asked only for age.
- At this point a birth year of 1832 seems to be a decent estimate. Using the information from the Army’s enlistment records, we know the age Martin gave at his re-enlistment in 1859 was 27. At least this record was compiled closest to whatever the actual date was.
- Of course, all this information is only from one source — the pension file. The census birth date estimates skip around: 1832 in the 1860 census; 1830 in the 1870 census; 1827 in the 1880 census; 1835 in the 1900 census; 1830 in the 1910 census. His tombstone lists a birthdate of 1829.
What is the moral of this particular tale, you might ask? There might not be much of one, but I’ll take a stab at it:
First: “To the best of my recollection” sure doesn’t mean “my exact recollection” on anybody’s part.
Second: You know when they say to use a wide date range when searching databases, no matter what you know you know about a person? Listen to them.
Note From The Dept. of Mangled Prose: Ha! I just noticed that I labeled Part One “When Were He Born Again?” A product of the post-turkey-day haze, I guess. Should I change it, or should it stand as part of the historical record? Decisions, decisions.
We now have officially entered the holiday season, which means that if anyone is vaguely interested in all this genealogical poking around we’re doing, now is the time they’re going to ask about it.
Just before Turkey Day, in one of those feast-planning phone conversations, my sister Mary and I got to talking about the genealogy stuff and about our ancestor Martin Haigney in particular. (I know, I know: The last half of this year has pretty much been MartinFest, but his Civil War pension file has just had so much interesting stuff in it.)
One of the questions my sister and I discussed is a classic: When was he born, exactly?
And even better: You mean he didn’t know either?
It’s so interesting to contemplate the radically different relationship our ancestors had with concepts such as vital statistics. Not being sure exactly when you were born? To me it feels dislocating, upsetting. How much in my life would be difficult, if not impossible, if I could not prove when I was born?
To Martin, it did not appear to be something one thought about at all. In fact, I’ll bet he didn’t worry much about it until his old age, when somebody at the Bureau of Pensions noticed a discrepancy in the ages Martin had reported on various pieces of paperwork.
The result was this 1907 affidavit, which neatly illustrates the vague relationship many of our ancestors had with their own birthdates, and the subsequent difficulties we can have trying to establish a timeline for them. In my Part II post, I’ll discuss Martin’s various ages, as stated by himself and others.
State of NEW YORK
County of STEUBEN
In the matter of Pension Ctf. #592,963 of Martin Haigney, Ord. Dep. U.S.A. – Claim for pension, Act of Feb. 6, 1907.
Personally came before me, a Notary Public in and for aforesaid County and State Martin Haigney aged 75 years Citizen of the Town of Bath (S. & S. Home) County of Steuben State of New York well known to me to be reputable and entitled to credit, and who being duly sworn, declares in relation to aforesaid case, as follows:
I am the above described claimant for pension under the Act of Feb. 6th, 1907, and in reply to official letter of March 18th calling for proof of my age, I have to state that I cannot get proof of same by record evidence or otherwise, and hereby wish to ammend [sic] my claim on account of a slight discrepancy and error discovered by me. I have figured back and well remember now that I was 22 years of age at my first enlistment in the Regular army on March 7, 1854. According to that I must have been born in 1832 instead of 1831 as I thought when filing my claim on age on or about Feb. 12, 1907.
Therefore, I wish to amend said claim so as to have my pension commence at the rate of $20 per month from the date of the filing of this statement in the Pension office; and that a rating of $15 per month be granted me commencing from the date of filing said claim, on or about Feb. 12, 1907, because I was more than 74 years old at the date of said filing, and supposed I was 75 years old, but as before stated, I now recollect well that I was 22 years old at the time of my first enlistment, and the records in Washington no doubt will corroborate my statement.
I am unable to furnish proof of my age, and respectfully ask that my claim be amended as above requested.
Witnesses to Mark: Daniel J. Orcutt Thomas B. Hannon
Martin X Haigney
[Receiving stamp at Pension Office: March 27, 1907]
Note: Martin sent this affidavit not from Watervliet (West Troy), his longtime home, but from Steuben County, New York, where he was a resident of the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ home in Bath. I wrote a little bit about the home here.
I wouldn’t have visited the museum at the Watervliet Arsenal if my great-great-grandfather Martin Haigney hadn’t served there.
My interest in armaments and military history is mild, to put it mildly. And I wasn’t sure how useful the visit would be in giving me specific insights about my ancestor’s life there. Also, it was pouring chilly rain as I set out.
Fortunately, I didn’t talk myself into a detour to a nice warm Starbucks.
Housed in the historic Iron Building, the Watervliet Arsenal museum includes a wealth of artifacts, displayed in the context of the lives of Arsenal workers and residents. (Fun fact: The poet Stephen Vincent Benet was a third-generation resident. His grandfather and father were both commanders there, and the arsenal’s Benet Laboratory is named in their honor.)
Watervliet has operated since 1813, but since Martin’s Army service occurred between 1854 and 1867, I concentrated on the Civil War-era displays. Interestingly, Watervliet did not manufacture the actual cannon guns in that conflict. It made everything else, such as the carriages they sat upon, the shells they fired, and the ammunition cases that held the cannonballs.
Behind a metal door at one end of the exhibit hall is a huge, echoing room that feels off-limits to visitors, but is actually a particularly cool exhibit area. On one side is a wealth of rare antique cannons and weaponry. On the other is an array of metalworking machinery, arranged to give a sense of what an arsenal shop floor might have looked like back in Martin’s day.
At peak capacity during the Civil War, the arsenal had 2,000 employees, one-quarter of whom were children. At first only boys were hired, but when the arsenal began manufacturing cartridges for the Sharps carbine in 1864, it was discovered that the smaller hands of little girls were better suited to rolling the linen cylinders.
“I was nine years old,” recalled a child worker many years later. “All of us little girls sat on a long bench, our feet not quite touching the floor, and we filled cartridges all day long … I worked from seven in the morning until six at night.”
The curator, a helpful and erudite fellow called Scott, clarified the term “artificer,” an enigmatic job description in my ancestor’s Civil War pension file. It’s an elegant way of saying “machinist”; however, Martin’s particular machines and skills are lost in the mists of time.
Since my visit coincided with the last of the day’s visiting hours, Scott was able to show me the barracks where Martin would have lived as a soldier. (In the 1860 census, Martin has two addresses – one at the arsenal, and one at a house in the town of West Troy with his wife Mary and their oldest child Joseph, my great-grandfather.)
It was not a day (or a setting) for poring over records. But thanks to the museum and the kindness of its curator, I had a grand time walking in Martin’s footsteps for an afternoon.
I’ve blogged already about the Civil War pension records pertaining to Martin Haigney, my great-great-grandfather who served at the Watervliet Arsenal in West Troy, N.Y. Previously I wrote about the joys of discovery, the fun of organizing all that paperwork and the larger social implications of the pension system — all lofty, rewarding stuff.
Today, however, we descend into the bowels of the file. Literally.
It started at the dining room table, which was probably not the best place to be dissecting a Civil War medical record. Still, when I noticed not one, but four diagnoses of cholera in Martin’s medical history, I couldn’t help blurting out my astonishment.
“Cholera? What’s that? Is it serious? Do you throw up?” The eldest daughter suddenly lost interest in her cinnamon Pop-Tarts.
“Four times? That’s highly unlikely,” said Mr. Archaeologist, who in real life is an actuary and keeps track of statistics and stuff.
“Shush, you two,” I said, re-checking the page. [Note: Mr. Archaeologist is a casualty actuary, not a life actuary, so it was OK to shush him. -- Ed.]
Yes, there it was on the record, four times. Here is the transcribed list from a War Department memo of 24 January 1899:
- Aug. 7 to 9 54, Cholera Morb.;
- Sept. 18 to 20, 54, Diarrhea;
- Mar. 5 to 8, 55, Pneumonia;
- Aug. 29 to Sept. 1, 57, Sick;
- Nov. 13 to 15, 57, Influenza;
- Aug. 16 to 19, 59, Cholera Morb.;
- Aug. 8 to 12, 60, Diarrhea;
- Sept. 6 to 9, 61, Cholera Morb.;
- Nov. 2 to 4, 61, (no diagnosis);
- Aug. 20, 62, Diarrhea;
- Feb. 2 &3, 64, Diarrhea;
- Mar. 17 to 30, 64, Measles;
- June 9 to 11, 64, Diarrhea;
- Aug. 5 to 7, 64, Dysentery;
- Jan. 23 to 29, 65, Tonsillitis;
- July 11 to 12, 65, Diarrhea;
- Jan. 5 to 12, 66, Dysentery;
- June 29 to July 1, 66, Rheumatism from exposure to cold & rain, ret’d to duty as – Hagney, Corp[? illegible];
- July 24 to 26, 66, Cholera Morbus;
- Jan. 19 to 21, 67, Lumbago, ret’d to duty;
- Nothing further found
“Eeeww,” said the eldest daughter, who had managed to finish her Pop-Tarts anyway.
“That’s some gut,” said Mr. Archaeologist brightly. [Note: Actually, his comments have been somewhat edited -- Ed.]
Indeed. But what was going on with all those reports of cholera? Everyone knows how how swiftly cholera claimed its victims. From what I’ve read, it was possible to survive it back in the day, once. But to have it four times and live to get a pension? C’mon.
It turns out this is a classic example of reading a 19th-century list with 21st-century eyes. The clue is in the fourth instance, where the diagnosis is spelled out as “cholera morbus.” A quick Google led me to the Wikipedia entry on gastroenteritis, where my mystery was solved, although I had to scroll to the bottom of the entry for the payoff.
Before the 20th century, the term “gastroenteritis” was not commonly used. What would now be diagnosed as gastroenteritis may have instead been diagnosed more specifically as typhoid fever or “cholera morbus”, among others, or less specifically as “griping of the guts”, “surfeit”, “flux”, “colic”, “bowel complaint”, or any one of a number of other archaic names for acute diarrhea. Historians, genealogists, and other researchers should keep in mind that gastroenteritis was not considered a discrete diagnosis until fairly recently.
The listing of my great-great-grandfather’s ailments certainly seems to point to a chronic gastrointestinal condition. Or maybe to a chronically compromised drinking water supply.
So consider “cholera morbus” your archaic diagnosis of the day. And since I’m feeling generous, here’s an extensive list of archaic disease terminology to consult at your leisure.
I recommend waiting until after breakfast, however.
You might have noticed me screaming posting about Civil War pension files recently. Blame my great-great-grandfather Martin Haigney, who applied for a veteran’s pension shortly after the enactment of the Disability Pension Act of June 1890.
Martin was not a civilian who joined the great volunteer army of 1861-1865 and fought through its bloody battles — what I think of as a classic Civil War veteran. He had been regular Army since March 1854, when, probably soon after arriving in the United States, he enlisted as a soldier at the Watervliet Arsenal in West Troy, N.Y. And there he served as a soldier, from 1854 until 1867.
Watervliet Arsenal went on to play a vital role in arming Union troops, no doubt about it. However, although Martin was a soldier and was part of an immense war effort, he didn’t dodge snipers at Gettysburg or scramble out of the crater at Petersburg. This left me doubtful when I first started wondering whether he might have gotten a Civil War pension. Was he really pensioner material?
Well, I failed to consider the remarkable scope of the 1890 act. Fortunately, I caught up due to a fascinating and lengthy Ohio State Law Journal article (P. Blanck, Vol. 62, 2001, .pdf file) that examines the Civil War pension system, which began in 1862.
Early on, the U.S. government established pensions for disabled veterans and the widows and orphans of the slain. “Disability” had to be expressed in specific quantities. For example, in 1862 a totally disabled private was eligible for a stipend of $8 per month. From there, it was a matter of determining fractions. Lost a finger or toe? You rated a 2 out of 8, or $2 per month. An eye? 4/8.
As the war went on, the number and magnitude of injuries forced adaptations. Congress passed modifications providing increased benefits for severely disabled soldiers. A 100 percent disabled veteran was defined as one needing “regular aid and attendance” from another person. Measles, malaria and sunstroke were added to the list of war-related conditions. Then an 1873 act took a big leap forward by compensating claims for subsequent disabilities — conditions which, though related to wartime service, didn’t appear until years later. However logical this might seem by today’s standards, it was pretty radical thinking to some commentators of the day.
But the really radical leap came in 1890. The 1890 act tied the pension system more to the idea of service rather than circumstance. It included new requirements for the length of military service. And it did not require the veteran’s disability to be directly war-related, as long as it was not caused by “vicious habits.”
As in previous acts, however, disability level = a person’s capacity for manual labor. Someone who could not perform one-half of an ablebodied man’s work was a potential pensioner.
Well, I could go on and on, because frankly I’m fascinated by yet another example of how the Civil War sparked big social changes. But for now let’s go back to Martin’s 1890 pension application, and the affidavit sworn before a county clerk in Albany, NY on 4 Sept. 1890 by two of his neighbors, David Fitzgerald and Patrick Lyons.
That we have been well and personally acquainted with Martin Haigney [sic] for 25 years, and 25 years respectively, and that since his return from the Army we certify he has been a man of good temperate habits and that the disability is of a permanent character and same is not due to his vicious habits we are near neighbors of his living only about four or five hundred yards apart and have seen him daily three and four times a week the period since he came to live in our neighborhood, about 25 years ago we have conversed with him during the same time and know that he has suffered from the disability of rheumatism in arms, legs and shoulders
He is married and has a family depending on him for their suport [sic] We know he has not been wholely [sic] confined to his house but has found laboring work wherever he could. At such light labor as he could do working in a carpenter shop sweaping [sic] floors and policing about the building at the rate of one Dollar and 12 cents per day for ten Hours work That we know he has paid what he could afford for medicine to cure his rheumatism and we know he is considerablly [sic] bent over from his disability That he is well advanced in years about sixty years of age He is not able to do a sound ablebodied mans [sic] work for he is not physically strong or sound man and we belive [sic] in propositions to his disability He is impaired fully more than one half
These guys had the right talking points:
1. Martin’s disability — severe rheumatism in arms, legs and shoulders — was real and permanent. Plus, it was severe enough that he could no longer “do a sound ablebodied mans work.” Indeed, he was “impaired fully more than one half.”
2. Martin was a man of “good temperate habits” and his disability was “not due to vicious habits.”
3. He was not averse to work. He was trying to support his family with a combination janitor/security guy job at a carpenter’s shop.
Martin’s neighbors (well, most likely the attorney helping him with his application) knew it was important to stress two key factors: degree of disability and soundness of character. Commentators throughout the post-Civil War era fretted about veterans taking advantage. “There are very few men who could not have got a certificate of disability,” groused the New York Times in 1894. “The door of fraud was thrown wide open to let those in who were not incapacitated for self-support.”
Even in 1890, Martin knew the onus was on him to prove himself the real deal.
Author’s Note: A Civil War pension file, if your ancestor has one, is a marvelous thing for a nosy descendant. If you’re not sure what one is and how to get one, study up at the National Archives site.
First, the preliminaries: Ask spouse where the mail is. Discover package from National Archives in Washington, D.C., containing your great-great-grandfather’s complete Civil War pension file. Wander abstractedly away from spouse and bewildered children. Tell them there’s mac and cheese in the cupboard, you think.
On to business:
1. Open the envelope. (It will look like something from Land’s End, but heavier.)
2. Don’t hyperventilate at the “Dear Patron” notice, which does look ominous.
This is a standard “We Regret” letter, apologizing in advance for copies that are blurry or faded due to the original document’s age and wear. My file didn’t contain any illegible Xeroxes, although I’ve heard accounts of disappointing copies.
3. Don’t just rummage.
HAHAHAHAHAHA! You are not going to follow this direction at all, I bet. I tried to, for about thirty seconds. I was going to be all cool and calm and organized and WAIT A MINUTE! THAT’S MY GG-GRANDMA’S BIRTH NAME!! WHEEEE! WHAT ELSE IS IN THERE?????
[****Cue feral genealogy sounds.****]
So. Ahem. After you finish rummaging and have slept off your genealogy buzz (this will perhaps be two days later):
4. Go through the file carefully and put the paperwork in order.
This will take time, because in all likelihood your file will be a mess, whether you rummaged in it or not. The archive folks photocopy what they find and send it along. They cannot be blamed if, over the last 120 years, a succession of clerks was sloppy about filing and re-filing. Do your best to put the file into chronological order, examining the paperwork carefully to make sure that multi-page documents haven’t been mixed up. Be careful with date stamps — they note the date a document was received at its destination, not when it was created. These two dates are usually close together, but not always. Update: Craig Scott, in the comments, makes the good point that it’s not uncommon to find more than one pensioner in a file — a soldier and his widow would be the obvious example. Just another thing to keep in mind when sorting.
5. Make copies of the file.
What sort of copies depends on your style. Some like writing notes directly on paper copies. I prefer making my notes in a separate notebook or Word file, and scan the file pages to my hard drive(s). But whichever way you go, copying is a good idea.
6. Make an inventory of the file.
Just a suggestion, but it can be very helpful. Here’s what the start of my file summary looks like.
|1. File Label||None||No. 592-963Veteran: Martin Haigney
Rank: 1st class Pvt.
Service: Ordnance Dept. US Army
CAN no. 12841 Bundle No. 16
|2. Declaration for Invalid Pension
Notes: Regular Army enlistment records show Martin’s first enlistment was in 1854, not ’57.
Age given here indicates a birth year of 1833, not 1831, the year he specifies in Doc. #27.
|17 July 1890||Initial application for pension under the Act of June 27, 1890. Martin gave his age as 57, his initial enlistment as March 1857. He re-enlisted in March 1864.Reason for applying was inability to earn support by manual labor due to age and rheumatism in shoulders and right leg.
Martin signs with an X, being unable to write his name.
Tabulated information soothes me. It also helps me prioritize. For instance, the first document I worked with was No. 16, the marriage and family questionnaire my ancestor filled out in 1898. It had a couple of birth dates for his children I’d never known, plus information on his spouse and date of marriage. My chart helps me pinpoint discrepancies quickly, and when I’m done with the scanning, it will help me navigate my online files quickly, too.
Finally, the best part:
7. Make a list of all the interesting new ideas you can investigate because of the information in this file.
So that’s what I’m doing with my great-great grandfather’s pension file, and it’s just scratching the surface. What are your tips?
Further reading: I enjoyed this informative group of articles about assessing pension files. One caution, however: the fees quoted for obtaining a complete file from NARA are out of date. But there are very good case studies and tips.