Today the AP reported on how one long-forgotten casualty of World War II had finally been rediscovered and inscribed upon his hometown’s memorial. I’m glad to read those stories, where neglect ends in recognition.
A couple of years ago I did a pro bono bit of research, looking for a man killed in World War II who’d been “found,” in a sense, at a garage sale. A medal, plus a copy of a citation, had surfaced in a box of miscellaneous items. The seller had no idea where they’d come from. Since the fallen soldier had lived in my hometown, the buyer hoped I could lead him to living descendants who might want the medal.
Unfortunately that didn’t happen. The soldier was an only child, married but childless, and his widow never remarried. This garage-sale mystery ended with a cold trail and a bit of sadness that his story had ended up in a box in a stranger’s garage.
On Memorial Day, it seems especially fitting to think of ways to preserve and protect veterans’ stories. Here are a few examples. I’m sure there are others in other places. Maybe there’s one near you, too.
• The Library of Congress’ Veterans History Project is a national initiative to collect and preserve first-hand accounts from veterans.
• The Biography Project of the New Jersey Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial Foundation collects biographical information on the men and women listed on New Jersey’s memorial. At the link there’s a list of the veterans for whom there are still no photographs; the foundation welcomes any clues from the public.
• And the NYU Veterans Writing Workshop provides opportunities for veterans to tell their own stories.
“They told me, ‘It must have been your grandfather or your great-grandfather.’ They thought I was lying and looked at me like I was crazy.” — Hazel Jeter, daughter (that’s right, daughter) of Civil War veteran Silas D. Mason, First Maine Cavalry
As a nice coda to Veterans Day observances, check out this National Geographic piece on a select segment of U.S. citizens: the living sons and daughters of Civil War veterans. It’s a very select group – the Geographic puts their number at less than 35 – but honestly, that’s pretty good even so, considering that Appomattox was nearly 150 years ago. The piece includes wonderful quotes from the “children,” all in their 90s and upward, along with the Geographic’s typically vivid photography.
Four years ago, I wrote about the fascination of extended genealogical timelines. The cornerstone of that post was the living grandchildren of John Tyler (1790-1862), 10th president of the U.S. from 1841-45 – as in “Tippecanoe and Tyler too,” for those of you who keep track of political slogans. They are still going about their business, as evidenced by the current genealogy at SherwoodForest.org, the website of the Tyler family plantation in Virginia. One of the grandsons, Harrison Ruffin Tyler, gave a delightful interview to New York Magazine in January 2012. (By the way, I wouldn’t mind paying a visit someday to Sherwood Forest, which is still in Tyler family hands. According to the website, it even has its own ghost.)
I always love these reminders that, useful as it is to include “typical” generational ranges in sorting out genealogical problems, humans can always throw you for a loop by reproducing when they darn well feel like it.
There are so very many ways (and people) to commemorate on Veterans Day, but being a Garden State enterprise, the blog takes the occasion to shine a spotlight on the New Jersey Vietnam Veterans Memorial, which is located just off the Garden State Parkway in Holmdel, behind the Garden State Arts Center. Official Veterans Day commemorations at the memorial are set for 11 a.m. today, organized by the New Jersey Vietnam Veterans Memorial Foundation.
• One goal of the Biography Project coordinated by the foundation is to ensure that there’s a photograph to correspond with each name on New Jersey’s Vietnam memorial wall. There are still more than 300 names without photographs. Check the list to see if maybe you recognize one of them and can help.
• A few months ago Sue Kaufman, who with Ivan Kossak writes the always interesting Hidden New Jersey blog, posted a lovely and fascinating piece about Captain Eleanor Alexander, the only woman among the 1,563 New Jerseyans killed in Vietnam. It also links to a vivid and heartfelt letter from Captain Alexander’s fellow nurse Rhona Prescott, who pays tribute to a “supernurse, the backbone of the O.R.”
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.