One of my not-education “hobbies” is family history.  It is exhilarating to me when I find a link to a relative, and especially cool when I can place that relative in history.

Enlistment Photograph taken in NY in 1861.

Enlistment Photograph taken in NY in 1861.

I have found some relatives that fought during the Civil War – and on both sides of that conflict.  My Dutch-born great-grandfather, Anthony Duym, was at Gettysburg 150 year ago as a soldier in the New York 52nd Infantry. He was about 22 years old at the time.

I often joke that my great-grandfather must have been standing in the back of the line for most of the Civil War; to my knowledge he was uninjured despite being in some of the more well-known battles of that conflict. 150 years ago today, his company was in the middle of the fighting in Gettysburg.

In history class, I learned that people came out in carriages with picnic baskets to watch the battle as if it were a sporting event. How wrong that was! One of, if not the, bloodiest battles fought on US soil, visiting Gettysburg in modern times is a humbling experience.

One hundred fifty years is a lot of time passed. It is easy to glamorize and forget the horrible parts of a battle and of a war.

I wish I could have asked my great-grandfather to tell me about his time in the Union Army. I cannot help wondering how it changed him.

Genealogy Again

Being school vacation week, I spent some of my down time on genealogical pursuits. Unraveling family mysteries is nothing short of breath-taking when (and if) those mysteries are unraveled. This week, there were no grand discoveries, however, just more questions.

This week, I had hoped to pin down my great-great-grandmother, Sophronia’s death date and burial. She lived in Indianapolis, Indiana for much of her life, but seems to have moved to Peoria, Illinois in the 1900s.

My great-great grandmother Sophronia Lee Wyant was married a second time after her first husband, William Orrin Wyant,  died. Her new spouse, Roswell Beardsley, was a fire insurance agent in Indianapolis. When Sophronia married Roswell Beardsley in 1878 she had been a widow for about 10 years — and given her actual birth year (not the “corrected” one in the Lee family Bible) she was 42 at the time with a teenage son along for the ride. Family stories are that Roswell was not a very kindly step-father and that my great-grandfather Frederick Wyant went to live with relatives shortly after Roswell and Sophronia married. This is borne out by researching census information.

Things seemed to have soured rather quickly for Sophronia and Roswell: according to the Indianapolis City Directory, Roswell was boarding at the Emmett Hotel and Sophronia, who made her living as a music teacher, boarded at 204 N. Illinois Street. As far as I can tell, neither party ever lived together again, although Sophronia kept the name Beardsley for quite a while even after Roswell died in the 1890s.

And here is where things get a bit messy. In the late 1890s, Sophronia lived with her younger (and presumably more connected – a physician’s wife), sister Julia in Indianapolis. Sometime in the early 1900s, Sophronia left Indianapolis and seems to have lived with my great grandfather Wyant, who by that time was a hotel baker and had a family of his own in Peoria, Illinois. During this time, Sophronia used her first married name – Wyant. I have a scrapbook that she created during this time and the name in the front is indeed Sophronia Wyant. Did she go back to this name when she moved in with my great grandfather? Or is that how an unofficial “divorce” worked in the early 20th century?

With all the mystery surrounding Sophronia’s last name, it is proving to be quite a challenge to trace her last years. Was she buried in Peoria? Was she buried in Indianapolis? So far the answers are alluding me.

Time Travels Revisited

For some reason I am fascinated with history – family history. And during school vacations, when I finally have some time to spend on such endeavors, I am able to do quite a bit of research. Not exactly as exciting as skiing or snowboarding or as relaxing as sitting on a beach or by a pool, but something different to occupy my mind.

This week I came across an obituary – a scrap of newspaper folded neatly into my great, great grandmother’s autograph book. The obituary was for her father, James Cuthbertson Sharron. JC as he is referred to in my family (his father was James Russell Sharron), was a minister’s son who himself became a minister in the Presbyterian church. His life’s travels took him from Dauphin County, PA where he was born in 1810 to Jefferson College and Princeton University, then to a posting in Muskingum, Ohio around 1835. In the 1840s he moved to Iowa, before Iowa became a state. Here he moved from pioneer town to pioneer town, organizing churches in West Point and Birmingham as well as some smaller town. In the 1860s — at the ripe old age of 50-something — JC joined an Iowa regiment as a chaplain for the Union Army. After the Civil War, he returned to Iowa and to his ministry, dying in 1868.

Now why is all of this interesting? For some reason the connections to the ancestors who make up my family history, make the dusty stories and facts that were taught to me more real. 1810, before the War of 1812…. how odd that one of “my people” went to college (twice)! 1830 was when Ohio achieved statehood – JC was in Ohio shortly after that. And yet, Ohio was too settled for him so he moved on to Iowa when the population of that territory was 50,000. The Civil War – 1865 – this ancestor lived through it.

Granted that JC had a more interesting life than most of the ancestors I have uncovered. In fact for whatever reason, his story is the most complete of my ancestors’ stories. Reading through my great great grandmother’s autograph book reveals some of the threads of an everyday life — the sadness of having to move to a new town, illness or deaths of friends and acquaintances, the chronicle of a plains pioneer.

I am at once awed by the strength of character of these people and maybe, just maybe, beginning to understand the challenges of living in another time in history.