Monday, October 18, 2010

Melancholy and Diarrhea

So, I'm an addict. I first got interested in genealogical research around 2004, and with a subscription this year to, I've been able to uncover a lot of new information about my family.

If you're interested in researching your family, is definitely well worth the money.

Being a history buff, I love finding family connections to important events in history. It just gets me all a-tingle.

Just to give a brief (ha) run-down:

* So far, I have found ancestry through England, Germany, Switzerland, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, and France. So much for picking just one nationality to explain your heritage. For what it's worth, through the male line in my family, we are of English decent. I have traced my male family name back to the 1600's in Leicestershire, England. These ancestors seem to have arrived in Virginia in the 1630's, just a few years after the Mayflower.

Bosworth Battlefield in Leicestershire.  It was here that Richard III became the
last English king to die in battle, in the late 1400's.  

* I was surprised to discover a French line in my family. In the U.S., people tend to think of folks with French heritage all living in Louisiana. However, through one of my maternal lines, I have discovered French descent. This ancestor was named James Boisseau, and he was a French protestant living in Saumur, France. Saumur was a strongly protestant area in the otherwise largely Catholic France, and there is a chateau there that was first built in the 900's by the Count of Blois, an ancestor to Stephen of Blois, who became King of England in the 1100's. The original chateau was destroyed around the time of William the Conquerer in the 1060's, and was later rebuilt by Henry II, nephew of King Stephen.

The Chateau de Saumur

As for James Boisseau of Saumur, he was born in the 1650's, and was a protestant minister in the Reformed tradition of Calvin. These French protestants were known as Huguenots. He was born during a time of religious unease in France, and in 1685, Louis XIV outlawed protestant religion in France with the Edict of Fontainebleau. This led to a mass exodus of Huguenots, of which my ancestor James Boisseau was one. He sought refuge in England, but did not stay long. Upon arriving there, he applied for passage to the New World, and was granted emigrant status to be a "Huguenot minister to the colonists."

After reaching Virginia, he married a woman from Salem, Massachusetts, in 1691. Perhaps she had fled to Virginia because she was a witch and was trying to evade the Witch Trials, which were all the rage at the time. Or not. In any case, they brought forth their first born son in 1692 and named him James.

The family stayed in Virginia for several generations (Dinwiddie County, to be precise), and a great-grandson - John Boisseau - fought in the Revolutionary War as a 16-year-old volunteer. He fought in the Battle of Camden, which was a significant defeat for the colonists against the British under the famous Lord Cornwallis, and he also fought at the Battle of Petersburg (a Virginia city more famous for its Civil War battles).

This Boisseau family eventually produced my maternal grandmother, who was born in Kentucky.

* Some of my paternal ancestors were evidently reasonably wealthy landowners in Virginia who also owned quite a few slaves. I have found a Last Will and Testament of my great(x6) grandfather from the 1760's in which he doles out his slaves by name to each of his children. They had names like Old Peter and Young Peter, Morning, Old Beck, Moses, Quon, Blackman, and Judah.

* Most of my ancestors, particularly on my father's side, were uneducated farmers. On census form after census form, I find ancestors listed as unable to read and write. These census forms are interesting because they also frequently list occupations. The occupation of virtually all the women is "keeping house," and while "farmer" and "laborer" are most common among the men, I have found things like "shoe and boot maker" and "wagon maker."

* None of my direct ancestors fought in either World War I or World War II. The ages of the various men in my family virtually disqualified all of them from either of these conflicts. I have known all my life, however, that I had an ancestor who fought in the Civil War. This is my paternal great-great grandfather, who was called "Clipper." I was aware, however, that he was already older than I am now when the Civil War broke out (late 30's), so I have long assumed he probably didn't take part in much real fighting. In addition to other discoveries, however, I've discovered that this probably isn't true.

To begin with, I have (to date) found not just one, but ten ancestors who fought in the Civil War. Most of them probably knew each other, and all of but one of them fought in the same regiment together.

Both of my father's parents were from the same region in western Kentucky. This explains why both my paternal grandfather and grandmother had ancestors who fought together in the same regiment. In late 1861, after the Civil War began earlier in the summer, the Confederates moved into western Kentucky, heading for the Ohio River, which was one of the big landmarks between the north and the south. As a result of this, the Union army mustered volunteer regiments in western Kentucky to fight these Confederates. My great-great grandfather Clipper enlisted as a private in October of 1861, trained for six weeks, then joined the 11th Kentucky Volunteer Regiment in December. He joined up with two younger brothers - Jesse and James - and two cousins - Samuel and Elijah. Additionally, they were joined by a cousin-in-law of Jesse - his wife's cousin. So there were six of them that all signed up on the same day, trained at the same camp, and joined the same regiment.

Three ancestors of my paternal grandmother were also part of this same regiment. A fourth fought with the 27th Kentucky.

I found some interesting biographical details of each of these people. My great-great grandfather Clipper came through unscathed, and was noted as having led a division of his men in the march to Shiloh, a major battle in which the regiment fought. His youngest brother, James, also came through the war unscathed.

His middle brother, Jesse, was captured in a skirmish in October of 1863 prior to the siege of Knoxville. He was taken to Belle Island Prison, in Richmond, before being transferred in February of 1864 to the infamous Andersonville Prison Camp outside Atlanta. Nearly 1 in 4 Union soldiers in this camp died of malnutrition, starvation, and disease, and the Confederacy was accused of war crimes because of it. My great-great grandfather's brother Jesse was a victim. He died of dysentery there in May of 1864.

The Andersonville Prison Camp

The two cousins - Samuel and Elijah - both died of sickness outside the field of battle. Poor Samuel never even made it out of Kentucky. He died of pneumonia in December of 1861 before the regiment ever marched. Elijah died about a year later, in December of 1862, of typhoid.

As for my grandmother's ancestors, one of her great-grandfathers - Christopher C. Moore - was wounded severely on December 31, 1862, at the Battle of Stone's River, which took place near Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Another great-grandfather, David Ewing, spent much of the war on sick leave, including a period listed as AWOL, and was eventually discharged in 1863 for disability. Humorously enough, his disability was listed as "melancholy and diarrhea." This could literally be the title of a book about my grandmother's family.

This David Ewing also had a brother who fought with the regiment, and he was killed in action at the aforementioned Battle of Stone's River. This great-great-great grand-uncle is the only ancestor I've found so far who was actually killed in action. Considering that it was just a few months later that David Ewing was discharged for "melancholy and diarrhea," this "melancholy" was presumably related to his brother's death. Not sure about the diarrhea.

After the war, my great-great grandfather Clipper came home, only to have his wife die a year later, in early 1866. Being that he needed a woman at home to cook his meals and warm his bed, he remarried the following year to a woman about half his age. This woman was Rhoda Ann Hudnall, the sister of Jesse's widow (Jesse, you'll recall, was the brother who died in the POW camp). Clipper and Rhoda had a number of children, including my great-grandfather, and they named their last son Jesse, in honor of Clipper's dead brother.

Clipper and Rhoda.  Such is the stock from whence I come.

Luke and Mandy.  Luke was the son of Clipper and my great-grandfather.
I'm not sure if he's trying to look like Wyatt Earp or not, but he pulls it off.
And I don't know about you, but I wouldn't kick Mandy out of bed.  Just sayin'.  

* Two of my ancestors were named Greenberry.

* I have a lot of good Puritans in my family. I've found names like Goodman, Temperance, and Pleasant.

* Sometimes, genealogical research disproves family stories. I grew up always being told that I had Native American on my mother's side. The story was that my mother's father had a grandmother who was full Cherokee. Unless the information I've gotten from is completely and totally wrong (and there's really not any way that it is), this story is apparently a myth. We're all good red-blooded Europeans. My mother's father, and his brothers, all had leather, tawny skin, and perhaps this is where the story came from.

* Sometimes, genealogical research turns up stories you'd rather not have known. As above, unless the information I'm getting at is unreliable, there was a touch of inbreeding going on in my mother's family in the early 1800's. Hardy and his wife Dorothy Kirby had several children, two of which were James and Elizabeth. Elizabeth, who was much older, married Matthew Summerville and had a daughter named Mary Summerville. Mary decided her uncle James looked mighty fine, so they hooked up and produced my great-grandfather, whose son was my mother's father. Maybe that explains the "Native American" look of that family!!

* To the best of my knowledge, the first people in my entire family history to have college degrees were my parents and their various siblings and cousins. I can't speak for all the great-grand uncles and aunts and all the 3rd cousins twice removed, but among my direct ancestors, it wasn't, apparently, until the mid-20th century that anyone attained a college education.

* The farthest back I've been able to take a particular branch of the family is into the 1400's in England. I've taken a different branch back to the early 1500's in Wales. In both of these cases, however, I am relying mainly on other public family trees, and I can't really be certain that the information is accurate, since I have no idea where it comes from. The farthest back I've been able to go with relative certainty is to the mid-1600's with several different lines.

Luke and Mandy again, now with their children.  My grandfather is on the back left, in the white shirt.
Check out Ears McGillicutty, at right.  


Anonymous said...

A-tingle? Did you really just write that?

It is kind of thrilling though.

I don't know about Mandy, but Luke was a fine figure of a man. In the earlier picture of course.

The last picture just made me sad because Papaw is so young and yet fading out of the picture in the sun like he's already a ghost.

How could Granddaddy have gotten the information about his own mother wrong? That was my understanding of the story, that is was his MOTHER not his grandmother because Mom always said he was "half Cherokee" and she was a quarter, so we were eighths.

Scott said...

I thought she always said he was a quarter, she was an eighth and we were sixteenths.

In any case, I have, for instance, a 1920 census form that shows his mother as a 28-year-old white female. Remember, census forms tell race and nationality. That's one of their primary purposes. I have found not a single census form for any woman in his family - mother, grand-mother, even great-grandmother - listing any of them as anything other than white female.

Their names, and the names of their various parents, also seems to disqualify them as being native American. I don't know what Cherokees were named in the 19th century, but I'm betting it wasn't names like Corda, Sarah Elizabeth, and Mary Ann. I'm also betting it wasn't surnames like Hoops, Vaughn, Summerville, and Woodward.

Anonymous said...

Hi there, I'm a Boisseau cousin descended from John Boisseau and Nancy Carter of Franklin, Simpson County, KY. Would love to compare notes if you're game. This is an email redirect, I'll send you my real address if I hear from you!

Jean Wilson

Serene Musings Books of the Year, 2005-2015