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Civil War research assistance on the way

January 17, 1999

Times Leader Genealogy Writer

Are you losing your personal Civil War battle?

Is that ancestor from the Army of the Potomac still genealogically missing in action?

Although it's not difficult these days to trace our own direct lines back to great-great-grandfathers who wore Union blue, locating their far-flung brothers, cousins and in-laws who also served is frequently a tough campaign.

But if the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War succeed in their new project, there will someday be a national computerized database of burial sites for all the millions of men who served in the armed forces during the 1861-1865 conflict.

In the latest issue of its national publication, "The Banner," the group updates the project.

"Although we are only in the beginning stages, we are seeing progress towards our goal of locating the final resting places of all Union Civil War veterans," writes National Graves Registration Officer Leo F. Kennedy.

Like any effort involving volunteer labor and millions of names to be researched, the project will no doubt take many years to complete. The official national database is in Microsoft Access format. Both state departments of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War and local chapters, or "camps," are pooling their efforts to collect burial information from cemeteries and forward it to Kennedy for inclusion. Individual members are also being asked to help.

For the genealogist, this database could turn out to be a godsend. Sometimes an ancestor just seems to drop off the face of the earth after his government paperwork ends with a military discharge in the 1860s.

Where did they go? All over America, young veterans of the war left the farms and small towns where their families had settled. Some headed west to take advantage of the developing frontier. Others moved to larger, more economically progressive eastern communities, cutting their ties to the families we have reconstructed through U.S. Census and other records.

The towns of Wyoming Valley were among those that saw booming growth during these postwar decades as immigrants and native-born Americans flocked here to work in the coal mines or on the railroads. Between 1850 and 1900, the population of Wilkes-Barre increased tenfold, and Plymouth grew to nearly twice the size it is today.

When the computerized list is finished, genealogists will at last be able to locate their veterans' burial sites, fill in many blanks and link up with long-lost relatives.

Some sources of postwar information exist now, but they have limitations.

One way to find Civil War soldiers and sailors (and widows) is the special census the U.S. government conducted in 1890. If you already know where your ancestor was living in 1890, you can go to a public library and have the reference librarian show you the booklet that will tell you exactly which reel or reels of microfilm to order from the National Archives. A reel rental costs only a few dollars, and the library will keep it for you for weeks.

But, of course, to take advantage of this research tool, you must first know the state and town where the veteran -- or his widow -- was living in 1890.

The National Archives also has for rent through libraries the pension applications of all Civil War soldiers and sailors (or widows) who applied under an 1890 act of Congress. These microfilm reels are indexed by the veteran's state and regiment or ship and describe the veteran's service-connected disabilities.

In this case, you don't have to know where the veteran lived to find him. But veterans who did not apply for a pension are not included.

The actual pension records themselves do tell you when and where the veteran died. They are readily available through the National Archives, and sometimes through state archives. But, again, not every veteran got a pension and built up a file. Some died before 1890. Some left no widows. So the final whereabouts of your veteran can still be unknown.

This is where the graves registration project comes in. The group is trying to build up a single computerized database not limited to existing federal pension and other records.

Want to help? The Sons have had a chapter in this area since the 19th century. It meets monthly at the old GAR Hall in Scranton. If you are a direct or collateral descendant of a Civil War veteran, contact Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, Ezra S. Griffin Camp. No. 8, 305 Linden St., second floor, Scranton, Pa. 18501. The group also has auxiliary members.

Searching: Mrs. J.D. Hodges of Florida is seeking information on people related to Edward Fowler HODGES, born in 1857 in Pennsylvania, last known address on Erie Street, Philadelphia. He had a brother William, born 1859, father of Ella W., Julia Trewith PORTER, William and Walter. Contact Hodges at 36 Breeze Hill, Lake Wales, Fla. 33853.

  • Jerry Pierce of Indiana is searching for information on people named HOFFLAR/HOFFLER/HOFLER, whom he believes lived in Pennsylvania in the 1600s and 1700s. He is especially interested in Conrad HOFFLER, who arrived in Philadelphia in 1751, and Thomas HOFFLAR/HOFFLER, who probably lived in Pennsylvania before moving in turn to Virginia and North Carolina. Contact Pierce at 10330 N. New Jersey St., Indianapolis, Ind. 46280-1360; at (317) 580-9816; or at the e-mail address masajerry@juno.com.

    News Notes: The next meeting of the Northeastern Pennsylvania Genealogical Society will be at 7 p.m. on Jan. 26 at the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center (Veterans Hospital). It will be a workshop session. Bring in your questions, problems or ideas for discussion. You don't have to be a member to attend. But if you are interested in joining, write to the society at P.O. Box 1776, Shavertown, Pa. 18708-0776. Individual memberships are $15 a year.

  • Have you solved some tough genealogical problems in your research? Do you have some tips you'd like to share with others? Would you like to report a success story? Drop me a line here at the paper. I'll get in touch with you and help you bring the benefits of your experience to others.

    © 1999 The Times Leader

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