Were They Warriors?

by Steward of the Wood

Photo of Steward of the Wood at the Lia Fail

Steward of the Wood

War has been a factor of the human existence for tens of thousands of years.  Our Celtic ancestors reveled in war among themselves and with others and the Bards revered warriors like Cúchuláinn and Finn mac Cumhaill in tales.  Have you ever wondered if your ancestors were soldiers or supported armies?  Common touch points in the USA are the American Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the American Civil War, World Wars I and II, and the Vietnam War.  Entire organizations, such as the Daughters of the American Revolution, have developed around this interest in our ancestors.

Learning whether an ancestor served during a war used to be quite tedious, but recently has become much easier. Increasingly, documents about military involvement of past wars have become available online or at least streamlined through federal, state, and local processes.

My grandfather served in World War I and my father and uncles served in World War II. I always wondered if my ancestors also fought in the Civil War and Revolutionary War. Growing up in the state of Tennessee in the U.S. where sympathies were very mixed between the Union and the Confederacy, I also wondered for which side my ancestors fought. Were they arrayed on both sides? In addition, since my ancestors originated from England, Scotland, Ireland, and Germany, I was not certain whether they fought for the American Republic or the English during the American Revolutionary War.

Like many Americans, rumors and stories abounded within my family as to whether ancestors fought; and if so, for whom they fought. As I embarked on my now-consuming ancestry quest a few years ago, I decided to investigate the issue of whether they were warriors or not.

National Archives Building Washington DC

Military records are available in the U.S. through a variety of sources such as the National Archives, books of lists of muster records, and on-line resources. Given these various resources, my first move was to sort through my family trees to develop a candidate list with men between the ages of fifteen and sixty-five for the Civil War and the Revolutionary War. Given that these wars occurred on U.S. soil, I assumed that it was "all hands on deck"; or in other words, every abled-bodied man (and many women) served in some capacity. This age range at least held most of the best candidates. Then the search began.

Sources of information range from free, such as books available from a library or a historical society, to “for pay,” such as www.ancestry.com. As you can imagine, the free sources require more work but can be effective. In addition, the U.S. National Archives are a great source of military records. My personal favorite source is www.ancestry.com. On their web site, I can search military records and have been able to identify seven possible ancestors who served in the American Civil War. To no surprise, given that Tennessee was viewed as a “border state,” most of my ancestors from the western part of the state were Confederate soldiers while those in the eastern part of the state were Union soldiers. It was literally true that the war divided families.

Men with common names are the hardest to prove; and when I looked up several of my ancestors, I found many soldiers with the same name. To solve one case when I found two likely candidates, I ordered the service records of each. To order, go to www.archives.gov . At the bottom of the home page, select “I want to: Get my military record.” This will take you to another page where you select “Older (pre-WWI) Service Records,” which is listed on the left side of the page. Then choose “How to order older military service or Pension Records” and you have the choice of ordering online or printing the form and mailing it. The cost of each of my requests was $25. From the two soldiers who I checked, I was able to determine which one was my ancestor by where he enlisted. It was so interesting to see copies of the actual pay stubs and to follow him across the South. He was wounded and spent time in a hospital in Murfreesboro, Tennessee; then he was a prisoner of war and ended up in Baltimore, Maryland. It is fascinating.

Daughters of the American Revolution Washington DC

Similar records exist for the U.S. Revolutionary War through books and the U.S. Archives. The records of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) are a fabulous resource and are searchable. Records from the DAR are especially useful because: 1) their requirements for proof are strong, hence the records tend to be reliable and 2) they include descendants of the soldier, so several generations are listed. My grandmother, aunt, and cousin were members and they did the hard work to prove our ancestry. Through various searches, I have identified ten ancestors who served in the war and most of them have proven records in the DAR. Interestingly in one case, both husband and wife occur as veterans. The wife “furnished supplies.” This may seem trivial now but I am certain that it could have meant her imprisonment or death if caught. She must have had the Celtic warrior woman’s genes…go Mórrígan! To date, all my ancestors who I have found were soldiers for the U.S. rather than the British.

These are but a few examples of military actions, which may have involved our ancestors. As mentioned earlier, my grandfather, father, and uncles were all veterans, and I have their service records. Despite whether we are supportive of war or not, our ancestors made their choices and those choices are part of whom they are. As we seek to know them, it is also important to know if they were warriors. If this becomes a source of interest and pride, then there are organizations such as the DAR or Sons of the American Revolution (SAR) that you can join to pursue those interests. Keep up the quest.

Ádh mór ort!

You Hear Them Calling

You Hear Them Calling

By Steward of the Wood

Photo of Steward of the Wood at the Lia Fail

Steward of the Wood

Do you have any of those nagging family stories that just will not leave you alone?  One of the many intriguing stories in my family is the reason that my grandfather, Abner Hamblen, changed the spelling of his last name to Hamblin.  My grandfather, his brothers and sisters, and their parents had a major rift before my mother was born.  As a result, my mother, her siblings, and their children did not know many, if any, of their numerous uncles, aunts, and cousins.

Mom told my sister and me that her father changed the spelling of his last name, Hamblen to Hamblin, over this family rift.  According to her story when my grandfather was a young man, one of the numerous Hamblens died; and it seems the maker of the tombstone misspelled the name as Hamblin.  This caused such a furor in the extended family that, in anger, my grandfather changed his name.  I have heard that story my whole life.  It was a sad story, which had nagged me.  I always wanted to say to my grandfather, “Pawpaw, changing your name seemed such a drastic thing to do.  Why would you do that?”  Unfortunately, he died when I was about eight years old so that dialogue was not an option.

Three years ago, I met and started communicating with a second cousin, who had a very different story.  In fact she is a daughter of my great uncle, i.e., my grandfather’s brother, and therefore closer to the event than I.  The story her father told was that Abner (my grandfather) was so mean that he kicked their poor father off his farm and his father had to go live in Chattanooga, Tennessee with his other children.  This new story sparked great interest in me to explore this issue.  My cousin and I have had several other ancestry discoveries together and this seemed to be the next one to tackle.

Given the sleuths we both are, she and I discussed information we already had and what else we needed.  We needed farm deeds; any letters in the family about the subject; to talk with living relatives who might have relevant information; names of family members and if, and when, they changed; birth and death dates and places; and any other information on relationships among family members.  I spoke with several relatives including my aunt, my last living aunt or uncle; my sister; and my cousins.  Unfortunately, they each knew the same story that I did, so that information was not helpful.

Next, we turned to the US Census, which can be accessed in various ways.  I chose to go into www.ancestry.com to which I have a membership.  A complete listing of all US Census is available and easily accessible.  It is also accessible via www.familysearch.org/search  where I entered the first and last name and searched.  I chose various census listings for different decades.  I searched for both Abner Hamblin and Christopher Columbus Hamblen, his father.  As expected , I found that Abner was born with Hamblen as his last name and that spelling was used in the 1880 Census.  To my surprise, he also used it in the 1930 Census.  However, he used Hamblin in 1900, 1910, and 1920.  Columbus Hamblen was listed as Hamblin in the 1860 (actually Hamlin), 1870, 1900, 1910, and on his death certificate in 1941.  He used Hamblen in 1850 and 1880 on his Censuses and 1876 on his marriage certificate.  Hence, they both flipped back and forth freely.

Next, we went in search of land deeds in Anderson County, Tennessee.  I sent a letter to the Register of Deeds giving my grandfather’s and great-grandfather’s names and asked if there were any deeds in either name along with a range of years.  I offered to pay for the work.  A very nice letter arrived a few weeks later with copies of two deeds belonging to my grandfather Hamblin.  Much to my surprise, there was no charge.  I looked at the seller of the land and in neither case was it from my great-grandfather to my grandfather. Therefore, we negated the possibility that the feud started over a land transaction that soured.

My cousin's father told her that Columbus Hamblen lived the last few years of his life on my grandfather’s farm.  According to her father, my grandfather kicked his father off the farm and he had to move to Chattanooga, Tennessee to live with his other children.  To help solve this piece of the puzzle, I went back on-line to www.ancestry.com and found a copy of the Death Certificate for my great-grandfather.  These records are also available by writing to the county officials.  Guess what…it was in Anderson County where the farm was located rather than in Chattanooga.  I also recall my uncle telling me that the US Government condemned my grandfather’s farm in the early 1940’s to help create Oak Ridge National Laboratory.  At the time, my uncle helped to dig up the few graves, including my great-grandfather’s grave, in the small family cemetery on the farm to relocate them.  I checked with my cousin and she had documentation that his grave was relocated to a cemetery near Chattanooga.  These pieces of the puzzle then solidified the fact that my great-grandfather died in Anderson County, probably on the farm, and was buried on the farm in the family cemetery.  Apparently, my grandfather had not kicked his father off the farm.  Hence, we debunked that theory.

Sharing this information with our current and future relatives is very important to me.  Early in my ancestry work, I invested in ancestry software to help organize the information.  Then I submitted the family tree information to on-line ancestry services like www.rootsweb.ancestry.com, which is free to use, and www.ancestry.com, which has a cost.  Fortunately, there are several options and the costs seem reasonable.  I looked at a few options and quickly settled on Family Tree Maker.  In fact, I just purchased the 2012 version that is available on-line through the various bookstores (e.g., Amazon.com).  Family Tree Maker is directly connected with both www.ancestry.com and www.rootsweb.ancestry.com  making interconnectedness very simple.  The interconnectedness accelerated my own work and made it much easier once I began to spend a lot of time working on my ancestry.  Using some common type of software is useful because you can then share easily with others and it organizes your information in a standard format.  I initiated a different family tree for each of my four grandparents.  This has kept the file sizes at a manageable level.  Always keep a hardcopy and electronic backup of everything as computers sometimes fail.  Develop a good filing system early as it will serve you in the future.

My cousin and I still have not pinpointed a “smoking gun” but we continue to delve into it.  The cause of the rift was my grandfather’s poor relations with his father.  Although stubbornness and some level of pride run in my family, I feel that my Hamblen/Hamblin ancestors want us to know what happened.  Could it be a lesson for us not to repeat such a disaster?  Are they telling My cousin and me that ill-founded pride causes much suffering? Do my grandfather and his father regret the rift and seek resolution through my cousin and me?

Ancestors are with us always.  They can advise us and help us resolve old issues like the long-festering one in my family and they can help us know the future or possible results of our actions.

In Keltria, we honor the Ancestors as one of the three basic tenants of our spirituality.  We must know them and work closely with them in our search for wisdom.  We may be their chance for peace or vice versa.

 - Ádh mơr ort!