Tag Archives: Civil War

Family Ties

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I received a fat bundle of papers in the mail last week, from my mother’s cousin, Marilyn.

I met Marilyn – along with two other cousins I didn’t know existed – at my mother’s funeral.

According to my sister, Brenda, Mom was not hiding these relatives from us (or, as I wondered, hiding us from the relatives). She says we were probably just not interested. Or we have forgotten.

I don’t know.

If I forgot, then I certainly thoroughly forgot, because I have absolutely no knowledge or memory of Marilyn or the other two cousins.

Anyway, Marilyn has been working on a family history.

I am interested.

She is willing to share all the information she has. From me, she would like the names of my mother’s children, with dates, birthplaces, names of husbands and wives, children and grandchildren.

She had asked Mom for this information, she told me, but my mother was a busy woman.

It turns out, Marilyn had first spoken to my mother about it in 1961, at my grandmother’s funeral.

Here she was – 50 years later – at another funeral, with the same request.

I’m happy to know this doggedly persistent and extremely patient woman is my relative!

I’d love to see those qualities in my own personality!

So far, no.

In any case, I am trying to fulfill her request for names and dates and latest generations. Already 18 months has passed since the day I assured her I’d get right on it.

I’m still tangled in the details of whether to type (a long, slow process for me!) or write out the information. I’m going over options on how to format it so that it’s understandable. I’m trying to¬† remember to pin my sisters down on the birth-dates and places of their grandchildren. Marriage dates…divorce information…step-children and their children…before I know it, another 50 years will have gone by!

And there will be Marilyn, kindly telling my children what a busy woman I was.

Though it’s taking me awhile to get the information together, I’ve wasted no time in going through the bundle Marilyn sent to me.

It’s fascinating to read!

Beyond Marilyn and the other two cousins, I had dozens of relatives living close to where I grew up. Some names sound vaguely familiar, but I don’t remember them beyond that. I had no idea that my grandfather had brothers and sisters that lived well into my adulthood!

I’ve gotten to know my great-great grandfather, Joseph. A small time thief, Civil War veteran, “opium eater and hard drinker”, Joseph defended himself in a couple legal matters, so his words were transcribed and saved in court records.

“In the first place I acknowledge that I did wrong in doing what I did, but I was entirely ignorant of the crime attached […] I did not think about it as much at the time as I did afterwards.”

“I am a man of no learning at all. I have a large family. I have always worked hard for a living. I never refused to obey an order given to me. I have always done my duty. I have tried to do what I could to put down this rebellion.[…] All I have to say is to ask as far as is consistent with judgement and principle, what mercy you can give me in this case.”

My great-great grandmother Sarah, Joseph’s wife, applied to the government for a Widow’s Pension, and later appealed the decision.

“I am 62 years of age, occupation: housekeeper, post office. I am the widow of Joseph W. Carpenter, who served as a private in Company “A”, 6th Michigan Infantry from March ’62 til March ’65, and then being sick and unable to work, enlisted about April ’65 in Company “A”, 8th Michigan Infantry and was again discharged in April ’66.”

Sarah wasn’t asking for much. She acknowledges that seven of her eight children were over the age of sixteen at the time of her husband’s death in 1874. Only little Nora was home, and seven years old. It appears that Sarah raised her family without aid from the government, and only started looking into it in 1889, possibly as a means of survival in her old age. She assures the court that she was legally married, that Joseph was her only husband, and that she has not “cohabitated with any man as his wife since his death.”

“Prior to my husband’s enlistment he was called as sound a man as there was in the community […] he was not sick at all ’til after his army service.”

“My husband used to doctor himself a great deal.”

It feels strange to read what other have to say about them, in these court transcripts.

“He was a very intemperate man and would dissipate whenever he had money, but in those times men would drink without being considered intemperate.”

“His habits both before and after the service were of the very worst. He was a drunkard […} and I fail to see how by any possible theory his habits can be eliminated in considering the cause of his death.”

“He was not a steady man […], but was considered a good worker when he did work, but he was rather of an indolent disposition.”

“They were in a destitute condition and doctors did not like to go and see him.”

“I have known his widow all of these years […]. She is considered a woman of good character. She has no home or means of support.”

The claim was denied.

I find myself – by turns – impressed, embarrassed by and defensive of these people that lived so long ago.

Obviously, they are family!