Celebrating the 2nd War for Independence

While celebrating Independence Day this weekend, think about not only the American Revolution but also the 2nd War for Independence: the War of 1812.

Although England agreed to withdraw her troops as a condition of the Treaty of Paris (ending the American Revolution), British troops remained in territory claimed by the United States. Most were positioned near and around the Great Lakes, in places such as Detroit and present-day Mackinaw City, Michigan. The Shawnee leader Tecumseh was successful in forging a pan-Indian confederation which worked with the British against the Americans. War was finally declared in 1812.

Ohio was key in the War of 1812. Not only was it the site of the pivotal American victory in the Battle of Lake Erie, but she also supplied numerous troops to aid the U.S. effort.

Surprisingly, the National Archives has never microfilmed the War of 1812 pension files. They are among the most-often requested records, with approximately 3,000 of them requested every year.

Preserve the PensionsRecently, the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) announced a program — Preserve the Pensions! — which seeks to raise $3.7 million to digitize these 7.2 million pages. The files have been prepared and the digital cameras are ready to roll. The only thing the National Archives needs is the funding.

You can help. Each dollar donated to Preserve the Pensions will digitize two pages of War of 1812 pension files. Further, FGS has reached an agreement with the National Archives so that the digitized images will be freely available on the Internet — not “trapped” in a website that you need to pay for.

So as you’re celebrating Independence Day, celebrate both of the wars for Independence and consider making a tax-deductible donation to Preserve the Pensions.

Our Military Heritage – An Update

You are probably familiar with the fantastic genealogical collection at the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Indiana. What you might not be familiar with is their growing collection of databases available on their website.

One section of the website is “Our Military Heritage,” which is a collection of digitized books, photographs, letters, diaries…  anything that pertains to military service. There are resources for military engagements from the colonial wars all the way through the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I’ve written about this collection before, but my how it has grown!

The World War II collection has some fascinating resources, including four large collections of letters. “Another Side of War: Soldiers Letters to Miss Ann Adang” includes digitized images of the hundreds of letters sent by twelve soldiers to Ann Adang of Fort Wayne. It is very interesting to read the similarities and differences of the soldiers and sailors from different backgrounds serving in different parts of the world. “Letters of Glenn and Ellen Baker and Letters from Home, World War II” includes the letters exchanged between a husband and wife separated by war.

There is an extensive Civil War section, including unit histories, GAR publications, and pension/service records. One of my favorite resources on this site is Woman’s Work in the Civil War: A Record of Heroism, Patriotism and Patience. (In the interest of full disclosure, I should point out that a copy of my senior honors thesis “With Diplomas of Patriotism: African American Civil War Veterans in Ohio” is also available on this site.)

Some of the resources are quite lengthy, while others, such as the WWI military record of Nicholas J. Martin, are a single page.

Printed materials have been run through an OCR program and are full text searchable.

A Way to Honor Your Military Ancestors

The Genealogy Center at the Allen County Public Library offers you the opportunity not only to research your military ancestors, but also to share your military resources. If you would like to contribute letters to and from service personnel, diaries of military ancestors, copies of pension and service records, pictures of medals and citations, discharge papers, military burials and the like, please contact Curt Witcher [CWitcher@ACPL.Info or 260.421.1226] or simply send digital copies of the military documents (scanned at 300 dpi) to:
The Genealogy Center, Attn.: Curt Witcher, Allen County Public Library, 900 Library Plaza, Ft.Wayne, IN 46802.


The Ohio Historical Society has just launched a new website to raise awareness of Ohio’s role in the Civil War: OhioCivilWar150.org. The site features:

  • Digital collections, such as Ohio regimental battle flags
  • A timeline of Civil War events
  • News about upcoming events
  • Discussion forum
  • A section for teachers

I am looking forward to watching this site grow as we get closer to the sesquicentennial in 2011. (Is that really only a little more than a year away?!)

Tombstone Tuesday: Using Your GPS in the Cemetery

Those who know me know that I love technology and, further, I love gadgets. It came as no surprise two or three years ago when I asked for a GPS unit for Christmas. What did surprise a few people was the reason I wanted it: to take it with me to cemeteries and mark the location of graves I’d found. Besides the “techie” part of me being happy, the genealogist part of me was thrilled. Now I could return to a specific grave without having to hunt for it or stop in the cemetery office.

As I’ve worked with my GPS unit — a Garmin GPSmap 60CS — I’ve developed a method for using it in conjunction with my digital camera. Rather than saving the position on the GPS itself and then having to enter some sort of description so I’d know which grave it referred to, I simply take a picture of the GPS right before I take a picture of the tombstone.

Here are a few things I’ve found useful:

  • Be consistent in when you take the GPS photo. Do it either always before or always after you take the tombstone photo. This will help eliminate confusion later when you’re looking at the photos.
  • If possible, try to get a bit of the tombstone in the GPS photo. In the photo above, you can see a bit of the tombstone in the upper right-hand corner. This also helps you match the GPS with the tombstone.
  • Become familiar with your camera so you know where you can best focus for the GPS shot. You want the unit close enough so that the numbers are very legible when you look at the photo later. (Otherwise, what’s the point?) With my little camera (a FujiFilm Finepix Z), I’ve found that it will quickly focus if I hold the GPS at arm’s length.
  • Make sure there isn’t glare on the GPS’ screen; it makes the numbers illegible in the photo. 

Joel Parsons, Union Cemetery, Columbus, Ohio
The photo above is the one I took when I was at Union Cemetery on the north side of Columbus. Not only is it a huge cemetery — 128 acres — but it is split into two major sections on opposite sides of a very busy road. You don’t want to wander around looking for a stone if you don’t have to! Now the next time I want to visit the grave of Medal of Honor recipient Joel Parsons (private, Company B, 4th West Virginia Infantry), I know exactly where to go. (Well, actually, plus or minus 15 feet.)

For those of you who follow Tombstone Tuesday, I’d like to thank you for your patience over the past few weeks. Between preparations for the Federation of Genealogical Societies conference, the conference itself, losing power for 5 days (!!), and autumn quarter staring, I simply have not had the opportunity to post like I’ve wanted to. Hopefully, I will be able to get back on a good schedule and return to having Tombstone Tuesday be a weekly event!

Tombstone Tuesday: Friendship, Love and Truth

George H. Boggs, Cedar Hill Cemetery, Newark, Ohio

George H. Boggs, Cedar Hill Cemetery, Newark, Ohio

This tombstone for George H. Boggs is in Cedar Hill Cemetery, Newark, Licking County, Ohio. It shows membership in two organizations: the Independent Order of Odd Fellows and the Grand Army of the Republic.

The Independent Order of Odd Fellows (IOOF) was founded in Baltimore, Maryland in 1819. It is also referred to as the “Three Links Fraternity” because of the Order’s symbol. The three links sometimes include the initials F L T, which stand for Friendship, Love and Truth. However, it is common to find the three links on a tombstone without the F L T initials.

Below the IOOF symbol on this tombstone are the initials G A R, which stands for Grand Army of the Republic. It was the largest organization of Civil War veterans and was instrumental in the passage of many laws pertaining to veterans’ benefits, such as pensions for disabled veterans. The organization was for honorably discharged Union veterans; thus, it serves as a clue to Civil War service. An examination of the Civil War Soldiers System database reveals a George H. Boggs served in Company C, 76th Ohio Infantry. According to the unit history (also on the Civil War Soldiers System site), this regiment mustered in at Camp Sherman in Newark. Although this is not definitive proof that the George buried here is the same George in the 76th OVI, it is certainly a compelling clue.

Close-up of the symbols on George Boggs' tombstone

Close-up of the symbols

More military resources

From the latest issue of Genealogy Gems, published by the Genealogy Center at the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne:

In the “Our Military Heritage” portion of GenealogyCenter.info are the following new resources:

Civil War:
Abstract of General Orders and Proceedings of the 26th Annual Encampment, Department of New York, G.A.R. [Grand Army of the Republic]

Indian Wars:
The Black Hawk War, Including a Review of Black Hawk’s Life

Revolutionary War:
Revolutionary War Veterans Buried in Spring Grove Cemetery, Cincinnati, Hamilton County, Ohio

World War I:
With a Field Ambulance at Ypres, Being Letters Written March 7 – August 15, 1915 by William Boyd

World War II:
The World War II Letters of Maxwell P. Smith

Directories, Yearbooks, and Other General Works:
Names of Invalid Pensioners of the United States Who Have Been Admitted to the Rolls Since March 3, 1849

[NOTE: You can subscribe to “Genealogy Gems,” the free monthly ezine published by the Genealogy Center at the Allen County Public Library by going to GenealogyCenter.info and filling out the subscription form at the bottom of the page.]

Our Military Heritage

The Genealogy Center at the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Indiana has done it again. They’ve come up with another wonderful resource for genealogists: Our Military Heritage

Our Military Heritage has numerous digitized books that are full-text searchable. They range in subject from the Lucky Bag (the Naval Academy yearbook) for 1906 to The United States Navy in the World War (an awesome collection of photos from the War Department) and the Valley Forge Orderly Book of General George Weedon. One book I was particularly impressed with was Woman’s Work in the Civil War. It contains dozens of biographies of women who served as nurses, aid society organizers, etc. (I particularly liked the section titled “Ladies Distinguished for Service in Soldiers’ Homes and Volunteer Refreshment Saloons.” (Funny, I thought the latter were called “bars” :-) )

There are also original documents, such as the Civil War diary of Robert E. Best of the 36th Indiana Volunteer Infantry, letters of John C. Potts of the 95th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, and a World War II diary of George P. Martin, a purchasing agent in Brazil.

Most of the resources can be found in the Genealogy Center at the Allen County Public Library. (The website even gives the call number when it’s available.) They are encouraging people to submit their own material, too.

With materials ranging from the Colonial Wars to World War II (with material for the Korean War, Vietnam and, one would presume, more recent wars to be coming soon), there is something for everyone on Our Military Heritage. This is definitely a site worth keeping an eye on and checking often!

FamilySearch Indexing and the National Archives

They’re at it again! This time, FamilySearch Indexing has announced a partnership with the National Archives. The press release states:

The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) of the United States and FamilySearch today announced an agreement that will lead to the digitization of millions of historical documents over time. The bulk of the digital images and related indices will be freely accessible through www.FamilySearch.org, 4,500 family history centers worldwide, or at the National Archives and its Regional Centers. …

Under the new agreement, FamilySearch will be operating highly specialized digital cameras 5 days a week at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. FamilySearch intends to extend the digitization services to select regional facilities at a later date. That means there will be a continuous flow of new data for genealogy buffs to explore for years to come. It also means FamilySearch will be able to digitize the thousands of microfilms it has already created from NARA’s holdings, providing access to millions of images for genealogists to search from the convenience of their home computers with Internet access.

The first fruit of this effort is a portion of a very large collection of Civil War records, already underway. In this pilot project, FamilySearch will digitize the first 3,150 Civil War widow pension application files (approximately 500,000 pages). After digitization, these historical documents will be indexed and posted online by Footnote.com with the indices also available for free on www.FamilySearch.org. FamilySearch intends to do all 1,280,000 of these files over the coming years.

It wasn’t too long ago that we never thought we’d see records like these digitized, let alone indexed and online!


With the advent of Ken Burns’ new WWII documentary, The War, we are certain to see more and more projects to capture the memories of WWII veterans. When you consider that they are dying at the rate of approximately 1,000 per day, you realize how important it is that we talk to them now. Tomorrow may be too late…

One project is a collaborative effort of the PBS stations in Ohio. They have created a website – www.ohiowarstories.org – which features videos of interviews with veterans as well as civilians who assisted the war effort from the homefront. There are some truly powerful stories.

If you are a WWII vet or know one, record the stories now. Future generations should know what they did.