Guest blog post by Patricia Desmond Biallas

“I LOVE the Civil War! It was wonderful! Fabulous!”

Those were the opening remarks of Craig Pfannkuche at a recent program co-sponsored by the DuPage County Historical Museum and the DuPage County Genealogical Society.  The program, entitled  “Using Non-Federal Civil War Records in Family History Research,” was held last week at the Wheaton museum.

Pfannkuche, a former high school teacher who taught history and anthropology for 30 years, has continued to put his curiosity, research skills, and experience as an educator to good use since his retirement. In addition to lecturing on family history topics, he’s served as Genealogical Archivist for the Chicago and Northwestern Railway, and board member for both the McHenry County Genealogical Society and Chicago Genealogical Society.

Aptly dressed in a navy jacket and gray slacks, the speaker, who noted that he had ancestors serving on both sides of the war, made history come alive for those in attendance with his energy, enthusiasm and humorous anecdotes.

“Lots of records were kept by the federal government, states and counties, and the Quartermaster corps just churned them out—all to our benefit,” he told his audience of genealogists.

“Early on,” he explained, “young men signed up in droves for the ‘Adventure of a Lifetime.’ Friends, brothers, neighbors and classmates often joined up together.

For the most part though, the war was fought by draftees, and regiments were raised by the states which each had a quota. That created records.”

“Counties having trouble meeting their quotas,” Pfannkuche explained, “offered cash bounties to entice volunteers to join, and many young men went from county to county enlisting wherever a bounty was paid. They’d sign up, collect their bounty, and run off to another county to do it all over again.  That created more records.”

And draftees with the money who didn’t want to go to war, could hire themselves a substitute to take their place for $300. That created records too,” he continued.

While Pfannkuche noted that pension files and military service records may be found through the National Archives, he also encouraged researchers to investigate other federal records: the OR (Official Record of the Union and Confederate Armies in the Civil War), the ORN (Official Record of the Union and Confederate Navies in the Civil War, and the Roll of Honor: 1865-1923, which contains the official record of veterans’ burial places during those years.

But Pfannkuche also promoted checking county and state records as well when searching for a Civil War ancestor. “Most states have Adjutant Generals. Write to the Adjutant General of the state where your ancestor was discharged from. You may be told that  they’ve transferred their records to the state archives, but contact them anyway—maybe not all the records have been transferred.”

For those whose ancestors were in the Confederate Army, Pfannkuche suggested contacting the United Daughters of the Confederacy whose records are in Austin, TX.

But while the starting point for most Civil War researchers is often via keyboard, mouse, and the internet through genealogy and government websites, Pfannkuche encouraged his listeners to go much further than that.

There’s a treasure trove of resources beyond traditional federal records for learning more about those who played a part in one of the most significant chapter’s of our nation’s history, he professed.

“Don’t stop after seeking pension files and military records from traditional sources like the National Archives or state muster rolls. While they may provide the raw data—facts and figures—they don’t give the full story. There ARE other avenues to pursue in search of your Civil War ancestor,” he insisted.

His suggestions?

“GO! GO to the county where your ancestor served.  VISIT the area where your ancestor fought….where he was mustered in, or out.  If he fought at Shiloh, go to Shiloh!”

“Visit the local museums,” he encouraged. “Talk to the curators. Ask if they have  local regimental histories from the Civil War.  Read the diaries, journals and letters of soldiers from areas where your ancestor served. Read the historic newspapers of the day—in person, if possible—not all historical newspapers are online,” he pointed out.

“Examine the photo collections. Look at the artifacts. Review local histories that can’t be found in any other library or museum,” Pfannkuche continued. “Visit the local cemeteries, look at the monuments, examine the headstones. Most of these kinds of things aren’t indexed! You just won’t find them online.”

The program was one in a series of educational lectures being held at the DuPage County Historical Museum in recognition of the Civil War’s Sesquicentennial. Remaining programs include: Disease, Wounds, Hospitals and Hygiene: The Medical Side of the Civil War (October 8 from 1-2 pm); and Civil War Nurse Clara Barton (October 15, 11-2 pm).

An exhibit “DuPage County and the Civil War: A Local Perspective will also run at the museum through September 2012. Museum hours are 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays and noon to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.  For more information about the programs or exhibit call (630) 510-4956.

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Patricia Desmond Biallas, is a budding genealogist who began researching her family history two years ago. She is very much looking forward to her first research trip next week to the National Archives in Washington, D.C. where she hopes to obtain military records of her great-grandfather, William Donar, who served in both the 8th Regiment Illinois Infantry in 1861, and the 25th Regiment New York Infantry National Guard in 1862.

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