Researching the Life and Times of our Ancestors

You cannot do real genealogical research until you are willing to research the life and times in which our ancestors lived. When we really understand their time and place in history, we can more fully understand their lives. Genealogy is more than just “hatch, match and dispatch” of these ancestors. Most beginners strive just to gather names and dates of events in their ancestor’s lives, but the true genealogist tries to get a glimpse of the times and places in history.

The following books will give you details surrounding the life of the Native Americans as well as the Civil War era that will help you understand those times long past. These books are just a sampling of ones you might encounter in your genealogy quest, but they can give you lots of information about the time period in which you are researching.

First, let’s look at some of the times just before the removal of the Indians from the east to lands in the west. Colonel Return Jonathan Meigs – Day Book 2 is a book found in a private collection that has the records of the day to day dealings of the highest Federal Official in the frontier of Tennessee as he relates to the Cherokee. He kept this book from his appointment in 1801 until 1807. Colonel Meigs was a close friend to President George Washington and was the Federal Agent to the Cherokee for over twenty-four years. He gave up his bed one night in his late 80s for a visiting Cherokee Chief and caught cold and died in 1824. Reading this volume, one understands his statement later in the book when he wrote the Secretary of War that his job in the beginning was to protect the white settlers from the Indians, but now he finds that his job is to protect the Cherokee from the white settlers.

In the veins of the Cherokee background, we find the Memoir of Catharine Brown – Cherokee . This book details the story of Catharine Brown who at eighteen years of age entered the Congregational Brainerd School in what is now Hamilton County, Tennessee. She quickly learned to read and write in both Cherokee and English. Later, she moved into northwest Alabama to begin a school for the Cherokee children. Her brother developed a written language for the Cherokee, but this was superceded by Sequoyah’s syllabary. Her father was one of the chiefs of the Cherokee in Oklahoma. Hardships and prejudices plagued her all of her life, but she rose above them to become a very special person in the tribe.

Secondly, let’s turn our attentions to the Civil War. There are so many fictional accounts of the Civil War that the real story of the horrors of war are lost in the romance of fiction. The first book I would recommend for general reading on the subject is Diary of Reverend H. Clavreul. This is the diary of the Catholic priest who volunteered to go into the “hell hole” called Andersonville Prison, the southern prison for Federal Troops captured in war. He was there to comfort all the souls in the camp. He gave last rites to any and all who called out to him, Methodist, Baptist or Catholic. He made no distinction in these young boys. Thousands of young men died in this camp, primarily of starvation as the south had run out of food for everyone and the prisoners were the bottom of the food chain at this time. The real horrors of war are graphically shown here.

On the other hand, pick up the book Johnson’s Island Prison – Civil War Prison for Confederate Officers – Lake Erie, Ohio . This is the other side of the war that most will never understand. The Federal prison for Confederate Officers was on an island in the middle of Lake Erie. Here everyone was fed the same food – soldiers, prisoners or guards. However, the interesting side of this prison was the many plots to escape from the prison. The stories rendered here are items written after the war by the Confederate soldiers who survived the war. One has to marvel at the imagination of some of these officers. It was dangerous to escape, but their stories are thrilling enough to bear repeating.

Now the real story of the Civil War is told by Kate Cumming in her book, A Journal of Hospital Life in the Confederate Army of Tennessee Kate was a nurse in the Confederate Army of Tennessee, traveling all across the south from the Battle of Shiloh to the end of the war treating both Union and Confederate soldiers alike. She records the stories of those soldiers who were dying and the letters she wrote to the families back home. In many cases, her letters were the only answer families might receive concerning their loved one. Her views of the times, locations and people she met along the way tell a true story of the Civil War. This book is a must read for anyone interested in the Civil War – the true Civil War.

Taking the time to understand the day and time of our ancestors is time well spent in our understanding of their lives and the world in which they lived.

Happy Hunting!

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