Sunday, September 29, 2013

Ancestor Highlight – John Erwin, 1841-1917, my 2nd-Great Grandfather

One of the family stories I remember being told to me when I was young, was that we had a relative who fought in the Civil War and was on General Sherman’s March to the Sea. Well, I’ve found him!

John Erwin, 1841-1917 (photo used with permission of Jim Ferguson, Bowling Green Kentucky)

          When the Civil War broke out, John Erwin was a farm boy in Hoosier Township, Clay County, Illinois (bn November 7, 1841). He lived at home on his father’s farm, with his father (Crawford Erwin) and his step-mother, two whole brothers, two young half sisters, and four step-siblings.[1] Hostilities began on April 12, 1861, when Confederate forces fired upon Fort Sumter, a fort held by Union troops in South Carolina, and Lincoln called for volunteers from each state to join the Union army. John Erwin first enlisted June 15, 1861, in Company D, Eleventh Missouri Volunteer Infantry.[2] The Eleventh Missouri Infantry roster described him as 19, 5’8, with light hair and blue eyes, single, and a farmer from Clay Co. IL. He enlisted as a private, and served under Capt. Henry in Company D.[3] He was discharged in October, 1862, on account of disability,[4] which means that he was likely injured at the battle of Corinth, Mississippi, as the battle occurred October 3-4, 1862, and the 11th Missouri Infantry remained in the Corinth area until November 2, 1862.[5] 

            After his health improved he enlisted again in 1864; this time in Company B, Forty-eighth Illinois Volunteer Infantry. [6] He again enlisted as a private. The Illinois 48th Infantry Regiment served as part of General Sherman’s troops for the March to the Sea from Atlanta to Fort McAlister, outside of Savannah, GA, and afterward, on the Carolinas Campaign.[7]  “At Fort McAllister, Mr. Erwin was blown up some distance by an exploding torpedo, but not seriously injured. At the battle of Duck Creek, on the 4th day of February, 1865, his regiment charged the rebels through a swamp of mud and water waist deep.”[8] He was promoted to Full Corporal on 15 Aug 1865, and mustered out on 15 Aug 1865 at Little Rock, AR, and moved to Camp Butler, Illinois, arriving August 21, 1865.[9] 

                John Erwin returned home, and in 1867, at age 26, he married Amelia Ann Conley, age 20. He attended McKendree College in Illinois[10], possibly during the two years before and after his marriage. On October 19, 1869, he applied for a military pension, based on both his tours of duty. It was apparently granted because it has a Certificate No. 171632[11] He may have used that in part to pay for college. John and Amelia had six children: Luella, Vernon (my great-grandfather), Troy (deceased), Keturah, Mabel, and an infant son who apparently did not live long enough to be named.[12]

                In about 1872, John Erwin helped the Hoosier Township of Clay County obtain a Post office by circulating a petition; he secured an office on Section 15, which is known as Hoosier Prairie Post Office, which had a daily mail service. In 1876, John Erwin moved to Louisville and in January 1877, became a hardware merchant and dealer in farm machinery, taking over a hardware store previously owned and run by Morey & Phifer, at which he was very successful, keeping a ”full line of heavy and shelf hardware, farm implements, stoves, tinware, blacksmith coal, lime, hair, saddles, harness, chain and wood pumps, and is also agent for the Buckeye Reaper.” He was a member of the Grand Army of the Republic, the Masonic fraternity (in 1884 he was a Senior Warden, which meant he was next in line to be the Master of the lodge) and of the Methodist Episcopal Church.[13] Amelia died in 1915, at age 68.[14] John lived two years longer and died on December 23, 1917, in Louisville IL. He was buried the next day in the Orchard Hill Cemetery.[15]

[1] 1860 U.S. Federal Census. 1860; Census Place: Township 4 Range 7, Clay, Illinois; Roll: M653_162; Page: 578; Image: 578; Family History Library Film: 803162
[2] History of Henry & Clay Counties, Illinois, published 1884, p. 150; available on Google books as a free e-book, p. 619 of scanned version.
[3] ; sub:
[4] Supra Note 2.
[5] The National Park Service’s Civil War Soldier search for the Missouri, 11th Regiment Infantry’s service record for the period John Erwin served in it. (at
[6] Supra Note 2
[7] Excerpted from the Illinois Adjutant General's Reports, Regimental and Unit Histories, containing reports for the years 1861-1866, found at
[8] Supra Note 2
[9] Historical Data Systems, comp. American Civil War Soldiers [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 1999;;
[10] Supra, Note 2.
[11] Organization Index to Pension Files of Veterans Who Served Between 1861 and 1900, compiled 1949 - 1949, documenting the period 1861 – 1942, Arm of Service: Infantry; Roll Number 260; National Archives Catalog ID:2588825; Record group: 15,  
[12] 1880 Census: Year: 1880; Census Place: Louisville, Clay, Illinois; Roll: 182; Family History Film: 1254182; Page: 291A; Enumeration District: 148; Image: 0003; and see Supra Note 2.
[13] History of Henry & Clay Counties, Illinois, published 1884, p. 149-150, 383, 384,450; available on Google books as a free e-book, and, respectively, p. 619-620, 377, 379, 444 of scanned version.
[14] Web: Illinois, Find A Grave Index, 1809-2012 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2012.;
[15] Illinois, Deaths and Stillbirths Index, 1916-1947 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2011. Original data:"Illinois Deaths and Stillbirths, 1916–1947." Index. FamilySearch, Salt Lake City, Utah, 2010. Index entries derived from digital copies of original records.


For those relatives just finding out that I've caught the genealogy bug (after being passed the link to this blog by someone else in the family - probably my parents), I thought I would set out my current plan of attack for the family research and for the blog. I say "current" because I expect both will evolve over time.

My current plan of attack for the Family Tree (from me up) is to approach it from right to left, as it were, or starting with the maternal side (and the maternal side of the maternal side [thus far: Hartman, Wonsetler/Whonsetler, Diehl, Meyers, Zimmerman, Speicher; Erwin, Conley, Craig --I'm back to the early 1700's- late 1600's with a couple of the branches], then moving to the paternal side of the maternal side [thus far: Snyder, Bailey, Pink. At one point a Snyder marries a Snyder -- different families but both tending to John(s), & Phillip(s)] - yikes!) and going to the paternal side (with the maternal side of the paternal side first [thus far: Bennett, & Gregor] and then to the paternal side of my paternal side (thus far: Henn, Wilcox,Currier]. I intend to do four basic passes through the whole thing (1) fill in as much as I have in the  tree type documents Mom & Dad gave me - mostly Dad's side; (2) explore all of the little hint leaves that pop up on after the first pass through and add all the documentation I can (which makes sense) from those hints; (2.5) take anyone I don't have documentation for off the tree [I might get them back later but they only get to stay at any given point if I can support them being there]; (3) next go outside Ancestry seeking additional sources of documentation on just about every aspect of life specific to each person on the tree, and see if I can get further back in the family tree as well*; (4) go through and research cultural context for each generation an person: what's going on in the world then, in that state, that county, that city; how much are milk, fuel, clothes, etc.; and attach contextual essays for each person (or at least each generation).

I've done step 1, largely (I have more stuff I got from Mom & Dad that aren't trees that I intend to use to spark research inquiries and verify research with, in later steps). I've started step 2, although I'm still on the maternal maternal side. While I'm doing this I'm also reading up on and watching YouTube videos on how to conduct genealogical research, because I really don't know how yet. I just like research (I always have) and I have a wide ranging curiosity and lots of patience (as far as research goes). In amongst my research into doing genealogical research, I've discovered that my plan of attack is "wrong" if I were to aspire to doing it like a professional. Evidently I should be doing each person and each branch until its done (while realizing that there's always the potential for more, as more historical documents come to light in the world). I have no desire to be a professional and I'm not going to do it that way. I have too many readers who are looking forward to seeing what I turn up when I get to their side of the family, so doing it in layers seems fairer. Although there will be overlap, likely; particularly if I get interested in a person and extra info is easy to find -- see my first Ancestor Highlight post coming tomorrow, well, later today. This will all take time. I've got at least 9 years to go before I can retire, so I can't afford to do this more than weekends because I have a tendency to stay up too late doing it. And, frankly, this is looking like a rest of my life project if I do everything I want to with it. Then someone can inherit it and see if they can improve on it!

As for the blog, I intend to post at least one (1) post general a week updating folks into what I've been researching this week, and one (1) highlighting some ancestor -- some of those will be more detailed than others, some may not be very detailed at all, and there may be repeats as I find more stuff for a person. There may also be occasional posts on something I found to be quirky, cool, or neat. I might do some posts just for fun as I figure out how to do it  - some of the other genealogical blogs I follow do a themed puzzle on weekends If I can figure out how to do it I might join in. Also, if someone sends me a question, I'll try to address it if I can. I don't expect most posts to be as long as the ones I have been writing. These are just setting the foundations.

I'm doing the blog to (1) keep family informed of what I'm doing, (2) let others who might be researching the same surnames know what I'm finding - the blog is google-able and searchable if I set it up as I intended, and (3) to maybe get pointers from others who read it. And to make friends interested in the same sort of stuff.

Oh, and if anyone has anything that they think might be helpful for my research, but they don't want to give it up (understandable!), please take a picture of it and email me the picture (this includes documents & pictures), and give me an explanation of where/how you got it & what it is. Thanks!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Yahoo! I found it!

I’ve long loved this quilt. Partially because it has the oddest patches of any scrap quilt I’ve ever seen, partially because it is SO warm, and partially because of the story.  My Mom* told me that the quilt top was pieced by my great-grandmother Fannie Erwin [1872-1954] and my grand-aunt Julia (Hart) Siddall [1903-1978], who was my grandmother’s[Mabel (Erwin) Snyder]  step-sister. My Mom told me Julia worked in a drapery shop and whenever the new stock came in she would take the samples for the material they no longer carried home. This quilt top was made of those samples. They never quilted it. My Mom inherited it and she put the backing to it and tied it because the fabric was too heavy to quilt. She gave it to me for Christmas some years ago. I use it every winter and love it every day. 

Yesterday, for fun, I set myself the task of trying to find documentary proof that my grand-aunt worked in a drapery shop. I didn't expect it to be simple. Before tonight all I had on my tree for Julia was an approximate birth date, and I could find nothing on Julia Hart. Mom couldn't remember her married name.

Tonight, I went back to my stash of papers I copied from Mom’s box of family history the last time I visited, and looked through it all. In a copy of a letter sent to Mom, on August 2, 2001, from Ann, a cousin (I think) talking about family history, found several mentions of Aunt Julia. The letter included a copy of genealogy profile page on my great-grandmother, Fannie Susan (Hartman) Hart Erwin, which mentioned Julia’s birth & death dates and the men she married, and that Fannie had lived with her towards the end and died there in 1954. So I guestimated that Julia was in Findlay Ohio then as that was listed as Fannie’s place of death.  I plugged all that information that into her profile hoping for some little hint leaves to confirm what I put in and, among other things that didn't match, I did get confirmation of all of my entries but one of the husbands and her residence in 1954.  And no drapery shop. So I tried running her name, specifically - now that I knew what her married name was - through Ancestry’s search function. There was a lot that wasn’t her. But then, after about hour, eureka! I found her listed it the 1960 City Directory for Findlay Ohio, p.488, contained in the 
U.S. City Directories, 1821-1989 database,  which showed her to be a Clerk at Dall's Drapery Shop! [Entry: "Siddall Julia A Mrs clk Dall's Drapery Shop r217 Woodley"].

Now I’d like to find a picture of the store, but this is enough for tonight.

I’ve promised all my living relatives that they won’t be mentioned by name in my blog.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Going Backwards

If you looked at my tree on recently, you would see that it seems to be going backward as I took several people off of it. I also turned the tree from “public” to “private”. I want to explain why that happened.

Originally, I got the bug from watching “Who do you think you are?” on TV, and discovered Since then I’ve mostly been playing at family research. I had this thing about documentation (the lawyer in me, I expect), but I was also really excited at what I was finding via certain “hints” that had me looking at and tying into other’s trees. If several people’s trees had a connection, it looked to be likely right (to my inexperienced mind), so I’d click and merge their information in.

However, as I’ve decided to get serious about my explorations, I’ve also been researching how to properly do genealogical research. These last few weeks I’ve been reading magazines and online articles and watching YouTube instructional videos on genealogical research. It has been fascinating, but also rather overwhelming and more than a bit intimidating – there’s A LOT of sources out there to utilize and accuracy and proper documentation and citation thereof is so important. One of the things I watched was a YouTube video on “Using like a pro” – I’ll have to re-watch it a few more times, there was so much information in it I couldn’t really understand all of it at once. But one point did sink in. Experienced genealogical researchers who use don’t use the hints that cite to other peoples’ trees -- except and unless they can go into that tree and verify all their sources for themselves because they don’t know these other people and don’t know their standards for research and there may be errors. Additionally, many trees on Amazon don’t have documentary cites as to where their information came from because they’ve just borrowed from someone else’s tree who may have borrowed from someone else and it can become like that old gossip game where things get twisted as they pass along. That was a disturbing thought.

So this past week or so I’ve spent a couple hours each night going back over the connections I’ve made on Mom’s side, retracing them to make sure I had documentation to get me to each step. Where I had relied on someone else’s information, I went to look at their tree to see what documentation they had to see if I could verify it myself. An alarming number of those times I found they were just relying on another tree which was relying on another – now they may all know each other and trust the original tree’s research (if they knew which was the original tree), but I wasn’t finding much attached documentation for me to check [they might have it all at home and not attached to the online tree but I didn’t have it]. So I deleted those people from my tree I couldn’t make a documented connection for yet.  Some of the trees I had tied into did have research attached that I was able to verify and so did keep and adopt. Others had research getting someone I had listed as a brother to our probable direct line ancestor to the probable parents but not our guy/gal, and upon double-checking what I had along with what they had, it turned out neither of us had anything really proving they were siblings, yet, either, so I had to delete the sibling(s) and the parents for lack of necessary established connections. I may well get them back as I do more research and find something that supports the link, but I want to do it right and I want to be careful about it. (I discovered via a note on one person’s well-documented tree that the problem I was having with Peter Hartman is partially because there are four Peter Hartman(s) in that county in Ohio at that time; I’d run across all four, plus one Peter Hartmann, and  in another state a Johann Peter Hartmann that various people were tying into what looks like our line and having them all married to Catherine Zollnar or Caterina ZĂ–llner, which just isn’t possible – one Peter Hartman even had a different birth date that had him marrying her at age 11, while she was 23, which I think is unlikely. It looks like Catherine Zollnar is in our line but I can’t establish that for certain yet either so she’s off too.)

So anyway, I took the ones I couldn't prove off, and I made the tree private because I’m likely to make more mistakes and I didn't want people relying on my tree and perpetuating mistakes. I’ll probably put my results back up publicly when I’m surer of myself and my research, but I think that will be a while yet. I will get better at this with instruction and experience, and probably other stumbles along the way. Isn't that the way life goes?


I'm a beginner amateur family historian. I've always been interested in family stories. A few years ago I turned my Dad's childhood memories into a small book that I then distributed to family. That whet my whistle for more. After watching "Who Do You Think You Are?" first on network TV and then on TLC, I became intrigued by the idea of family history research. I'm a research geek, so this sounded like lots of fun! On my Dad's of the family I have a head start as there have been family historians in prior generations who have researched trees, and produced books of family stories and memories. (I come by it honest, you see!) But I'd not heard of anyone doing the same on my mother's side.

My first step was to ask my parents on a visit last October what they had in terms of things that might relate to family history. They helpfully pulled out boxes of papers, pictures, napkins with notes,  Sunday School certificates, hand-written memories by my great-great grandparents, and gave them to me. I was amazed and didn't let them out of my hands the whole trip from Texas to New York! I then opened up an account with to try to see where I could get, combining their hints with my odds and ends of family memorabilia. I showed my parents what I'd been doing when they came through on a visit and seeing their interest and excitement made me happy even though I hadn't got much done since I have a full time job, a relationship to nurture, and am a bookworm. Then my brothers expressed an interest in what I was doing, and some of the next generation. So I thought about sharing what I'm doing much sooner than I'd originally planned. 

After much thought, I’ve decided to blog about my research into our family tree as an easier way to keep family informed as to my research than trying to pick out on a chart what might be new, and easier to tell a story about a newly discovered person, or new facts and how they play into a picture.  I will also use it to explain what I’m doing at any given time in terms of the family history research. Hopefully, I will soon figure out how to post pictures of some of the stuff I find. I expect it will also help me keep track of what I’m doing over time, I think, and help me keep track of sites where I’ve looked that might be helpful again in the future. It is my goal to find as many people in my family tree as I can, and document them all as fully as I am able (I expect that will grow over time), and then go back through each level and find out about how it was to live in that time and place and write that up as well so that we can have as full a picture of each person in our tree as possible. Now you know why I warned my interested family members that this was likely to be a lifetime project. I'm 53; I think a good 25 years +/- ought to do it! :-)

I can’t promise daily entries; but I will update at least weekly, perhaps more often as I have more to share.