For over 150 years my family has heeded our country’s call to arms. Fighting in America’s wars has been a part of what has made us Americans.
Each generation has had their war. For my father and uncles it was Vietnam. My grandfather was buried with honors as a WWII veteran. His father, my great grandfather, watched cousins and friends leave for WWI never to return.
And his father, my great great grandfather, saw his new homeland torn apart by the Civil War, just a few years after arriving in the United States.
The closest I ever came to fighting in a war was registering for the Selective Service on my eighteenth birthday. I remember my mother’s concern, even though we weren’t currently at war, that now a son was a phone call or letter away from the draft. My father’s reaction was characteristically somber and serious as he explained the responsibility it represented. I can only imagine that actually seeing a loved one actually go off to war must bring a similar array of emotions for the wives and husbands, parents and children left behind.
War was a fact of life for almost all of our ancestors, no matter when your family came to America. If your family was in the United States by 1860, you almost certainly have a direct ancestor or close relative who fought in the Civil War. And, if they fought, they left behind records.
Military records can be a wealth of information and Civil War records are a great example. Finding my relative’s Civil War pension record provided all the basic facts of his life and identified the regiment he fought with. Once you know the regiment and company your ancestor fought with, you can follow them through the war, almost day by day.
He was born in 1843 in Germany and came to the United States as a young boy in 1856.
After a few years in Wisconsin, he set out on his own and was living in Peoria, Illinois when he enlisted in the Union Army in September 1862. Over the next two years, he fought alongside his comrades at many of the major battles of the war, including Gettysburg.
Private Birkhauser was discharged from his regiment for health reasons in Washington, DC in March of 1864 and reassigned to a veteran regiment.
He died on August 16, 1919 of pneumonia. At his side was “Miss Elizabeth Birkhauser,” who census records showed was his daughter by a second marriage.
Theodore Birkhauser enlisted as an immigrant and was discharged two years later, an American. Today, he is still honored as an American Veteran.
I hope your plans and preparations for meeting up with relatives this summer are progressing. Perhaps you had the chance over the Memorial Day Weekend to begin your research.
Next week we will round out our “interviewing” steps with suggestions for how to conduct interviews by mail and over the phone.
Next week: Johnsburg K-5000