Saturday, January 14, 2023

Federal Civil War pensions and Union POW's in Columbia, SC


Federal Civil War pension files may not be the first resource that comes to mind when researching the Civil War in the Confederate states, but they can be a valuable resource for understanding life during the war from the point of view of federal prisoners of war. In the pension file for 1st Lt. Elton Ware of the 9th Maine volunteers helps to better understand the conditions he faced while a POW in Columbia, SC from July 11, 1863-March 1, 1865.

Ware’s unit mustered out Oct 18, 1861. The regiment left for Washington, DC where they eventually joined an expedition to Fernandina, Florida. From there they headed to South Carolina where Lt. Ware was taken prisoner in the initial assault at Morris Island that started on July 10, 1863. The Maine 9th was a part of Strong’s brigade, an amphibious assault on the island led by Brigadier General George C. Strong. Wikipedia explains the first assault nicely,

“Strong’s brigade crossed Lighthouse Inlet and landed at the southern tip of the island. Strong's troops advanced, capturing several batteries, moving about three miles to within range of Fort Wagner. Also known as Battery Wagner, it was a heavily gunned redoubt [temporary fortification] that covered nearly the entire width of the northern end of Morris Island, facing [Fort] Sumter. Strong's report described the advance:

‘The two columns now moved forward, under a lively discharge of shell, grape, and canister, converging toward the works nearest the southern extremity of the island, and thence along its commanding ridge and eastern coast, capturing successively the eight batteries of one heavy gun each, occupying the commanding points of that ridge, besides two batteries, mounting, together, three 10-inch seacoast mortars.’

On July 11, Strong's brigade attacked at dawn, advancing through a thick fog, attempting to seize Fort Wagner. Although the men of the 7th Connecticut Infantry overran a line of rifle pits, they were repulsed by the 1,770-man force under Confederate Col. Robert F. Graham. Heavy artillery fire from Fort Wagner prevented other units from joining the attack.”

The battle at Morris Island is better known for the second assault led by the 54th Massachusetts, a troop of African American immortalized in the movie “Glory”, but Lt. Ware was already captured by that time and was heading to Columbia to begin his nearly two-year internment. Ware was likely kept at the county jail on the corner Washington and Main St., at least until the POW camp was formed at Camp Sorghum in Oct 1864 followed by a camp at the State Hospital created in Dec 1864 called Camp Asylum.

The conditions were deplorable, and Ware became sick after a year of his incarceration. In October 1864 fellow POW, Col. DanielWhite, attested in Ware's pension file that Ware was “attacked with disease of the heart, accompanied by pain in the head.” Col. White attested that the condition remained with Ware through the end of the war and was caused “by the treatment he received in prison.” “Rebel” doctors attended the prisoners and they reported to Ware that his condition was “caused by exposure, lying without blankets and cold settling on the heart.” It may be Ware was sent to Camp Sorghum were it is documented there were few tents and the POW’s dug holes in the ground for protection from the weather. Letters owned by the descendants of Lt. Ware tell how the enslaved people in Columbia risked their lives to help the Union POW’s escape and on occasion brought them information about the war. Elton, however, may have been too sick to try and make the escape especially since there were constant rumors of parole or prisoner exchanges for the federal POWs.

When General Sherman arrived in Columbia on Feb 17 the book “Sack and Destruction of the city of Columbia, SC” says the prisoners in the district jail were released and they followed the Union army out of Columbia, which implies there were POW’s in the district jail so Ware may have remained at the jail through-out his incarceration, we just don’t know. The Washington St. jail was destroyed by fire on Feb 17.

After his parole on March 1, 1865 in North Carolina, Ware was admitted to the hospital in Annapolis, MD were doctors described his health as, “great physical exhaustion & nervous prostration amounting at times to partial insanity.” He was further described as, “pale & emaciated, weighs 165 lbs.” The evaluation concluded, “I consider him disabled for manual labor as totally as by the loss of hand or foot.”

Confederate records about the Columbia POW’s are scarce so the federal pensions of Union soldiers make an interesting addition to Civil War research. The index to these pension records is available on Ancestry but the files are located in Washington, DC at the National Archives (NARA). Remote access to the records through the archives is nearly impossible. Even before Covid the NARA could take months to find a file for remote researchers. I hired a researcher to get this record. The cost was $110.00 which is likely what the NARA would charge, and I had the file (110 pages) in less than a week.

Monday, March 7, 2022

Time Magazine with a SC connection

This new year is a momentous one for TIME Magazine. On March 3 they kicked off their 100th year with a countdown to their centennial birthday on March 3, 1923. The magazine is famous for its covers that make a statement about current events. The cover of volume one issue one featured Representative John Gurney Cannon. Yeah…who’s that? Well, according to Wikipedia he was a politician from Illinois and the Speaker of the House of Representative when his portrait appeared on the cover of Time Magazine. 

The news magazine was founded by Henry Luce and he remained active in the publishing and editing of the magazine until 1964 but he was more than ably assisted by South Carolinian, John Shaw Billings. John Shaw Billings II was a talented journalist who became the first managing editor of Life magazine in 1936 and remained the second-in-command of Luce's Time-Life-Fortune empire through the 1950s. Billings was also a devoted diarist and his journal ledgers are available at the South Caroliniana Library at the UofSC. Here is a look at the finding aid. (The full Time Magazine archive is at the New York Historical Society: finding aid

 Throughout the diaries Billings journals his feelings about everything and he can be very harsh in his estimation of the people he interacts with, even calling his boss, Henry Luce, “coldly impersonal”. Billings wrote everyday providing office reflections and social/at home reflections. He is equally unkind to those at work as he is to people he meets socially! However, he is always loving and kind when referring to his beloved Redcliffe. He purchased the family estate in 1935 and he writes frequently in the diaries about restoring the house and the people and families who lived nearby near Aiken, SC. He and his wife Frederica always vacationed at Redcliffe and every last bit of savings Billings acquired went into restoring the estate. Here are some images online through UofSC: John Shaw Billings digital collection. 

The collection came to my attention because researchers from around the country contact the Caroliniana for information about accessing the diaries. Some are writing books about one of the famous people in Billing’s circle; others are researching family members who worked at Time Magazine. Most conclude that it is far cheaper to hire a researcher to go through the diaries then to travel to SC and spend several days going through the diaries. One researcher was hopeful that Billings used his acerbic wit writing about her grandfather who was a reporter for the company! Billings wrote fast and furious but once you get the hang of his cursive/printing style the reading can move more smoothly. The collection is easily as informative about life in NYC during the 1940’s and 1950’s as it is about life in SC during the same time. It's pretty cool stuff that is part of SC history.

Wednesday, February 9, 2022

Independent researcher - part two, finding clients


My path to an independent researcher career started before I retired.  Through library networking my professional contacts included staff at local historical institutions. These institutions almost always have a “researcher for hire list”. They will not recommend a researcher, but they will indicate who they know best.  I asked two organizations if they would add me to their researcher list.  Because they knew the level of my research skills, they added me to their list and steered clients my way. Ninety percent of my referrals come this way, most I don't take on the assignment.  For about a year I accepted one or two clients while I worked full time.  During the pandemic lock-down I decided to retire and take on a few more clients (Deciding to retire wasn’t as easy as I make it sound!). Thanks to my current financial circumstances I don’t need another path to acquire new clients. 

While there are enough clients coming to me through historical societies, I did give plenty of thought about ways to get more clients if I needed them.  Feel free to borrow. One idea was to offer research services to probate attorneys.  Genealogy skills are just as useful to locating descendants as they are to finding ancestors. Many attorneys use national companies that offer research services to locate descendants so there may be room for a local independent researcher to build up a business in this field. I also considered offering historic building surveys for companies undergoing historic building renovations or repurposing. Most businesses are interested in a building’s history but what research uncovers may also help with tax and zoning considerations.  Offering zoning boards, chamber of commerce, development offices, etc. examples of a building genealogy report is one way to start. 

As to fees, honestly, my fees are very subjective.  For simply scanning projects I will charge $40.00/hour. For research projects I go down to $30.00/hour.  To me it makes better sense to get the higher amount for projects that will only last a few hours and are off-site.  Research projects are always longer lasting and giving those clients a better hourly rate makes sense if you want the a lasting project to work on at home.  I think Ancestry starts their researcher fees at $35.00/hour. 

So, what about researchers-for-hire services?  I have applied to a few and have taken clients through the service.  On the one hand, it is nice to have a middleman to handle clients. On the other hand, I found that I work better talking to clients face to face.  These research services get the client to put their request in one sentence like, “My ancestor died in 1850 so when was he born?”.  How do you answer a question like that without breaking the client's bank? Those kind of questions can take years to solve! Unless someone in a different online tree happens to have a document that states a DOB it would be unlikely a client could afford that kind of research. I like coming to some agreement about expectations first. That isn’t possible through research services.

Truthfully my clients are mostly interested in historic research about people or places for writing projects. They want the details of someone’s life not a multigeneration family tree. However, genealogy research skills are essential to any historical research. One of the most surprising things about being an independent researcher is I don’t just research all day.  For some clients I am a “sort-of” administrative assistant in addition to being a researcher.  I am asked to prepare charts, spreadsheets, biographical essays, organize on-site materials (including printing labels!), organize cloud materials, supervise other researchers, edit writing samples, fact-check, created bibliographic citations and, of course, prepare summarized research reports. 

In hindsight I can see that a few thoughtful early decisions about my future have landed me in a safe spot, for now!, and I hope it can happen for you, too. 

Friday, February 4, 2022

New career - Independent researcher, part one.


Since retiring from public service a year and a half ago I’ve relabeled myself as a self-employed independent researcher. Based on the number of people asking me for advice on being an independent researcher there seems to be a lot of interest in the transitioning process.  My path, however, will be different from anyone else, but I can pass on some useful information.  Like everyone else my journey started with a curiosity in my family history. I loved the research process and that led me to library school and working in a public library for over twenty years, 12 of those in a local history room. It turns out the research skills learned serving the public are a great foundation for being an independent researcher but someone else may have followed a different path that led them to a similar set of skills. 

I like the term independent researcher because family history is a small part of what I am hired to research but more about that later.  First, some thoughts about the level of research skills an independent researcher needs to have.

1.       1. . Expert research skills:

Most clients have already used the keyword searchable parts of so the independent researcher skills need to go beyond keyword searching to include unindexed database/print records, record group searches, historical newspapers, ILL, Wordcat, Hathitrust, government resources, Internet Archive, DPLA, finding aids, print indexes, and more.  The list is jargony on purpose. If someone isn’t familiar with the jargon it might be a good place to start beefing up those research skills.  Concise writing skills are also important.  A business writing class was my way to improve the writing skills needed for client summary reports.

There are ways to improve research skills. Samford Institute or GRIP are immersive research workshops in specific topics and worth every dollar to attend. Volunteering opportunities for research are also available.  For example, researching veteran descendants for DNA authentication. Other opportunities can be found by looking through historical society newsletters. A few years ago, through the Southern Association for Woman Historians newsletter, there was a call for volunteers to prepare 300 word biographies of  women involved in the US suffrage movement for an Online Biographical Dictionary of the Women's Movement. Working on that project was invaluable. It required researching different resources to come up with enough material to fill a 300 word essay.  Here is one I wrote about Virginia Watson Walker.

Because this is “pay by the hour” work researchers have to be efficient in using many different types of records and knowing where those records are kept online or on-site (or efficiently locate those records).  Library science theory is founded on five Ranganathan laws. The fourth law, save the time of the user, tweaked a bit, applies to the independent researcher, save the money of your user.  The client shouldn’t pay for the time it takes a researcher to learn how to use a resource so be an expert. 

I'll start working on a post about getting clients for next week.  

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Richland County Sheriff arrest records: 1959-1963


One of the projects we finished at the library just before the pandemic shut us down was digitizing and transcribing two Richland County Sheriff arrest ledgers from 1959-1963.  We found the ledgers as part our efforts to locate historic county records to process and make available online. 

Researchers are often looking for arrest records, but generally when we call for assistance from government offices we get little satisfaction. These ledgers explained some of the problem.  Most of the time when a researcher is looking for an historic arrest record, they are generally vague about the arrest details and are not even sure if an arrest occurred.  It is usually a family story or a perhaps a grandparent, aunt or uncle briefly mentioned the event offering few details.  However, in the case of these ledgers, if you don’t know that an arrest occurred and when it occurred you will have to go through several ledgers to find the relevant arrest because they are organized first by date and then by last name.  Also, these ledgers are just a list of arrests. While there is an arrest number that may lead to more information, no one knows where those records are kept in Richland County! Of course, the digitizing and transcribing now makes these records keyword searchable, so the date does not impede the search.  However, this level of access to local records is still rare for genealogists and the records are difficult for librarians to locate and make available.

I’ve been thinking about these ledgers a lot lately. Since I last posted in the dead librarian blog the pandemic sped up my retirement plans.  After 6 months at home, I knew I wasn’t going back to the 9-5 gig.  But I am still working these days, just with private clients instead of the public.  My clients now are mostly authors writing books.  They often ask me to determine if any arrest records exist from the 1920's-1970's for the subjects of their book. Even if I find the right agency that holds the records very few bureaucrats are willing to conduct the level of research needed for finding local government records and I understand why after working on the Richland County Sheriff arrest ledgers.  Local government employees would have to search year by year and without more details from the researcher it is a needle in a haystack. The other problem, of course, is that few government employees know if the records even exist. Deep knowledge of these historic local government records is non-existent.  

It is eye opening to see how inaccessible these public government records are to the general public. In the case of the Richland County Sheriff records there is certainly a lot of information for individual family researchers but these ledgers also contained a list of arrests made during the historic 1961 Edwards Civil Rights March at the State House. There's a lot of history that we have lost or maybe its' just misplaced.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Genealogy resources with recent updates.

Hey everyone,

In case you are finding yourself with time at home explore some of the updated genealogy resources.

FamilySearch: SC death certificates are now digitized through 1968 (Ancestry is still stops at 1965).

SCDHEC: The SC death certificate index is updated through 1969. Ignore the dates listed on the website. Go straight to the index, search and you will see the updated DC’s. Friendly reminder that this is an index not the full text. 

SC birth certificates: Yeah!!! They have finally been updated and cover 1915-1918.  It crossed my mind that I should write a post about using this resource.  It’s not straight forward so look for that soon.

Richland County- new digital resources: Richland Library has digitized more Richland County print resources. These are just the more recent items. There’s tons more as well as the high school yearbooks.

Kanopy - Great Courses: If you have access to Kanopy through your local library take the time to listen to their Great Courses Discover Your Roots episodes.  It’s excellent. Here is a brief post about it from the Richland Library website.

Ancestry Library Edition:  If your library provides in-house access to Ancestry Library Edition (as well as other databases) you may soon have remote access to ALE through April 30.  Ancestry is allowing remote access with a library card number while so many are staying home.  They just announced this yesterday so it may take a few days for libraries to set up the remote access.  Richland Library is working on it.  If you use another library system you might send them an email and ask about the ALE remote access.  Not everyone may know about it. They need to contact their Proquest vendor for access.  

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Two new upstate indexes.

Thanks to our SC public libraries we have 2 new online indexes for the upstate. First, the Anderson County Library System created a new online obituary index for: The Daily Mail, Anderson Independent and the Anderson Independent-Mail. Presently, the index covers 1950-54, 1980, 2010-2018.

The second index comes from Greenville Public Library and is featured in the Oct/Nov 2019 issue of Internet Genealogy. Called the Upstate Slave Name Index, the index features slave names pulled from probate records across South Carolina’s upstate including these counties: Greenville, Laurens, Pendleton, Anderson and Pickens. Open the file and use the keyword search window or browse. They have been working on this for several years and it is really wonderful to see it up and live!

This a great reminder for us researchers to keep up with what the public libraries are doing for SC research and around the country. It pays to google the nearest public library to the area you are researching and see what they are up to.