Archive for June, 2011

Since I began researching a Civil War court martial late last year, I have come to realize that this seems to be a record set which is little-known.  Many of the Union Civil War court martials are held by the National Archives (NARA).  Before requesting one, you need to email NARA and have a staff member check to make sure that they hold the file in question.  Because the court martial files vary so much more in size than the average record set, if they do turn out to hold the file you want, you then need to use the file number reference they send to request a price quote for the specific file you seek.  Once they send back a price, you then mail in a check to an address they provide, and wait.  I think it took about four months for the file I had requested to come.  Michael of Casefile Clues  requested what was filed as a court martial case around the same time I did, but his turned out to be a mis-filed non-court-martial court case.  So it might be worth checking to see if there is a file for the person you are researching, even if you don’t know whether they were court-martialed.

The file I received was about 22 pages long.  It contained information on more people than just the one I was researching.  There was a section that had been compiled and published, containing abstracts of all the people who’d been court martialed at the location my ancestor had, around the same time period; it included my ancestor’s case.  I have read before that a large number of Union court martials during the Civil War were for desertion, and reading this record really brought that home; a very large percentage of the court martials in this section were for desertion.  Some people that were believed to be deserters were really captured as prisoners of war and only later discovered by the Union to be POWs, so if you have a Union soldier who was a POW, it might be worth checking to see if they were court-martialed before being discovered to be one.  The second section of the file was a handwritten record of the court session, seemingly contemporary with the trial.  Again, it didn’t just contain my ancestor’s case, but also the others who were tried in the same session as he was.

I found out in my ancestor’s compiled military service file that he had been court martialed, which is how I knew to request the file in the first place.  There was a small record stuck in the file noting that he had been tried and found guilty.  When I received the court martial file, I discovered that there were more charges than what had been in the record in his service file.  I don’t know what the process is today, but at the time of the Civil War it appears that people were charged with a general charge and then with one or more “specific” charges under the umbrella of that general charge.  My ancestor had been charged with insubordination, with three specific incidences being cited under the general charge.  The specific charges seem to have generally correlated to specific incidents that backed up the general charge.  Many of the people in the file were only charged with one specific charge under the general charge, so it seems that (at least at this time and place) my ancestor was somewhat unusual in having multiple specific charges.  One of his specific charges was encouraging/supporting someone else’s insubordination, which had not been mentioned in the service file; luckily for me, the other person was tried the same day as my ancestor, so his case was also in the file I received.

My ancestor was found guilty on both the general charge and all three specific charges, but was only sentenced to nine days in the guard house.  Someone reviewed all the court martial sentences, which I only know because they were infuriated by this sentence, which they saw as far too lenient, and wrote a letter about their anger, which was also included in the court martial file.  They demanded that the sentence be vacated, so my ancestor was, according to the file, immediately returned to duty.  I would have expected him to be re-sentenced or even retried, but there is no further mention of any sentencing or other trial in either his service file or his court martial file.  A friend who is a Civil War records expert reviewed the file and suggested that because by the time his sentence was vacated, it was late 1862 and the Union was at that point desperate for troops, perhaps they decided it wasn’t worth the cost and hassle of retrying and re-sentencing someone who was willing (minus the insubordination!) and able to serve the Union.

My ancestor went on to re-enlist as soon as he was discharged from his first tour, and continued on in the Union side until war’s end in 1865.  He proceeded to receive a disability pension, and – completely unsurprisingly – does not mention having been court-martialed anywhere in his large pension application.  He was already one of the last veterans from Chemung County, New York when he attended a statewide Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) reunion in 1932, and members from a variety of veterans’ groups and military lineage societies held a 94th birthday party for him in 1935.  He died at age 96 in 1938, outliving all his siblings, both his wives, and all but one of his children.

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FamilyTreeDNA sorted out their mis-belief that my mother hadn’t paid for her DNA test upgrade, as I discovered a couple of days ago when she told me that they had notified her that her first DNA test results were available.  She ordered tests without consulting with me, so it was only when I went to look at hers that I discovered that she hadn’t just ordered a more complete mtDNA test (as I said in my most recent entry, she had been one of the early participants in National Geographic’s mitochondrial origins study), but also what FamilyTreeDNA calls their “Family Finder” test, which is their term for their autosomal DNA test.  This is the test that had been completed, with the results available on their site.

I’m glad she didn’t tell me she ordered it, as I probably would have told her that it seemed like the technology didn’t make it worthwhile at the current stage to do this test without having a relative also being tested with whom to compare results.  But as it turns out, she has 2 matches in the database that are stated to be in the 2nd-4th cousins range, with the database estimating them as 3rd cousins.  I wrote to both of them yesterday morning and so far one of the two has responded.

He says his family was primarily clustered in the New York/New Jersey/Pennsylvania border region, wherein my own research on my mother’s lines in this area really flounders; I know from records in Canada that one of my mom’s Loyalist groups was from that area, and I know from a longtime researcher of that family that some of their grandchildren moved back to that area from Canada.  But I have not had any luck tracing their common name, Stewart/Stuart/Steward, back to the previous generation in the States, nor discovering the maiden name of the mother; and from what I have discussed with other researchers of this group, it appears that nobody else has been able to do so either.   My educated guess based on our initial contact is that this is the connection between her and this other person, but it is also possible that they come from some other Colonial New Yorkers who strayed farther south (most of her other direct NY lines were farther north in New York but there’s no reason that relatives of theirs couldn’t have moved south).

DNA results have been so fascinating for me as a researcher because they’re the exact opposite of the way I usually connect with other researchers.  Instead of finding the specific connecting person(s) and working our way outwards from there swapping information (and sometimes theories or leads), we have to start with information that’s as general as possible without being too general to be of any use, and try to work our way inwards to figure out exactly what the specific connection is.

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My father took a DNA test earlier this year, and his results came back this past week.  I am new to using DNA in genealogy, and it’s been an interesting learning experience.  I chose FamilyTreeDNA, primarily because they have the largest database of other users with whom to compare results – a self-reinforcing cycle.  They also offer the option of uploading results to two non-company-specific sites, one each for Y-DNA (paternal line DNA) and mtDNA (maternal line DNA), so I did that for both.  The 67-marker test was the highest Y-DNA test available when I ordered it, so that’s what I got.  My dad has a good match to one other person in the FamilyTreeDNA database, and none in the non-company-specific Y-DNA database.  He has a fair match to two people in the mtDNA database, but if I understand what I’ve read about DNA correctly, that test is much less refined than the Y-DNA test we did; it’s more like a low-marker Y-DNA test.  FamilyTreeDNA is currently having a sale on the much more refined mtDNA test (one that is more like the 67-marker Y-DNA test), so I’ve upgraded his test.  It will be interesting to see what the results are.

I wrote to the best match in the FamilyTreeDNA database, and to the two best matches in the mtDNA site’s database.  Two people have each responded once so far, the third not at all.  The Y-DNA results comparison says that my dad and the other 67-marker Y-DNA test-taker have a 44% chance of having a common ancestor within 4 generations, and an 84 and 97% chance, respectively, of having a common ancestor within 8 or 12 generations.  I have a paper trail for my dad’s paternal line back to the first generation in the Colonies, born c. 1642 and having lived in Connecticut.  That’s 9 generations ago for my dad, as some of his ancestors were born relatively late in their parents’ lives.  If the paper trail is correct, my dad’s paternal line is from England.  Interestingly, this match has a different last name.  12 generations ago may be recently enough for surnames to have been used; the FamilyTreeDNA site says there’s a very good chance that it is recently enough, but of course, it depends on how much time is between each generation in each line.  Regardless, I hope that this matching person writes me again.

Fortuitously, the results came in just in time for me to attempt to summarize them on my Father’s Day phone call to my dad.  He was more interested than I expected, and seemed nonplussed that the best match has a different surname than his.  He asked me to let him know if his best match writes with further information.  As I pointed out to him, because more people are having DNA tests done for genealogy all the time, there’s also a pretty good chance that someone who newly takes the test will match him at some point, just like he matched this other person who had already taken one.

This experience has also really illustrated for me me what I’d heard in lectures, about how the more refined the test the better the results are.  It’s sensical, but the matches list shows it very clearly.  At 37 markers, three people are the same match for him.  But all three have also taken the 67-marker test, like he did, and when you get to that level, one is a full step closer in genetic distance than the other two, meaning that the other two have less than half a chance of having a common ancestor within 4 generations (for example) as the best match, even though the 37-marker test shows them all as equivalent.

I’m not sure exactly why (I guess I didn’t read the fine print finely enough), but FamilyTreeDNA didn’t run my dad’s exact Y-DNA haplogroup via the tests I ordered.  So far, all the site’s results do is predict what his haplogroup is based on his matches – R1b1a2.  So when I ordered the on-sale upgrade for mtDNA, I also added a test for his haplogroup.   I haven’t read a tremendous amount on the haplogroup yet since it’s just a prediction, but what I have read so far isn’t particularly surprising; it’s a common haplogroup in samples taken in Western Europe.  The haplogroup has a new name as of this year, which shows how rapidly our understanding and categorizing of DNA is changing and refining.

My mom got more and more anticipatory as we waited for my dad’s results, till she eventually decided to order a kit for herself without my even asking her about it.  However, there’s a snag in the processing; FamilyTreeDNA currently says that the charges never went through, though the charges posted to her credit card a while ago by this point.  So the test is on hold while things get straightened out.  My mom was tested some years ago as an early participant of the National Geographic mtDNA genetic origins program, through which we discovered that she (and, being my maternal line, by extension me) is (are) part of mtDNA haplogroup J.  This is a much less common haplogroup in Europe than my dad’s predicted Y-DNA haplogroup.  The mtDNA test she ordered will provide much more detailed information than the NatGeo test did.

I do understand, however, why so many genealogists don’t much see the point in taking mtDNA tests at the current level of the technology.  My dad’s maternal line is stalled out for me in the early 1800’s, and I’ve gotten my mom’s maternal line back to the late 1700’s so far and have been taking a break from it.  But that’s not as far back as the best matches often match at this point in the technological development of DNA testing, and many other people, including my dad’s mtDNA decent-match who has shared her most distant known maternal ancestor with me, haven’t gotten their maternal line as  far as I have.  It’s just plain tough to research maternal lines in most locales in the U.S.

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