Friday, November 19, 2021

Home From Alabama
to Wisconsin — and Beyond


The early wars in American history, whether Revolutionary War, War of 1812, or the much later Civil War, may have pointed to one detail held in common between them: their soldiers, once returning home, seemed more likely to have caught the wanderlust to move on to other lands. I've traced my colonial roots moving from New England to Virginia, then beyond to South Carolina and Georgia. And my husband's War of 1812 ancestors often took their travels during years of service as cue to move west from Pennsylvania or Ohio.

In the case of Eugene Williams, at his youthful age at enlistment in the Union army, it may come as no surprise to learn that once he was discharged in Alabama at the close of the Civil War, after returning home to Wisconsin, he had the urge to travel further onward.

One factor which made that option a possibility was the availability of land. However, while soldiers from previous wars may have had the option of taking up bounty lands or land grants, those who served in the Civil War did not exactly have that opportunity, as bounty land was not given out after 1855. Still, land was there for the taking, even in the 1860s onward, and that is apparently what enticed Eugene to roam westward from Wisconsin.

Genealogists are particular keen on locating documents such as bounty land records, because for research purposes, they count as a double whammy. Not only does discovery of such a record pinpoint the ancestor by location and time period, but provide reference to military service.

On a hunch, I checked the General Land Office records at the Bureau of Land Management website for any sign of Eugene Williams after the war. Keep in mind, I had found Eugene Williams first by tracing his line backwards in time from his descendants—from Maude Woodworth's mother Effie Williams to her father, Eugene. In that journey, I discovered that in the 1880 census, Effie was living with her family in what was then considered Dakota Territory, in Union County, which is now part of the state of South Dakota.

Sure enough, there was a property record for someone named Eugene Williams in that very county—Union County. The property size was eighty acres, and by 1874, it was all his. How long he held on to the property, though, is hard to determine just now. I can tell by the time of the 1880 census that Eugene and his family were living in Elk Point City—as small a city as it must have been, considering the population for the entire county at the time—and Eugene was listed not as a farmer but as a laborer. By 1890, when his daughter Effie was married to William Woodworth, the Williams family was listed as living in Sioux City, Iowa.

Still, discovery of land records for this veteran of the Civil War provides one more way to track his life's trajectory, as well as that of his daughters and sons. As every genealogist knows, though, yet another step is calling out to us, to answer the question of where this Civil War veteran came from, before his decision to enlist, back in Wisconsin at the start of the war.  


  1. The land records website is one I didn't know about. Thank you so much for providing a link. It gives me a whole new avenue of research.

    1. It's always exciting to stumble upon new resources. Glad this will be of help, Sara--hopefully it will be just the start of several new discoveries for you!


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