Wednesday, November 17, 2021

The Gift of Governmental Documentation


Every so often, tracing the trajectory of an ancestor's life story leads us straight into the midst of conflict—the kind of conflict which, though unfortunate, becomes a rich source of documentation. For our American ancestors, such was the War Between the States—or, as Eugene Williams' side of the story would characterize it, the War of the Rebellion.

Eugene Williams was Maude Woodworth Bean's maternal grandfather. Though he was born in New York, his as yet uncovered story was the reason why Maude's mother, Effie Aurilla Williams, was born and raised in what was once called Dakota Territory, but spent her later years in Sioux City, Iowa, where she met her future husband, William Woodworth.

For the young couple Effie and William, from the point of their wedding in 1890, it was off to California and the adventure of a new life together. It wasn't long, however, before Eugene and his wife Elizabeth followed their daughter's path. And with that move came the gift of governmental documentation which allows us a clearer glimpse into the wanderings of Effie's father.

Eugene and Elizabeth Williams were still residing in Sioux City by the time of the 1900 census, but by December 14, 1904, Eugene was admitted to a National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers—but not in Iowa. His admission to the facility was due to heart disease, and the records indicating this also revealed that, prior to entry at the Home, the couple had been living in Irwindale, a town not far from the southern California home of their daughter and son-in-law, the Woodworths. The 1910 census revealed the identity of that National Home as the "Pacific Branch" located in Malibu township in Los Angeles county.

From the scant entries on the page of Eugene's record at the Home, we gain everything from a physical description—blue eyes, fair complexion, height of five feet and eight inches—to the cause of his death on May 11, 1914. Though a veteran's marker was supposedly placed on his grave at the Los Angeles National Cemetery—at least, according to transcribed records included at—there is no photograph of such featured on his memorial at Find A Grave.

That, however, is not the information I'm keen to glean at this point, though it does need to be checked. What I'm grateful to find in that same record of his admission to the National Home was the specific details of his service in the Civil War. Learning that on August 15, 1862, Eugene Williams enlisted to serve as a private at Portage, Wisconsin, along with the details on the company he was assigned to, becomes my springboard to follow his fate from that point until the time of his discharge at the close of the war.

Details such as those afforded by this government record provide us entrance into a well-stocked inventory of historical details—the macro-history through which this micro-history traveled.

And that recounting of Maude's grandfather brings us to our stepping off point tomorrow in exploring my latest discovery in that research weakness called Bright Shiny Object Syndrome.     

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