Proof, in the Form of a Letter

proof-in-the-form-of-a-letter-title

A cousin shares a Civil War letter that confirms the death of my ancestor, Charles Carson, in 1863

Many of the men in our extended Carson family enlisted when called to defend the Union in the Civil War. My ancestor, Charles Carson of Trenton, New Jersey was not among them. He would have been 37 years of age when the war broke out, but for some unknown reason he did not enlist. Whether he suffered from a physical infirmity, or whether it was due to family obligations – he had a wife, and by varying accounts either six or eight children at home – we may never know. Perhaps his skills as a sawyer were needed on the home front. What is known is that many of his kinsmen did serve, and it is through the records they left as a result of their service that has allowed this researcher to paint a much fuller picture of the extended family.

Charles Carson married into another Carson family when he took Caroline Carson as a bride in Monmouth County, New Jersey 29 Jun 1845.1 Caroline’s younger sister Amy Carson married a man of Germanic descent, William Hausman, who later went off to war, serving in Co. E. of the 21st New Jersey regiment.2

In 2008, William McGovern, a Carson descendant through the Hausman’s daughter Bertha, reached out to me via the GenForum message board, and informed me of the existence of a letter written by William Hausman and his reference to Charley Carson within it. McGovern thought I might possibly be able to identify Charley. In 2016, he gave me permission to publish the contents of the letter. I am still not clear whether McGovern owns the original letter, or whether he has only a copy.

William Hausman was convalescing in the Tilton Army hospital in Delaware when he learned of the death of Charles Carson and penned a response to his wife on the back of a song sheet3, probably distributed that night at the event he describes in his letter. Oh, how I wish that her letter to him had also been preserved to know her thoughts and feelings on the death of her brother-in-law.

I offer a complete transcription of the letter below. Emphasis mine. Note that the letter had only about seven words per line; I have not maintained the exact formatting due to the nature of its presentation on this blog. The spelling and punctuation is as it appears in the original, however.

***

               Tilton Hospital     June 10th, 1863

Dear Wife

          I now take this opportunity to send you a few lines to inform you that I am well, and hope these few lines may find you and the Children the same. I Received your letter From the 3d day of June on the 5th, and I was Glad to hear that you was all well, but I was sorry to hear that Charley Carson was Killed, and I think it is very bad for his family. A man is apt to Get Killed at home, as well as the Soldiers in the Field of Battle, we have heard that General Hooker, has crossed the River Again, I think its likely that our Regiment is over Again with him, but if they have Another fight, I will not be in it this time, All the soldiers in this Hospital had a Good Ride free off Expence, yesterday to a Union Meeting at a place called Dover, About 50 miles From here, we had a very nice time

[p. 2]

and came back to the Hospital last night About 9 Oclock, All the soldiers had a Good Dinner From the Cizens of that place I Expect to be home next week. If you get this letter you need not to answer It. I have got a pretty Good Job in the Kitchen, and my time passed away very fast and I Get plenty to eat, they had not men Enough, and the Doctor asked me if i would not help them, and I sayed yes, and I have been in there ever since
send my love to you and the Children
no More at present

From Your Affectionate
Husband
William Hausman

Thank you to my cousin William McGovern, who provided a copy of the letter to this researcher and allowed publishing of the content of same.

Happy Independence Day today. We owe a debt of gratitude to all who have served and are serving to preserve our freedom, and to their families who sacrifice so much in their absence.


Sources:

1 Monmouth County, New Jersey, Marriage Returns, Book D-1, Folder M, Carson-Carson, 1845, County Clerks Office, Monmouth County Archives, Freehold; copy provided by John Konvalinka, CG, [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE], ca. Dec 2004.

2  For the 1857 Hausman-Carson marriage and his unit number see William Hausman (Pvt., Co., E, 21st NJ Inf., Civil War), pension no. 143,808 (Invalid), Case Files of Approved Pension Applications…,1861-1934; Civil War and Later Pension Files; Record Group 15 : Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs; National Archives, Washington, D.C.

3  A very similar example is here: “Mother, is the Battle Over?” song sheet, (publisher Charles Magness, 12 Frankfort St., N.Y., [n.d.]), digital image, Library of Congress (https://www.loc.gov/resource/amss.hc00018b.0 : accessed 4 Jul 2017).

Establishing a Death Date for Charles Carson

Carson Family Group Sheet (Pt. 4)

Fourth in an ongoing series that attempts to document the early days of my research on the Carson family of New Jersey as it originally unfolded. In this installment describing research conducted in 2002-2003, I established a tentative death date for my ancestor, Charles Carson.

I suspected that my 3rd-great-grandfather Charles Carson of Mercer County, New Jersey died at a relatively young age.

From prior research in the Federal census population schedules (highlighted in this post) I learned that he was 26 years of age in 1850, and age 36 in 1860. I estimated his year of birth as circa 1824 from those two records. The 1860 census was the last record in which he was found.

He was not among immediate family members by the time of the 1870 census. By 1881, his wife, Caroline Carson, was called a widow. Using all of this information, I can bracket his possible date of death as sometime after 1 June 1860 and before early 1881, a 20-21 year range. Thus, he would have been no younger than 35 and no older than 57 years of age when he died, depending on how early in the year he was born.

Can I narrow down that window of time?

Any American male aged 18-60 that disappears from a family in the first half of the decade of the 1860’s is a candidate for Civil War service. Charles was definitely in that age range.

Civil War service as a volunteer can be quickly verified by a look-up on the Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System (CWSS) website maintained by the National Park Service. With over 6.3 million names of soldiers indexed, representing participants from both Union and Confederate forces, it is one of my first stops when beginning new research on a potential soldier in the American Civil War (1861-1865). Names in this database were entered as found on the Compiled Service Records, created in the latter portion of the 19th century.

soldiers-and-sailors-database

I clicked on Soldiers and entered basic search criteria:
First Name: Charles
Last Name: Carson
Side: Union

cwss-search-charles-carson-civil-war-service
Search box detail. Click to enlarge this or any other photo.

Forty-seven soldiers named Charles Carson were included in my search results (including Colored Troops and Home Guards), but none saw service in a New Jersey regiment. I doubted with at least six children at home that he would have traveled to another state to join up.

I also ran a search for Charles Carson in the 1876 publication “Record of Officers and Men from New Jersey in the Civil War, 1861-1865″….by Adjutant-General William S. Stryker and found no listing for any officer or soldier named Charles Carson. This volume is available in digital form from the New Jersey State Library at this link.

If Carson died between 1861 and 1865, it was unlikely the result of any wartime service unless, perhaps, he was a career soldier, as compiled military service records were not created for “Regulars”. Since I had no information that directly suggested service in the Civil War in any capacity, I decided to table this research angle. Even though this search yielded negative results, it was necessary to document that I did consider military service as a possibility.

What other information could I uncover that might suggest a death date for Charles Carson?

It was November 2002 when I turned to GenForum, my genealogy message board of choice (which has recently transitioned to a read-only archive of former queries and posts). There on the Kansas board I found a query posted mere weeks prior that mentioned both Furman Carson and his father, Charles Carson.1 I saw other names that I knew from my own research among the list of children, so posted a response.2 It was not long before I received a notification that a reader had responded to my query. We compared notes and in short order determined that our 2nd-great-grandfathers were brothers. Some of our family information meshed quite well, but some of it differed. For example, she identified our known common ancestor as Charles C. Carson, and showed his death in 1896, and not “before 1881” as my research indicated. My cousin also had information on the purported maiden surname of his wife Caroline.

How to resolve this conflicting information? With more research, of course! As I would learn, much of this information was provided to her by a third party, without source citations. I began to attempt to verify my new cousin’s alleged facts, but also continued to look for records that would support my hypothesis. I found it difficult to believe that Caroline’s husband Charles simply dropped off the grid between 1860 and 1896. I was aware of other males named Charles Carson living in the greater Trenton area in the mid to late 19th century, so figured the 1896 death date attributed to my Charles really was that of another man. But, I would have to prove this before dismissing it completely.

I next searched the 1880 U.S. census index to learn whether Charles Carson had reunited with his wife and children. He was not living in the household. In fact, Caroline Carson was again identified as a widow.3 I now had three independent sources that either suggested or stated outright that Caroline was widowed, certainly by 1880, but possibly long before that.


1880-caroline-carson-household-chambersburg-new-jerseyThe printout of the 1880 census household of widow Caroline Carson

Fast forward a few months to early 2003. The Old Mill Hill Society (OMHS) had a web presence at the time, consisting mostly of transcribed records like city directories and obituary indexes. Included among these records was something called the “Chronological Indexes”, a succinct listing of events in the local newspaper, published on New Year’s Day, which covered events of the prior year. Four Chronological Indexes were then online: 1856, 1857, 1863, and 1870. Like any good genealogist, I worked with what was available and reviewed them all. Imagine my surprise when I read this stark entry for May 1863:

“22. Charles Carson was injured in Hutchinson’s saw mill, and died on the 24th.”4


Charles Carson death in the 1863 chronological index

Could this be the first tangible clue that my Charles Carson died 24 May 1863 as a result of injuries sustained in a sawmill accident two days prior? It certainly fit within the timeline that I had already established. I was cautiously optimistic. I needed to learn more about this man and more about the accident that claimed his life. The fact that the entry was included in an annual roundup of news items meant that it was reported on or near the time of the event.

I made a new research plan with this last record in mind. My plan included locating the following items:

  1. The 1863 death record for Charles Carson in Trenton, New Jersey
  2. Any news articles regarding the accident and subsequent death
  3. A probate file in Mercer County, New Jersey for Charles Carson
  4. Hutchinson’s sawmill to learn if it was near the last known residence of the Carson family

Check back for a future installment to see how well I executed my plan.

Notes and sources:

1 Jean [Owens], “Re: Kansas surnames,” discussion list, 23 Oct 2002, Genealogy.com, GenForum: Kansas Genealogy Forum (http://genforum.genealogy.com/ks/  : accessed 16 Nov 2002), message 12392.

2 Dawn Bingaman, “Re: Kansas surnames Carson – Hopkins,” discussion list, 16 Nov 2002, Genealogy.com, GenForum: Kansas Genealogy Forum (http://genforum.genealogy.com/ks/ : accessed 16 Nov 2002), message 12547.

3 “1880 United States Census Household Record,” database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org: accessed 02 May 2003), entry for Caroline Carson, District 1, Chambersburg, Mercer County, New Jersey, citing National Archives microfilm publication T-9, roll 789, sheet 500A.

4 Franklin S. Mills, “Index to the Year 1863.” Daily True American (Trenton, New Jersey), 1 Jan 1864, transcription, Old Mill Hill Society website (http://oldmillhillsociety.org/research/chronoindex/Index1863.htm : accessed 11 Jun 2003). This website was located using the Wayback Machine and can be viewed today at this link:
https://web.archive.org/web/20030310174958/http://oldmillhillsociety.org/research/chronoindex/Index1863.htm.
Sharp-eyed readers will also note there was another Carson entry among the news items. See 9 May 1863: “Mary Ann, wife of David C. Carson, died in the 33d year of her age.”

Web Sightings: National Archives Video Programs

Since at least 2004, the United States National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) has held free public programs on a wide variety of topics about their holdings at the Washington, D.C. and College Park, Maryland facilities. Some of these recorded programs of particular interest to genealogists began making their way online in 2012 as part of the “Know Your Records” series. Twenty such videos are now available for viewing on the National Archives YouTube channel.

kyr-nara-logo

Three short introductory videos concerning military records are online, featuring Archives Specialist and resident military expert, John P. Deeben. I have embedded the videos below for convenience:

Military Research at the National Archives: Volunteer Service

This video tells us about military service records compiled for Volunteer soldiers who served in wartime from the Revolutionary War to the Philippine Insurrection, with specific examples of the CMSR for a Revolutionary War soldier.


Military Research at the National Archives: Regular Service

Registers of Enlistments for professional soldiers in the United States Army (1798-1914) available on M233 give information relative to the registration of soldiers and their discharge or separation from service.

Deeben also discusses the equivalent records for the United States Navy, called “Rendezvous Reports”. These reports (indexed as T1098 and T1099) cover the time frame between the Mexican War to about 1891. The records themselves are part of M1953.


Military Research at the National Archives: Pension Records

In this final video, Deeben introduces military pension files for service members (or their widows) stored at Archives 1, covering the period between 1775-1916. He shows examples of the records and information gleaned from them of interest to military historians and genealogists. He also reminds us that pension files for service in the Confederate military forces during the American Civil War are not held at the National Archives and must be sought at the state level.

In early February 2015, an announcement was made that future programs would be live-streamed. Check the monthly calendar and plan your viewing schedule accordingly by clicking in to this link: http://www.archives.gov/dc-metro/events/.