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).

Another Cousin Connection, and Two Wills

Carson Family Group Sheet (Pt. 5.)

This fifth installment in a series brings the story up to the mid-2003 time frame when I was first corresponding with two other descendants of Charles and Caroline Carson of Mercer County, New Jersey who were also researching the couple.

While I was beginning to flesh out and execute my research plan to determine the date of death of my ancestor, Charles Carson (detailed here), I was also beginning to correspond with a cousin, Jean (Carson) Owens.

As I alluded to in the prior post, we crossed paths initially on GenForum, an early online message board system. Message boards were the next iteration of the ubiquitous printed query sections found in many genealogy society newsletters and in some newspapers with columns dedicated to genealogy. As precursors to modern social media applications, message boards were a popular way to learn of and correspond with other people who shared your interests on any of a variety of topics. GenForum was a genealogy message board where genealogists connected with others researching the same surnames or geographic areas or similar broader topics, such as the Civil War or a particular genealogy software program. As a formerly vendor-neutral site, GenForum was my message board of choice, one that I preferred and continued to use long after Ancestry.com got in on the action and started their own separate system.

And so it was that cousin Jean and I found one another in the fall of 2002, each of us posting about our respective connections to Charles and Caroline Carson of Trenton, New Jersey. The couple lived in the area before and during the American Civil War. Then, Charles Carson disappeared from the family, while Caroline Carson continued to live in the area at least until 1881. I would later discover that Caroline lived in the south Trenton area as a widow for more than fifty years, until her death in 1915, but that is a story for another day.

On the other hand, Jean had compiled information from her own research and correspondence with several others who had shared family bible records, charts and photographs with her over the years. They had reached altogether different conclusions about the family history than I had, believing that our common ancestor was named Charles C. Carson, born September 1824, in either New Jersey or Indiana, died in 1896 in Washington Twp., Mercer Co., New Jersey, was buried in Cedar Hill Cemetery and that he was the son of Eli and Hannah Carson. I did not dispute that a man with this basic information may have existed. I simply did not believe that he was the father of my ancestor, Andrew Carson, b. 11 May 1855 or, by extension, his brother, Jean’s ancestor, Charles Henry Carson, b. 10 Sep 1852.

In those early days, we communicated with one another almost daily via email, sharing the latest tidbit of information that bolstered our respective pet theories about the identity of Charles Carson and his wife Caroline. The more research I did, the more certain I became that records belonging to another man or men named Charles Carson had been incorrectly linked to my Charles, who had likely died 24 May 1863, not as a casualty of the Civil War, but in Trenton, New Jersey following a sawmill accident. Now I just needed to prove my hypothesis.

Probate records survive for this time and place, so I consulted New Jersey Index of Wills, Inventories, Etc. where I found this entry among the Mercer County items:

     Carson, Charles, 1421K.  W. 1863. Inv. 1863.1

Decoding this told me that probate packet no. 1421 for Mercer Co., New Jersey existed as of 1901, and it contained both a will and an inventory from 1863. Bingo. My next task was to learn where the probate packet was in 2003. I did not have to look far for it.

It was late spring of that year when cousin Jean introduced me (via email) to another cousin, Mona Carson, also a descendant of Charles through his son Charles Henry Carson. I learned she already had a copy of the will which she mailed to me. I was on cloud nine, that is, until I actually saw and read it for myself. Confusion set in when I read that this man’s will was dated 28 May 1863. How could that be? My man had died four days earlier, so would not have been alive to have signed a will on that date. And, yet, this was the only probate file in Mercer County for a man named Charles Carson who died in 1863. What were the chances of two men with the same name, dying in the same month in the same county with one of them having a probate file and the other with no apparent surviving probate record? Of course, I knew it was theoretically possible, but what were the odds? There had to be another explanation for the four day discrepancy between the purported death date and the creation of this will.

carson-charles-1863-will-snippet-clerks-copy
A portion of the clerk’s copy of the will of Charles Carson, with the date 28 May 1863 emphasized. The right edge of the image shows this copy came from a book.

Analysis of this record revealed that this was the clerk’s copy of the will. It was not the original. When the will was brought into court to be probated, the clerk recorded what should have been a faithful copy into a register that stayed in the local office. Perhaps that was true here, but the only way to know for sure would be to obtain a copy of the original probate packet. After much discussion with said cousins about the meaning of this find, cousin Mona reached out to the New Jersey State Archives to see it they could locate the original will.

This is where my memory is a bit hazy and my “paper trail” runs out. All my email correspondence from this time is missing to cross-check the exact chain of events. Suffice it to say, cousin Mona was able to get a copy of both the original will and the estate inventory. She sent a photocopy of both items to me and to cousin Jean for our review and input. Although I was uncertain of the exact origin of the photocopies, this certainly looked more like what I expected to see, with what appeared to be original signatures, and even a fragment of blotting paper to cover an ink spill.

photocopy of original 1863 will of charles carsonBottom portion of the second copy of the Charles Carson will showing that it was drawn 23 May 1863, the day before his death. The will was proved 31 Jul 1863.

Clearly, the clerk simply recorded the date the will was written and witnessed incorrectly into his register. In the photocopy of the original shown above, the date reads: The 23d day of May AD 1863 — the day before Charles died. It may seem to be a small point, but the discrepancy had to be resolved if I was to meet professional genealogy standards.2

Now that I had determined that the date the will was drawn and proved aligned with the timeline I had established from other direct and indirect sources, I was able to move forward with a closer reading of the contents of the will.

The will was relatively brief. I imagine they hastily gathered witnesses and quickly had Charles Carson recite his wishes as to his earthly estate, suspecting he might succumb from his grievous injuries at any moment. In his will he made two provisions beyond the usual directive to discharge debts and funeral expenses. They were:

Item 1. “I give bequeath unto my beloved wife Caroline Carson the use of all my household Goods and furniture of every kind and description empowering her to distribute the same or any part thereof to such of my children as she shall Think proper…
Item 2. “I give and bequeath unto my wife Caroline Carson all the ballance of my Estate[.]”3,

Carson appointed his “loving friend” William G. Bergen, Esq. as his executor. John D. Rue, James Carson, and Henry C. Kittinger witnessed the will. It was unclear then, and frankly, is unclear now, whether this witness James Carson was his brother-in-law or possibly even a sibling or half-sibling. More research is needed to establish that connection with any certainty.

These facts can be gleaned from a careful reading of the will:
1.  Charles Carson stated he was a resident of the city of Trenton, New Jersey.
2.  He was a married man with a wife named Caroline Carson.
3.  Since he refers to “children” he clearly had more than one child living at the time, although he failed to give any of their names.
4. He apparently owned no real property, as the term bequeath refers only to personal property.

All facts align with my earlier hypothesis, and there are no discrepancies. Having the will and probate packet allows me to say definitively that my 3rd great-grandfather Charles Carson died after 23 May 1863 (will written) and before 31 Jul 1863 (will proved). However, due to the nature of his death, it was noted in the local newspaper and reportedly occurred 24 May 1863. Thus, online references to this Charles Carson with a death date of 1896 are false and trees with that information should only be used with healthy skepticism.

I wish to thank my cousins Jean and Mona here formally for their friendship, and for continuing to motivate me to solve the mystery surrounding the origins of our mutual ancestors, Charles and Caroline Carson of Trenton, New Jersey. 


1 New Jersey. Department of State. Index of wills, inventories, etc. in the Office of the Secretary of State prior to 1901, vol. 2. (Trenton, 1913), p. 780.
2 For an excellent overview of some of these standards see Judy Kellar Fox, “Ten-Minute Methodology: “Reasonably Exhaustive”—How Do We Know We’re There?,” Board for Certification of Genealogists SpringBoard (http://bcgcertification.org/blog/2015/09/10-minute-methodology-reasonably-exhaustive-how-do-we-know-were-there/) : posted 17 Sep 2015.
3Mercer County, New Jersey, probate file 1421K, Charles Carson; “Wills and Inventories ca. 1670-1900” roll no. 826, New Jersey State Archives, Trenton. A photocopy of the original will was supplied by Mona Carson [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE], to Dawn Bingaman, Renton, WA, 2003.

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.”