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.


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

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,, GenForum: Kansas Genealogy Forum (  : accessed 16 Nov 2002), message 12392.

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

3 “1880 United States Census Household Record,” database, FamilySearch ( 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 ( : accessed 11 Jun 2003). This website was located using the Wayback Machine and can be viewed today at this link:
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.”

Using the Wayback Machine

Locating, a website which has “vanished” from the Internet

Afrolumens Project by George Nagle

Header image from the Afrolumens Project: Central Pennsylvania’s Journey from Slavery to Freedom

Now that Pennsylvania probate records have been made available online, it has rekindled my interest in tracking my Bigham and Richey lines from Drumore Twp., Lancaster Co., Pennsylvania.

One thing I wanted to investigate further was information previously uncovered: both the Bigham and the Richey families of Lancaster County were slaveholders in the latter part of the 18th century. A note in my database reminded me that I had acquired this information from the Afrolumens Project, a website by George F. Nagle. This fantastic site once documented information on slavery in the state of Pennsylvania. Information previously obtained from had been transcribed data. Now I wanted to learn whether images of original documents had been posted online in the interim.

So, I typed in the URL (Uniform Resource Locator, i.e. web address) for the site into my Google Chrome browser and immediately noted a problem. The site couldn’t be found at
Other sites were still referencing Afrolumens, but nothing came up from Afrolumens. A little more sleuthing indicated that the site had been taken offline late 2007. How could that be? My research log indicated I had last accessed the site in November 2010. Even more sleuthing indicated the site went back online some time in 2009. Regardless, it was clearly unavailable today. That’s when I remembered something called the “Wayback Machine”.

The Wayback Machine is one part of the Internet Archive, a non-profit entity established in 1996 to build an Internet library. One of its stated goals is ‘to prevent the Internet…and other “born digital” materials from disappearing into the past’.1 One way it does that is by making cached copies of crawled web pages available via the Wayback Machine. As of today, more than 150 billion web pages have been archived.2

While the Wayback Machine is an invaluable tool to assist in locating websites that are no longer available, it is not a complete snapshot of every page on every website from 1996 to the present. From the FAQ, it seems that there are four criteria which must be met before a website will appear in the Wayback Machine archive.

1.  The site must be publicly available (i.e. no user login required);
2.  The site must have been online a minimum of six months;
3.  The site must be well-linked to from other sites;
4.  Robots.txt must not exclude crawlers from indexing the site’s content.3

Another caveat to using the site is that it is not keyword searchable. You must know the URL to navigate the Wayback Machine at present. With that aside, let’s search for an archived copy of the Afrolumens website.

First, navigate to the Internet Archive website using your favorite web browser. Your result will look something like this:

Internet Archive Main Page

The web page is a bit busy, but you’ll find the Wayback Machine near the top, in the middle of the window.

Wayback Machine

Now, we’ll type in the last known URL for the Afrolumens site:

This is our result showing that the website was crawled by the Wayback Machine 103 times between 2002 and 2011. A calendar is displayed with the last year the site was crawled displayed first, in this case 2011. The selected year is shown in yellow on the timeline strip near the top of the screen. Each of the blue circles on the calendar below the timeline represents a website snapshot.

Afrolumens Crawls in 2011

Click on a blue circle to bring up the cached version of the website as it existed on that date. Here’s what the Afrolumens main page looked like on 22 Jul 2011:

Cached page for the Afrolumens Project

From here, you can navigate to other available cached pages by clicking the arrows, or by placing your cursor directly in the timeline strip. However, I’m interested in learning whether images were ever uploaded to the “Slavery in Pennsylvania” section of the site, so that’s where I’ll go next. This is the resulting page:

Cached Afrolumens Project page for slavery in Pennsylvania
Note that as we get deeper into the Afrolumens site hierarchy, there are less snapshots. This part of the site was only crawled 65 times, and this 25 Nov 2010 snapshot represents the last time this part of the the site was archived by the Wayback Machine. You’ll also note that some of the images are missing (probably linked to from another site). I’m interested in drilling down to Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, so I need to click County index.

Cached Afrolumens Project page for Slavery County Index

I continue to explore the archived site, but by this time it is apparent that no images of original records have been uploaded, as this cached image dates to the same time when I last visited the site and recorded the results of that search in my research log made in November 2010.

What sites will you explore using the Wayback Machine?


1 Internet Archive >About IA: ( : last accessed 03 Jul 2012).
2 ( : last accessed 03 Jul 2012).
3 Internet Archive FAQ > ( : last accessed 03 Jul 2012)