Give Your Civil War Research a Little Love

I’m so excited to be writing for Going In-Depth again! I can’t wait to share researching ideas and tips in my new monthly column Blue and Gray Trails. I want to encourage you to give your Civil War research a little love and attention, but first let me introduce myself. I’m Cindy Freed one of the original writers when the magazine launched several years ago. Tracing Blue and Gray, was the monthly column I wrote and it explained research methods for tracking your Civil War ancestors. My book, Ancestors In A Nation Divided, was a result of those years with IDG. It was a fantastic experience and I loved every moment of it! But I started to feel I needed a little time off from the monthly columns and blogs posts. So I took a sabbatical from writing.

This is me - Cindy Freed Photo credit: Jen Danner

Now during that writing break I thought I'd move away from Civil War research, you know, branch out into different genealogy research directions. The crazy thing was the more I resisted, the more I tried to move away from it, I was pulled right back to my Civil War researching roots! Of course it took me awhile to see all this but I finally did and here I am writing again for IDG!

Now how did I get started in Civil War genealogy research in the first place? I sort of happened on to it. It began when my husband and I made a side stop in Gettysburg, PA. while on my birthday vacation one year. (Doesn't everyone take a birthday vacation?) Gettysburg was a last minute addition to our itinerary. As we toured the battlefield I was bowled over. When we stopped at the Wheatfield, Devil's Den, the Peach Orchard, something came over me. I could feel it, the fervor, the loyalty these soldier's had for their cause, both Confederate and Union. The emotion I felt as I stood on Cemetery Ridge and envisioned Pickett’s Charge unfolding before me was indescribable. Chills ran up my arms.

Those 48 hours we spent in Gettysburg was not enough. I needed to know more about the Civil War and the guys who fought it. I’ve read many books and researched many soldiers since then. I've spent a lot of time researching my direct ancestor, my great great grandfather George W. Lowery. His life has a couple remarkable stories that didn't get passed down through our family, but since I've found those stories again, they'll be passed on now.

Gettysburg National Military Park Pennsylvania Photo credit: Cindy Freed

I’ve also found my first cousins, 4x removed, brothers James and George Van Meter. They have remarkable stories too. Their lives were filled with marriage, divorce, illness, death. Sadly both men died during the war. In fact there's a special place in my heart for James Van Meter. As I mentioned he died during the Civil War. James never married or had children. He was long forgotten, without direct descendants, but through research I've been able to piece together James' life and his sacrifice. James' contribution during this important time in U.S. history is no longer forgotten, it’s no longer unknown.

All of these soldier's stories were lost to history but not any more. With research and some persistence I unearthed them and have written about them on my blog. That’s a real source of pleasure for me – knowing Civil War soldiers and their fight haven’t slipped through the pages of time.

That's where my new column for Going In-Depth comes in! It'll be called Blue and Gray Trails. We'll continue researching our Civil War ancestors, giving them their rightful place in our country's history but more importantly their place in our family's history. For those family historians who have done little or no research on a Civil War ancestor we'll start from the beginning. We'll get those names, companies, regiments and battles documented. We'll take the process step-by-step searching for any and all snippets of information that can help us learn more about our ancestor. We'll follow that information trail he has left for us.

For the advanced researcher we'll look further into our soldier's daily life. From his days at home prior to enlistment or draft, to his military life once he mustered in. We'll research his job within his company, what he experienced, what he wore, ate and all the records that hold that information. No longer will our ancestors be a page of dates and bare facts. Our research will breathe life, their life into that accumulated information.

For those interested in some intense Civil War research I'm excited to launch a study of our ancestor's company/regiment much like a One-Place Study. We'll delve into the lives of the soldiers surrounding our veterans. Building a base of information about our soldier from the men he lived and fought alongside, really looking into our guy's place among that brotherhood of men.

We'll explore your veteran's post war life. Many veterans were plagued with war injuries the rest of their days. Some suffered with PTSD but no one knew what that was back then. We'll investigate the records that will reveal this information to us. Through our research our Civil War veteran ancestors will again become the real life individuals they were, heroic yet fallible men who rose to the momentous historic event presented to them during their lifetime.

Now that's a lot to tackle but we'll do it monthly, in my column, Blue and Gray Trails, found only in IDG's Going In-Depth magazine. Each article will take one aspect of Civil War research and present it thoroughly so you can immediately get to work researching your own ancestors. Also these tips aren't just for your Union Civil War ancestor either. Much of the information presented will help both the Confederate and Union researcher. When Confederate records vary from Union records that will be outlined in each column. You'll have a clear path to finding the Confederate records you need. Many of us have ancestors who fought on both sides of the war, so we'll be switching back and forth between ancestors and using all record sets available.

I look forward to all of us following the Blue and Gray Trails our Civil War ancestors left for us. We'll do it together starting with my debut column in the March 2017 issue of Going In-Depth. So you then!

Cindy Freed

About Cindy Freed

Cindy Freed is a genealogist, researcher and writer. Her blog Genealogy Circle ( documents her personal family research as well as her continuing interest in the Civil War. Along with her monthly IDG column, Tracing Blue and Gray, Cindy is a regular contributor to 4th Ohio, First Call quarterly magazine for the 4th Ohio Volunteer Cavalry Descendants Association.

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