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Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Writing About Someone You Don't Know, But Wish You Did

I have taken an inventory of burials at a local cemetery with the help of a few friends.   There were some mysteries that I had encountered along the way.  For instance, there was a tombstone issued by the United States government at the plot of a Civil War soldier, who was interred in the "single grave" section of the cemetery.  It was the only one of this type in this cemetery.

Thomas Nelson, a deceased veteran, was laid to rest alongside some of the older burials, and in the area of the only African American persons interred there.  Mr. Nelson was a black man who served our nation in the United States Union  Army, finishing his service with a rank of Corporal.  Here is photo of his stone :

My question is : Why is this man buried here in a cemetery in northern Illinois?  This is a predominantly white populated area, and has been since the 1840s.  Why is it that this man has no family buried near him?  How did he get here?  What is his story?

My quest is to find his military service records, find his family, and learn more about this "lone soldier" laid  in the back area of a very old cemetery.  I have found his service records from Fold3 at www.fold3.com.
  • Company F, 18 Regiment, U.S. Colored Infantry
  • Enlisted at Janesville, Wisconsin, at the age of 26 on August 17, 1864
  • He was 5' 8 1/2" tall, with black complexion, black eyes and black hair
  • born in Alabama
  • occupation : Laborer


  I have found a few census records noting his occupation as a laborer, living in the nearby town with a wife and children.  Noting that he was born in Alabama, I will have to search those records, in addition to marriage records, births of his children, and the death of his wife.  

But, as we all know, moving backward in time is the best way to chart the life of an individual.  So, I looked at the burial log of the cemetery and found the notation of Mr. Nelson.  The lot had been purchased by his wife, with a notation that the next lot was to be reserved for Mrs. Nelson.  It also gave the name of the undertakers and date of death, his age,  as well as his cause of death. He is the first name on this page of interments.
  • died 17 January 1911, burial 20 January 1911
  • cause : Organic disease of the heart
  • age : about 85
  • undertaker : Fredricks & Pfeifer


Not long ago, I found Mrs. Nelson's death in Wisconsin.  She had been living with one of her children at the time of her death.

My final goal : To learn about the life of this African-American man, Corp. Thomas Nelson, who is buried in a single grave, with no relatives interred nearby.  Somehow, I feel that there is a very interesting story to be told about Mr. Nelson.  When I have uncovered his past I will be sharing his story with all of you.

Go out and find someone that seems to have a mystery about them.  Research them and get to know them.  Then, share it with others.  Imagine how many new stories we can reveal.

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