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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Ancestral Hometown Cousins : They Share Your Ancestral History

I belong to a group of persons that share my ancestral history....the Termini-Imerese genealogy research group.

Around 2003, I received an email message from a cousin that I had never met before that time.  The message explained that they had seen a post that I placed on a genealogy website, asking if anyone had information about the history of my family.  It invited me to view a website that focused on the ancestry and civil records of my ancestral hometown. was started by a distant cousin.  They had begun to transcribe civil records which had been photographed by the Latter Day Saints and placed on microfilm to save for all posterity.  The LDS does this for almost every state, county, town, village and church where they are allowed to photograph records.  Their family history library in Salt Lake City holds filmed and published records of all kinds.  The best part is that these can be viewed for free at

Since that day in 2003, I have been able to take my family history search back to the 1700s.  But, most importantly, I have met so many persons that share my ancestry.  Our families connect back to the town of Termini-Imerese, in the Palermo province on the island of Sicily.  We are all cousins to varying degrees.  We are family.

Every year this growing group of relatives meet in a venue hosted by one of more of the club members.  We share our newly found records, compare our family trees, find family connections to each other and share a few meals.  Most places have an area where Italian immigrants had established themselves.  We visit their businesses and restaurants.  We visit their libraries and museums.  We connect with the community and the people.  It's just four days of meeting and greeting.  And, it's our time of reaffirming our friendships  and family connections.

I want to encourage everyone to learn about your family before you leave this earth.  It is a very humbling task.  You will learn about the people who paved the way for you to live your life.  They worked, suffered, loved, lived and died.  Their stories become a part of you.  Imagine yourself living in the past.  Would you have made the same decisions that they did?  Would you have been able to navigate the uncertainty in their lives?  As you learn about these ancestors, you will formulate their stories.  It's not fiction.  It's real.

Share your stories with your family members.  They will be listening to every word, just as if you were reading them a storybook.  Somehow, it makes a person stand up straighter and have some pride in who they are.  Ancestors have a way of doing that to you.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Thomas Young : Finding His History Among Land Warrants

I have found, with much success on  Internet sources, the histories of most of my husband's ancestry.  However, my research came to a halt when it came to focusing on Thomas Young.  Most of the census information that I had collected showed that he was born in Tennessee about the year 1797, plus or minus 5 years.  However, I have not been able to find the confirmation of his wife's maiden name, place of marriage, or his whereabouts prior to 1830, when he was listed as a resident of Illinois.

Noting that he may have been in the age brackets of those who served in the War of 1812, I decided to browse the roles of records on the website. As you can imagine, the name of Thomas Young was quite common.  How was I to find the correct Thomas, if indeed he served in the  War of 1812?

Shifting my thought process a bit, I decided to look into the Federal Land Warrants that were issued to veterans as payment for their service during the conflict.  Once again, I found the name Thomas Young to be very common.  But, I knew that he lived in Illinois in the late 1820s, as his oldest son was mentioned as having been born in the state.  So, let's check the land warrants that were issued to Thomas Young in Illinois. The Bureau of Land Management websites have this information.  There is a link to this information from  the Secretary of State of Illinois website,

Bingo!  I found Thomas Young as having land warrant papers in Adams County, Illinois.  On the warrants, it lists what type of service he had completed, including the company that he served.

www.cyberdriveillinois,com,  Land Patents, Vol 150 page 213

This land warrant tells that Thomas Young served as a private in Reed's Company in the Corp of Artillery.  It is dated at the bottom of the page as October 1817.

There was yet another land warrant patent under his name, also in Adams County, Illinois, dated 1819.  So, now we know where he was hanging out at that time.  

Later on, I found several land patents that told Thomas Young had land from the Federal Government in  Schuyler County, during the 1840s.  This is the location where the bulk of information has centered on Thomas Young and his family.  

The National Archives has a few search features which allow you to search for the various units in the Tennessee Volunteer Militia for the War of 1812.  Finding Capt. James Reed, 2nd Regiment, West Tennessee Volunteers, Artillery Unit......Now I know even more.

Taking the information from the land warrant, and the unit information from the National Archives, and knowing that Thomas Young served in the artillery, Reed's Company, we go back to  We have more information about him so that we can narrow which Thomas Young he was.  image from the War of 1812 Record Index
We know a little more about Thomas Young with this research of his service during the War of 1812 and his land ownership in Illinois.  This give us many more clues to follow to find out more about him.  His pension files are at the National Archives.  Since his surname begins with Y, it may be a while before they digitize his paperwork and post it online.  Meanwhile, I know that he was around western Illinois during his young adult life after his military service.  I can go back to the census of Illinois and the Federal Government to find him as a land owner before 1830.

And that's a lot more than I knew before today.  Progress!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Browsing the Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society : What is the Oldest Town in Illinois?

Have you ever read some old journals of historical societies?  The Oak Brook Heritage Center, located in the Old Butler School in Oak Brook, Illinois, houses the Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society in their research library.  The Oak Brook Historical Society oversees this research library, which contains over one hundred reference materials that cover local, county and state history subjects.

I love to browse through these state journals.  They contain so many interesting articles about people, places and events of Illinois.  Recently I browsed Volume XXX covering  April, 1937 through January, 1938.  This volume contains fourteen articles, historical notes and historical news of Illinois.

Reading about "firsts" in history is a passion of mine.  I was happy to find a Historical Notes article about the oldest town in Illinois.  I knew that southern Illinois was inhabited by the white man earlier than other areas of the states.  Guessing that perhaps Shawneetown, Kaskaskia, Cahokia or nearby areas were the first inhabited, I found that I was wrong, according to this article.

Prairie Du Rocher is claimed to take the honor, according to Dr. H. K. Croessmann of DuQuoin.  He claims that this little town is at the foot of the Illinios bluffs and has been there since 1722. Who knew?  I did a little exploring for myself to see exactly how old Prairie Du Rocher really is.  Using Google, I find the Prairie Du Rocher Chamber of Commerce website where they have posted a nice timeline of the history of the town :
Beginning in 1719, according to this timeline, a convoy of canoes bring persons to the area, and a fort (Fort Chartres) is established. It became a military and government command center.  I'd say that is proof of being inhabited at that time. According to The Jesuit Missions of the Illinois Country, 1673-1763, the ISHS quotes that it has the most accurate account of the founding of this village....a Randolph County atlas notes the town as being founded in 1722, incorporated in 1725.  In an article written in  The Messenger, of Randolph County, some families were living there as early as 1722, and the official founding date of the village at 1733.  Land was granted to Boisbriant in 1720, who is mentioned in the timetable above.  

Well, of course there is going to be a dispute about what is the earliest known town in Illinois.  I would be disappointed if there wasn't a dispute.  The ISHS article finds that Cahokia is mentioned as being established in 1699.  It was a scattered village and small. The area was explored by early French explorers.  Missionary priests came into the area and tried to convert some of the Indians to Christianity.  The Church of the Holy Family was erected in 1696 by the Seminary of Foreign Missions of Quebec.  It was replaced by this church building in 1799:

Church of the Holy Family, erected 1799.

Even though the Cahokia Indians were established in the area for over hundreds of years, does this make Cahokia the oldest town in Illinois?  I guess it makes a good question as to what defines a town. Cahokia was the county seat of St. Clair County (the oldest county in Illinois) until the seat was moved to Belleville, Illinois in 1814.  

  Kaskaskia is also mentioned in some Illinois memoirs as having been founded in 1703, and existed until the Mississippi River changed course and destroyed it.  Kaskaskia was an important shipping point on the river. French fur traders inhabited the area, and it was a starting point for those who decided to explore westward.  It was also named the first capital of the Illinois territory.  But was the fur trading camp of 1703 the first town of Illinois?  I suppose it is a matter of opinion.  What defines a town?  

Mather, Irwin F. (1900). The Making of Illinois. Chicago: A. Flanagan Co. p. 196. Photographer unknown. This copy retrieved from archives housed at the Skinner House in Griggsville, Illinois

Then there is Chicago, known as Checagou in early times.  Milo M. Quaife authored a text, Checagou, where he examines the identities of early explorers that had passed through, and briefly stayed in the area of what is now Chicago, Illinois.  Various explorers have kept notes on their experiences when in the Chicago area from 1674 to the early 1800s.  But no one is considered a permanent settler until Jean Baptiste Point du Sable came in 1784.  He traded with the Indians of the area and lived his life as the first non-Indian resident of the area. He sold his land and moved to St. Charles, Missouri where he died in 1818. There are no known photos of Du Sable or his home.  Only depictions of his likeness and sketches of what his cabin may have looked like can be found.   But, does his encampment fit the description of a town?  What defines a town?  

Finally, the ISHS article examines the town of Peoria, Illinois.  According to the Peoria Historical Society briefs, the town was settled in 1680 when La Salle built Fort Crevecoeur.  But the fort only lasted a few months, then it burned.  Peoria Lake was inhabited by Frenchmen.  They followed the Indians of the area when they shifted to hunting and fishing grounds.  Missionary priests are said to have lived among the Peoria Indians along the Illinois River.  Most of the Frenchmen left the area by 1817, just before the territory became a state in 1818. Fort St. Louis was built in 1691 to replace the burned fort.  Europeans inhabited the area around the fort, and was considered the first European settlement in Illinois.  Was this considered the first town of Illinois?  What defines a town?

The articles comes to it's conclusion....What was the oldest town in Illinois?  It is a matter of definition.  Kaskaskia can be eliminated if you are looking for a town that is in existence today.  If your definition of a town is a compact village with close dwellings, a few stores, a post office....then Cahokia can be ruled out.  If the history of the town must be continuous, literally, Chicago and Peoria must not be contenders.  Prairie Du'Rocher, in that case gets the title of first town of Illinois.  However, the article states, if the community was continuous, liberally, then Peoria would be mentioned as the first town of Illinois.  

So, What is the definition of a town?  Read more on the subject, and come to your own conclusion.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

The Civil War Pension Papers of Owen Young of Schuyler County

Several months ago, I wrote about Gilmer Young, who died in the Battle of Wilson's Creek in Missouri during the Civil War.  Recently, I stumbled upon the pension papers of his brother, Owen Young, who also served his country during the Civil War.  Unfortunately, Owen, like his brother Gilmer, did not return home alive.  He passed away in a military hospital camp in Brownsville, Texas.

Owen's  pension packet consists of about 34 pages. There are some very good pieces of information about Owen and his family in this packet. has many pension packets digitized on their website.

What can you find in a pension packet?  Well, for one thing, if a soldier was married, there would be some proof of that marriage in the packet contents.  Here's the certificate of marriage for Owen and his wife, Mandana Blodget, along with a certification from the Clerk of the County, which was officiated by Peter Vance, J.P. of Schuyler County :

certification of  marriage for Owen Young WC122477 Page 11 Civil War Widows Pensions at
State of Illinois Marriage Certificate included in the pension packet for Owen Young,

There is a statement from the commanding officer of Owen Young's unit, Company K, 28th Illinois Volunteers.  It was written at the Army offices in St. Louis, Missouri, stating the circumstances of Private Young's illness and death.  Apparently he suffered from Flux and Typhoid, which was hindered by his home sickness.....being hospitalized in the military hospital in Texas where he eventually passed away....

Page 21 Owen Young, Civil War Widows Pension File,

There is also a short note from the Surgeon General that testifies that Owen Young, of the Illinois Volunteers,  passed away on the 29th of August, 1865 in Brownsville, Texas, of Flux and Typhoid.

War Department, Surgeon General, Owen Young Civil War Pension File, page 8,

additional note from the Adjutant General's Office, Washington, D.C., 1866, states that Owen died on Sept. 1.

Paging further into the packet contents, I find notes about the only surviving heirs to Owen Young...two children.  What happened to his wife, Mandana?  She passed away in1866, less than a year after her husband, Owen, left this earth.  So sad.  So, what happens to the children?  Well, apparently their grandfather, Harvey Blodget (father of Mandana) assumed responsibility for the tots.  He was appointed the guardian for the children.  Read on to see what papers had to be filed for these children to receive some monetary assistance from their father's military pension....

Declaration of Minor Children for Pension, filed by Harvey Blodget, Owen Young Civil War Pension file, page 5

Now this is even more interesting....note that Harvey states that Owen died in August of 1865, which has already been established, and further states that his wife is no longer living....but added in the lines "again married George Whitehead in March 1866" and she died on the 17th of June, 1866.  She probably never received a widow's pension....maybe she applied, but instead was remarried.  How sad that she died only months after being married to Mr. Whitehead.  

A statement from Dr. Benjamin Walton accounts  for his assistance with the birth of her children, Lovina and Thomas B. Young, and that he is aware of the death of Owen, and the appointment of Harvey Blodget as the guardian of the children.

The children are identified as being the only legitimate offspring of Owen, and their vital information is stated as follows : Lovina Young,  born on the 13th day of March 1858, and Thomas B. Young, born on the 24th day of October 1860, Harvey also concurs that the parents of these children were married on the 3rd of April 1857 in Schuyler County, by Peter Vance, JP.  He also replied that he did not aid or abet the rebellion of the United States.  Two witnesses, John Phelps and Hiram Geer, signed off on the document as being "intimate acquaintances for the last ten years"  of Owen Young, the deceased soldier, and know of no other children belonging to him.

Claim for Minor Pension, Owen Young Civil War Pension File, page 3,

I am not sure why Quincy is hand written at the top of the page, but perhaps that was the closest Army Pension office at the time.  Nevertheless, the children were approved for support from their father's pension.  Lovina Young and Thomas B. Young were to receive Two Dollars per month, until they each reach the age of 16 years.  Lovina's benefit will last her until March 12 of 1874.  Thomas B. will collect his benefit until October 23 of 1876.  The above document restates all of the evidence previously submitted to support the claim for pension assistance.  Harvey Blodget will be issued the usual Eight Dollars per month, covering Sept. 2, 1865 until October 23, 1876, as was the common widow's claim amount, and the children's pension would also be paid out to Harvey, commencing July 23, 1866,  so that he may look after his grandchildren until their 16th birthdays.  

Well, there you  have it.  Quite a story, sad as it is.  A father goes to war, gets ill while in  the service of his country, and dies.  His widow, left with two children ages 7 years and 5 years, remarries just 6 months later, and then she dies three months after that.  Her two school-aged children are taken in by their grandfather.  He applies for the pension benefits of his son-in-law to support the children.  Pension benefits only last until the 16th birthday of each child.  Hopefully they lived happily with their grandfather.  And, hopefully, they heard of their father's bravery and sacrifice during the Civil War, which took the lives of so many husbands and fathers.  

I think I will do a bit more research, and find out what Lovina and Thomas did with their lives.  

Meanwhile, if you have any family members that were participants in the Civil War, I hope that I have inspired you to look into their service and pension files.  Discover the family stories that aren't told in vital records alone. 

Monday, September 1, 2014

The 1909 Cherry Mine Disaster in Illinois

Dedication of the Cherry Mine Monument
I have been reading a book by Karen Tintori entitled Trapped, The 1909 Cherry Mine Disaster.  Love it.

Karen tells the story of a tragic event in the fall of 1909.  Four hundred and eighty men went into the mine as was their usual jobs. Recent immigrants filled the employee roles....some from Italy, Germany, Sweden, etc.  But one afternoon a small fire began up top at one of the openings, and later burned out of control.  More than half of the mine workers would be burned to death or buried alive.

Officials had a very hard time containing the flames, and they had to cover the mine openings in hopes of smothering the flames down below.  When finally opened various attempts to save the lives of those that they hoped were still alive were made.  So many bodies were recovered, including the carcasses of the donkeys used to pull cart loads of coal on underground tracks.

Twenty men were finally rescued, against all odds.  They survived by sheer will, a few drops of water that came trickling down the shaft walls, and chewing on the leather of their shoes.

This was one of the worst coal mine disasters in United States history. Since this event, workers compensation laws were changed, as well as child labor practices in the coal business.

Karen used diaries, letters and hand-written accounts of people with firsthand knowledge of the terrible event to describe, in detail, the lives of those who lived through this horrific event.

Why did she write this story?  Her grandfather survived the Cherry Mine disaster.  She has a very personal tie to the event.  I am sure that her grandfather looks down on her with great pride and admiration.

If you are looking for a good historical read, I highly recommend this book.  Good job, Karen.

bringing the surviving men to the surface

historical marker for the Cherry Mine Disaster