Friday, May 11, 2012

Honoring Our Civil War Ancestors with the Grand Army of the Republic

I used to love Memorial Day, because I got the day off of school.  Then I grew bitter towards Memorial Day, because my kids got the day off of school.  Only recently did I learn the origin and true spirit behind Memorial Day.  Now as a lover of history and genealogy , I am learning a greater admiration and understanding of Memorial Day, its founders, and the military men and women it honors.

The day we now know as Memorial Day was started in 1868 by the Grand Army of the Republic.  The Grand Army of the Republic was a fraternal organization of Union Civil War veterans established in 1866.  It was then known as "Decoration Day", and was begun "for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in the defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet churchyard in the land.”  Today, of course, we take this opportunity to honor all veterans who fought for our country.

A few days ago I had no idea what the Grand Army of the Republic was.  I was haphazardly searching through tidbits of William's life when I came across a phrase in his obituary that caught my attention.

Philadelphia Inquirer 13 Aug 1910

As Philadelphia death notices go, this one is a goldmine.  Many only contain the death date and funeral services.  From this one obituary I already know:

  • William died 12 Aug 1910 in Philadelphia
  • He had a son named William
  • His wife was named Catherine
  • He was 86, therefore born circa 1824
  • He lived at 1230 Olive (good info for comparing to the census or checking Google Earth)
  • He is buried at Mount Moriah Cemetery in Philadelphia
But... what the heck is "E D Baker Post No 8" or "118 Corn Exchange"???  At first I looked past this information, and what a HUGE mistake that was.  We'll skip the Corn Exchange for now, but some well placed Google searching would have given me years worth of continued research in about 5 minutes... there will be many, many posts on this blog to follow up that cryptic statement.

Ok, so here was my less than 5 minute discovery process, using Google.  
  • About 2 weeks ago I decided to Google "E D Baker Post No 8 Philadelphia" and see what came up.  The 1st link on the results page was this one.  It seemed unhelpful at first, being just an index of many similar phrases, but the title of the page was "Grand Army of the Republic."  
  • When I turned around and Googled that (my spell check says "Googled" isn't a word, but surely that can't be true), the 1st hit was the wikipedia article which  told me EXACTLY what I needed to know.  
  • I finally searched "Grand Army of the Republic genealogy Pennsylvania".  Which brought me to a wonderful article from the Every Name Index Blog.  
  • From  this article I followed links to the webpages of the GAR Museum and Library in Philadelphia and Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, which is the derivative organization that is still accepting members.
*Whew*  There are an incredible number of possible ways to follow up on this, all stemming from a small piece of information that I initially overlooked.  

And so, on this Memorial Day, let us all strive to leave no genealogical stone un-turned 
                 ...and no veteran's grave un-decorated.

God Bless Our Veterans!

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