Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Walking the Sunken Road

As we walked the "Sunken Road" beside the stone wall at Fredericksburg,  I surveyed the field below. I could envision in my mind's eye  the brutal battle scene often portrayed in Civil War documentaries and movies.  But the field, once war torn, showed few scars and instead stood peaceful and serene.  It felt surreal to actually be there and to stand on the very site where so many men had lost their lives.


Present day "sunken road" and the rock wall

My husband and I had traveled to Richmond, Virginia to attend the National Genealogy Society's 2014 Conference.  Afterwards, we visited a few of the many historical sites in the area, including the battlefield at Fredericksburg, Virginia.  While I loved knowing that at one time, my ancestors had been there, I hated knowing why.


Our visit was in May and as is typical for the season, the air was warm and humid.  A few songbirds sang in the trees surrounding the fields, but otherwise the air was still and quiet,  a sharp contrast to December of 1862.  That December, as troops converged on the battlefield, the bitter cold, snow and mud added to the misery of the war.  While cannon balls took out lines of men,  bullets riddled the smoke filled air,  killing many who courageously fought, and yet they were not the only enemy.  Lack of good food, few tents and a shortage of blankets, along with rampant disease and inadequate medical care,
took the lives of many.

Gallant Charge of Humphrey's Division
at the Battle of Fredericksburg
Library of Congress

David Ganus, Burton Cook and James Blackmon were all at Fredericksburg.  David Ganus was born in 1836 in Fayette County, Georgia to James (Gur)Ganus and Elizabeth McCluskey.  David was a younger brother to my 3rd great grandfather, John Monroe Ganus. Burton Cook was married to David and John's oldest sister, Mary, and James Blackmon was married to their sister, Margaret.  David, Burton and James were among the thousands of Confederate soldiers present for the historic battle at Fredericksburg.

Cobb's and Kershaw's Troops
behind the stone wall
Library of Congress



As I paused to read the historical markers, I felt a flood of emotion as I imagined David, Burton and James, standing shoulder to shoulder with each other, their neighbors and friends. Given the number of soldiers there,  it is doubtful that David was even aware of the presence of other more distant relatives, such as Florida cousins, Willis and Moses Gurganus.   As regiments from multiple counties and states joined together at the various battles, brothers, uncles, cousins, sons and fathers all fought, sometimes side by side and sometimes on opposing sides




Part of the original rock wall today,  built by Confederate Soldiers

I was grateful that we practically had the park to ourselves that day because I wanted to feel and to think, without the distractions of a noisy crowd.  I wanted to reflect on what I knew about the men that I have researched and grown to love and to pay honor to them as I walked along the road where they had once been. As we walked along the Sunken Road behind the rock wall and at the base of Marye's Heights,  I felt a solemn reverence for the significance of that site,  as it had offered significant protection from the oncoming Union troops.  According to "The Dorman-Marshbourne Letters" by John W. Lynch, the Georgia 53rd was posted on the road below Marye's Heights on December 14th and 15th of 1862.

Luckily David, Burton and James all survived the battle at Fredericksburg, but David developed pneumonia and a few weeks later he was sent to Winder Hospital in Richmond.  With that,  I knew where our next stop would be.

Copyright © Michelle G. Taggart 2014

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Richmond Bound

While I may have grown up far from my Southern roots, I nonetheless feel a deep connection to everything Southern.

I have Southerners on both my mother's and father's side and, although I have ancestors from many parts of the US, and of course ancestors that came from other countries, it's my Southern lines that I seem to be drawn to the most.  I love learning about my ancestors and I enjoy the "genealogy scenery" along the way, meaning I love to learn about their culture, their traditions, their lifestyle and their history.  So when the National Genealogy Society announced that their conference for 2014 would be held in Richmond, I was thrilled. 

Now, as of yet, my research hasn't actually taken me directly into Virginia.....and notice I said, yet. Having folks in North Carolina at the beginning of the 18th century, I suspect it is just a matter of time before I find myself digging through Virginia records.  But in the meantime, having ancestors that fought in the Civil War, I nonetheless have connections to Virginia, although it definitely lacks some of the warm and fuzzy feelings associated with seeing something like an ancestral home. 

My 2nd Great Grandfather's brother, David Ganus, whom I wrote about in a previous post, died from exposure in December of 1862 in Virginia and was buried in Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, VA. Although he lies in a mass grave, they do know the lot where he is buried and I do have plans to visit there.

Richmond Destruction
Wikimedia Commons
David Gurganus Jr. was a brother to my 3rd Great Grandfather, James (Gur) Ganus.  I shared David's story in this post. David and wife Elizabeth watched all three of their sons go off to war.  Willis, Moses and David all fought for the rebel cause and, of the three, only one survived and returned home.  Civil war records indicate only that Willis was buried in "Virginia." While I wish the records were more specific, knowing that he was there will have to be enough.  

My tree is full of rebs that volunteered from their home states of Georgia, Florida,  Alabama, Tennessee and both North and South Carolina. While none of them actually were from Virginia, Virginia nonetheless played a significant role in many of my ancestor's lives.  Not only did many participate in the bloody battles that took place in Virginia, but I have several who lost their lives and were buried there.  

The NGS Conference promises to be worthwhile with some of the best presenters genealogy has to offer and I am so excited.  The trip will not only be an opportunity to learn from some of the best, but it will also be a time to visit historical sites that played an important role in my ancestors' lives.  I look forward to sharing my adventure with you in the coming weeks.   

Copyright © Michelle G. Taggart 2014

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Alone, but Not Forgotten

By all appearances, he was alone.  While there are some experiences that must be faced alone, its when we face the critical crossroads of life that we generally hope that someone will be there beside us, helping us to take that next crucial step.  Such is the case with death and so it pains me to think that as Sanford Rainwater approached his final threshold,  no one was there to help ease him across.  No one wants to die alone.

While I do not know his full story or if even the story I think that I see is accurate, I will share what little I have found about Sanford Rainwater, with the hopes that maybe someone else has a puzzle piece or two that they can share to help complete the picture.

Sanford Rainwater was my first cousin 3 times removed, which in ways doesn't sound very distant and yet, the distance is significant enough that I have no personal knowledge of him at all.  

As I learned about him,  there were several things that troubled me, but it was his death certificate that bothered me the most.  With just enough detail to help me determine that it was indeed "him,"  it was the following information on the certificate, or should I say, lack of information, that really tugged at my heart. 

Sanford Rainwater

Seeing "not known" beside birthplace and even beside "name of father" and "maiden name" of mother is really not that unusual,  but seeing the word "none" for his informant was heart wrenching to me. Was there really no one living nearby that knew him well enough to provide information for the death certificate?  Was there no one that could provide some of the most basic facts of his life?  Was he really that alone?  Other records seemed to confirm that he had been alone for some time.

Sanford Rainwater was the oldest of two children born to John and Bargilla [Moore] Rainwater.  Sanford's father, John Rainwater was a younger brother to my 2nd great grandmother, Olivia Rainwater Ganus.  Born in February of 1866 in Georgia, Sanford was likely born in Haralson County.  By 1869 John and Bargilla (or Barzilla, records vary)  had moved their family to Upshur, Hamilton County, Texas, along with John's brother, Abner, and his family, as well as John's father, Joshua, who was then a widower.

Sanford's mother became a widow when in 1890 John died and was buried in Hamilton, Texas.  In about 1894, when Sanford was 28, he married Alice Atkinson.  The couple had two children together.   A daughter, Minnie Jane, was born in1896 and a son, Jessie, was born in 1898.  By 1900, Sanford, Alice and their two children had moved to Creek Nation, Indian Territory, an area that would later become Oklahoma.  It was fun to discover that Sanford and Alice were living next door to his aunt and uncle,  (my 2nd Great Grandparents) John and Olivia [Rainwater] Ganus. Both families had moved from Georgia with John and Olivia first living in Colorado before settling in Indian Territory, whereas Sanford's family had initially moved to Texas.  Apparently the families had maintained enough communication to be aware of each other's location. 

Sanford's wife, Alice,  was the daughter of Reverend Alonzo Atkinson.   Family lore indicates that Alice's parents were not too crazy about her marriage to Sanford and I wonder if that contributed to their move to Creek Nation.  Sadly the relationship did not last and by 1910, the couple had divorced. Sanford is shown on the 1910 US Federal Census divorced and living in Sherman, Texas as the head of household and his 71 year old mother Bargilla was living with him.   Alice however had remarried by then and was living in Mills, Texas.  While I eventually tracked down their daughter, Minnie, as a married adult, I have never been able to locate son Jessie beyond the 1900 census when he is shown with his parents and sister.  It troubles me that at the ages of 12 and 14, neither children were listed with either parent in 1910 and also do not appear to be with either grandparents, aunts or uncles.

Star indicates location of Parker County, Tx
Red county on the gulf is San Patricio
Wikimedia Commons

I was able to find Sanford in City Directories in 1903 and 1910 in Sherman, Texas,  and in 1912 in San Antonio.  In each location, his mother Bargilla was living with him. Bargilla died in 1919 and from that point on, Sanford is shown living alone in Aransas Pass, San Patricio, Texas.  In 1920 he was working with the railroad and in 1930 he was doing odd jobs. Every indication is that he never remarried following his divorce from Alice. 

I did locate the death certificate for Sanford's daughter, Minnie.   Her husband was the informant and while it lists her mother's name as Alice Atkinson, her father is listed simply as "Rainwater." This leads me to believe that at least as an adult, Minnie maintained some type of relationship with her mother, but likely little if any contact with her father.  Distance alone would have made it difficult to see much of her father.  On the map above, the star indicates Parker County where Minnie lived most of her adult married life and where she died.  The red county on the gulf is San Patricio where Sanford spent the last 20+ years of his life and where he died.   Why did he choose to live so far from his only daughter and grandchildren? 

And that is the end of the trail!  Other than his death certificate, I can find nothing more about Sanford.  Even online family trees fail to provide any photos, hints or further insight to his life.

On February 2, 1940, at the age of 74, Sanford Rainwater passed from this life and while all clues seem to indicate that he lived much of his life alone and even died alone,  for me, he is not forgotten and hopefully someday I will know more.  

UPDATE: More has been found about Sanford. See posts But Wait There's More! and Where the Common Feel Famous

Copyright © Michelle G. Taggart 2014