Who's your ancestor? (And does it matter?)

lupaglupa

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Image source: Library of Congress

On my mother's side of my family I have six ancestors who fought in the Civil War. But a quick look at her family tree gives me at least eleven more soldiers - and that's before I get ambitious and look beyond uncles and first cousins. Of that whole group the man I've studied the most about is David Marlin, who died at Gettysburg. He was a 2nd Lt with the Second Mississippi Infantry, Company H. He made it through the battle in the railroad cut, gaining command of his company when his captain was injured there. That gave him the dubious honor of leading his men onto the field as part of Pickett's charge. He died the morning of July 3, 1863 and we will likely never have a grave to lay flowers on.

I've often wished I could say my ancestor died at Gettysburg, if only because it's easier than saying my great-great-grandfather's brother was in that historic battle. But David isn't technically my ancestor. An ancestor, as Merriam Webster tells us, is "one from whom a person is descended" and David isn't in my direct line. Instead he's what genealogists call an indirect or collateral relative. He's related to me by blood not marriage. But he's not someone I can describe with the word father or mother in the title - not in the straight line up my tree. So - does that matter?

In some places, yes, it matters a lot. Most of the lineage societies (organizations based on family ties) require members to be direct descendants of someone in the group they are honoring. You can't join the Mayflower Society unless you are descended in a straight line from somebody who was on that ship. Both the Daughters and Sons of the American Revolution also require you have a direct ancestor who aided in the fight for American Independence. The Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War are the same.

When it comes to the Confederacy, though, the rules are a bit different. Both the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the United Daughters of the Confederacy accept both direct and collateral descendants of Confederate soldiers. I haven't seen any explanation as to why these organizations decided to broaden their definition of ancestor (if you know - please share!).

In the end, the words don't matter to me. David had no children so keeping his memory alive is something only his collateral descendants can do. As I keep adding to my family tree I keep adding soldiers who fought in the Civil War and I keep gathering their stories too. Ancestors or not, they matter.
 

Bob Velke

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When it comes to the Confederacy, though, the rules are a bit different. Both the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the United Daughters of the Confederacy accept both direct and collateral descendants of Confederate soldiers. I haven't seen any explanation as to why these organizations decided to broaden their definition of ancestor (if you know - please share!).
I think that our ranks were otherwise dwindling.

I'm a member of both SUVCW and SCV.

In the end, the words don't matter to me. David had no children so keeping his memory alive is something only his collateral descendants can do. As I keep adding to my family tree I keep adding soldiers who fought in the Civil War and I keep gathering their stories too. Ancestors or not, they matter.
Good for you.
 

Kyle Kalasnik

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I've often wished I could say my ancestor died at Gettysburg, if only because it's easier than saying my great-great-grandfather's brother was in that historic battle. But David isn't technically my ancestor. An ancestor, as Merriam Webster tells us, is "one from whom a person is descended" and David isn't in my direct line. Instead he's what genealogists call an indirect or collateral relative. He's related to me by blood not marriage. But he's not someone I can describe with the word father or mother in the title - not in the straight line up my tree. So - does that matter?
I don’t see anything wrong with using “ancestor” for simplicity sake. And should you have to elaborate on the subject, then go into detail.

And yes they all (Union and Confederate) deserve to be remembered.

Just my opinions. Anyone is allowed to a different one.

Respectfully,
Kyle Kalasnik
 

TarheelRob

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Last year I started seriously researching my ancestry's involvement in the WBTS and Rev War I found many more people than I expected. Just the grandfathers and granduncles amounted to 19 total in the CSA. Then I started researching "cousins" and it really got out of hand. As I understand it "direct" means through the grandfather line and "indirect" means all the other ancestors. I'd welcome clarification on that. Anyway, I think with the cultural Edited. going on in America today (especially in the South) the more people who realize their ancestors were unquestionably a part of a serious event in our history the more people will be engaged in its preservation.
 
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lupaglupa

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Direct is the parent of a parent and so on. Basically if you put father or mother in the name (great-great-great-grandfather, for example) then it's in your direct line. As soon as you go sideways - linked to you from the sibling of a great-great-parent - then you are indirect.
 

lupaglupa

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Last year I started seriously researching my ancestry's involvement in the WBTS and Rev War I found many more people than I expected. Just the grandfathers and granduncles amounted to 19 total in the CSA. Then I started researching "cousins" and it really got out of hand. As I understand it "direct" means through the grandfather line and "indirect" means all the other ancestors. I'd welcome clarification on that. Anyway, I think with the cultural marxism going on in America today (especially in the South) the more people who realize their ancestors were unquestionably a part of a serious event in our history the more people will be engaged in its preservation.
And BTW - which company in the 43rd Mississippi? My gr-gr-grandfather was in Company C.
 

Joshism

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the more people who realize their ancestors were unquestionably a part of a serious event in our history the more people will be engaged in its preservation.

I think the personalization of history is a double edged sword.

Yes, it can help people get more engaged. It can also make them irrationally defensive. "I think I'm a good person therefore my ancestors must be good people too therefore whatever history they were involved must be the good guys."

"It matters because my ancestors were involved" suggests the reverse is also true ("It doesn't matter because my ancestors weren't involved.")

I have no direct ancestors who fought in the American Civil War, and only a few indirect ancestors. Yet it's one of my favorite historical subjects.

I've gotten deeply involved in lighthouses and their history despite having absolutely no family connection whatsoever. My ancestors didn't even benefit from them as mariners; they were landlubbers usually living far from the ocean.
 

lupaglupa

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I'm happy for people to be inspired by history no matter they route they take. I think having a personal connection does make history come alive for some. But many people are drawn to history that they have no connection to (just look how many members of CWT don't live in the USA).
 

TarheelRob

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And BTW - which company in the 43rd Mississippi? My gr-gr-grandfather was in Company C.
Company K from Kemper County..... Two gr-gr-granduncles...1st Lt H.J. Gully 2nd Lt S.K. Gully..... Who's your ancestor in Co C? I'm on the constant lookout for more info about my MS people. Seems like everything I learn from the Deep South in the war is debatable.
 

TarheelRob

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I think the personalization of history is a double edged sword.

Yes, it can help people get more engaged. It can also make them irrationally defensive. "I think I'm a good person therefore my ancestors must be good people too therefore whatever history they were involved must be the good guys."

"It matters because my ancestors were involved" suggests the reverse is also true ("It doesn't matter because my ancestors weren't involved.")

I have no direct ancestors who fought in the American Civil War, and only a few indirect ancestors. Yet it's one of my favorite historical subjects.

I've gotten deeply involved in lighthouses and their history despite having absolutely no family connection whatsoever. My ancestors didn't even benefit from them as mariners; they were landlubbers usually living far from the ocean.
Well, varying opinions are still allowed to some degree in this "country" of ours. And I respect yours and like the fact you're interested in the war.... When you read accounts of your gr-gr-grandfather (17) crying over the fact his older brother (20) was just killed in battle next to him, it has an effect. And when you read about that gr-gr-grandfather becoming mayor of his town later on and dedicating the CSA monument to the soldiers during that time, it has an effect. And when you realize he was probably thinking about his dead brother and comrades at the dedication instead of the social justice warrior groupthink 100 years later, it has an effect. Southerners have good reason to be defensive during the last few decades, considering the endless cultural scrubbing that's going on.
 
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lupaglupa

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Company K from Kemper County..... Two gr-gr-granduncles...1st Lt H.J. Gully 2nd Lt S.K. Gully..... Who's your ancestor in Co C? I'm on the constant lookout for more info about my MS people. Seems like everything I learn from the Deep South in the war is debatable.
J.C. Sims is my guy. He spent most of the War in Union camps. There is a book about the 43rd - both your guys are in the index along with another Gully, John William. There's quite a bit on H.J., mostly post War. Seems he had an eventful life.
 

TarheelRob

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J.C. Sims is my guy. He spent most of the War in Union camps. There is a book about the 43rd - both your guys are in the index along with another Gully, John William. There's quite a bit on H.J., mostly post War. Seems he had an eventful life.
Haha, yes many of the Gully people were (ahem) rough customers. Men of their time, so to speak. They were in NC way early on before they headed west to MS. JW is another of mine I believe. Which index are you using? I'm always up for MS war research.
 

lupaglupa

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Haha, yes many of the Gully people were (ahem) rough customers. Men of their time, so to speak. They were in NC way early on before they headed west to MS. JW is another of mine I believe. Which index are you using? I'm always up for MS war research.
The index of the book about the 43rd. It's called The Camel Regiment, because the 43rd had a camel that travelled with them. His names was Douglas. He was killed by a sharpshooter at Vicksburg.
 

TarheelRob

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The index of the book about the 43rd. It's called The Camel Regiment, because the 43rd had a camel that travelled with them. His names was Douglas. He was killed by a sharpshooter at Vicksburg.
Yes, I read that book a few months ago. I didn't get as much out of it as I hoped, but there was some useful info. The index in particular.
 
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I think the personalization of history is a double edged sword.

Yes, it can help people get more engaged. It can also make them irrationally defensive. "I think I'm a good person therefore my ancestors must be good people too therefore whatever history they were involved must be the good guys."

"It matters because my ancestors were involved" suggests the reverse is also true ("It doesn't matter because my ancestors weren't involved.")

I have no direct ancestors who fought in the American Civil War, and only a few indirect ancestors. Yet it's one of my favorite historical subjects.

I've gotten deeply involved in lighthouses and their history despite having absolutely no family connection whatsoever. My ancestors didn't even benefit from them as mariners; they were landlubbers usually living far from the ocean.
I agree.

I was thrilled to learn I had a Civil War ancestor on my mom's side (a GGGG Uncle, so I guess not a direct relation!) - so thrilled that it's resulted in me working on a regimental history because I wanted to learn more about his experiences.

But you're right - there's something dangerous in wanting to honor and remember Grandpa, no matter which side they fought for. The more I read, the more I realize a good historian cannot love his/her subject because it prevents the critical thinking necessary to truly understand it - the good and the bad.
 

Waterloo50

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I'm happy for people to be inspired by history no matter they route they take. I think having a personal connection does make history come alive for some. But many people are drawn to history that they have no connection to (just look how many members of CWT don't live in the USA).
That’s very true, I’m English and I’m in my 7th year as a CWT member. I can’t really identify why I’m interested in a war that I have no family connection with but I do have you guys in my life, I read your posts and look at your photos and as a result I’m enthused to learn more. It’s actually pretty nice not having a dog in the fight, I simply sit on the fence and enjoy the debates.
 

rebracer

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The personal connection is very important. For example, my GGGrandfather was seriously wounded at Vicksburg, fighting career ending wound in his arm. Had he been a few inches over he would have been killed and I (and alot of others including my children) would not be here. Its pretty important when I look at it that way. That was a big day in May of 63 in Vicksburg for my family line and why others have said we can get defensive about some things and "have a dog in the fight".
 
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