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This is the first of a series of regular Tuesday afternoon posts. In December they will be Monday afternoon posts since I am otherwise booked tomorrow and the two following Tuesdays are Christmas and New Year's Day.

As I’ve learned more about my ancestors I’ve also taken some time to follow the branches of the tree down, learning about their siblings’ descendants. I’ve come across some interesting stories; this is the first of a recurring series of diaries about distant cousins I never knew. I'm telling this story this week because I just saw the movie Lincoln, and because it ties into to next week's story, which is related to Christmas.

A year ago today I couldn’t go back past the mid-1800s on my family tree and, for three of my four grandparents’ ancestors, I couldn’t even go that far. As most of you know by now, earlier this year I discovered, to my surprise, that I have many, many New England Yankee ancestors dating back to the earliest days of Massachusetts and Connecticut in the 1600s. Particularly since I still live in Massachusetts, it’s been quite a thrill to visit local cemeteries, town halls, etc., in search of the traces they left behind.

This past spring I went to the Boston branch of the National Archives and saved to USB the Revolutionary War pension files for two of my great-great-great-great-grandfathers (4x). Both of them served from Massachusetts then moved to Vermont just after the Revolution, at a time when there were very few people in Vermont (there still aren’t all that many people in Vermont, but back then it was really empty). Looking at handwritten papers relating to direct ancestors who came seven generations before me was a strange experience.

It occurred to me, after a lady at the local historical society in Vermont told me she was descended from the same couple, that there must be many, many people descended from these folks seven or eight generations later, especially since they each had a large number of children. Out of curiosity I started to trace the branches down, getting pretty close to the present day. A few people contacted me, via ancestry.com, and asked how I was related. There were others that I contacted when I saw their trees had a brick wall I could break through. In the process I learned that the descendants of those two young Revolutionary War soldiers are spread all over this vast country, literally from northern Maine to San Diego, Miami to Alaska, and many places in between. This is strange to me because I live in Massachusetts and it apparently never occurred to my direct ancestors to leave the northeast.

In tracing the lines down I came across all sorts of human stories. Some of them are inspiring, some sad, some both. There were a lot of people who died far too soon, leaving young children behind. There were a lot of young children who died. A few in particular made an impression on me and I’d like to share them so these people might be remembered. Here is one of those stories, concerning quite distant relatives.

My 3x-great-grandfather, Lyman Perkins, was born in 1803 in the small town of Barnard, Vermont, where his grandfather (one of the Revolutionary pensioners I looked up) had settled in 1787 after five years in nearby Woodstock. Lyman had five brothers (two of whom died as babies) and one sister. The brothers all stayed local; the sister moved to Wisconsin. Just on his father’s side alone, Lyman had nine uncles and three aunts. One of the uncles moved to Maine, one of the aunts moved to Illinois, then Missouri, then Utah in the Mormon exodus. The rest of the siblings, aunts, and uncles stayed right there in the Barnard area.

As a result Lyman had many relatives, including dozens of first cousins, living nearby. One of those first cousins, Hannah, married a man named Earl Vaughan in 1828. They had six sons and a daughter, and lived in Taftsville, Vermont, on the border between Woodstock and Hartland. Taftsville is the same small village where my great-grandfather was born in in 1889.  

Hannah’s fifth child, Elisha Darwin Vaughan (Elisha was her father’s name), was born in Taftsville on April 21, 1837. There were many Elishas in the area (and in the family), so they took to calling him Darwin. According to his service records, Darwin had black hair, grey eyes and a dark complexion. He was 6 foot 1, very tall for the times, and was a professional photographer, also unusual for the times.

In 1861 Darwin married Almira Freeman Newcomb. Almira came from an old seafaring family in Wellfleet, toward the tip of Cape Cod. Her uncles were ship captains, as was her oldest brother. Her grandfather, Jeremiah Newcomb, had served in the Revolution as well. During the winter of 1776-77, while Washington was crossing the Delaware to the South, Jeremiah Newcomb sailed every day on a flat boat from Wellfleet to Boston harbor, some 55 nautical miles (over 60 land miles). There he set up cannons and bombed British ships attempting to enter the Harbor.

Later Jeremiah Newcomb was one of thirteen men on the Resolution, captured by the Royal Navy as an American privateer ship, and was sent to Old Mill Prison in Plymouth, England. He survived and, after the 1783 Treaty of Paris, returned home to Cape Cod, where he lived to be 82. Almira’s father, Jeremiah’s youngest son (also Jeremiah) was a sailor in his youth, but in 1849 he moved his wife and five youngest children to Vermont, where Almira met Darwin Vaughan.

Darwin and Almira moved, soon after they married in 1861, to the Finger Lakes region in Upstate New York. Their daughter, Mary Etta Vaughan, was born there on May 26, 1862. On August 22, when the baby was not yet three months old, Colonel Eliakim Sherrill (a former Congressman then in the State Senate) received authority to raise New York’s 126th Volunteer Infantry Regiment in that area. Darwin enlisted, for a period of up to three years, that very day in the village of Covert, up the lake from Ithaca. He was assigned to Company C.

Penn Yan, New York: A classic American small town where Almira and Darwin settled in 1862.
The regiment left upstate New York on August 26, 1862 and immediately joined the fighting on Maryland Heights and Bolivar Heights at the siege of Harpers Ferry. At Bolivar Heights it took the brunt of the fighting and on September 15 surrendered the Harpers Ferry garrison to Stonewall Jackson’s army, which then crossed over the Potomac to Antietam. The Battle of Antietam took place only two days later, fifteen miles up the road.

For their surrender the regiment was criticized by an Army investigating commission and unfairly became known as the “Harpers Ferry Cowards.”  

Fortunately for the 126th New York, the Confederates paroled them and they did not end up in Andersonville. They instead marched 125 miles to Annapolis and took the Northern Central Railroad to a Union camp near Chicago. From there Sgt. Henry Childs of Waterloo, New York, wrote home: “We have comfortable quarters now and the boys are getting rested and feel pretty well. How long we are to stay here, I have not learned, but presume until we are exchanged.” Sgt. Childs was correct; the 126th New York soldiers were formally exchanged for Confederate prisoners and returned to the battlefield in December 1862.

The regiment camped for the winter at Union Mills in Fairfax County, Virginia, not far from Manassas. There they were assigned for three months (January to April 1863) to Major General Silas Casey’s brigade, which was one of several tasked with protecting Washington, D.C. against Confederate attack. In June 1863 the regiment was moved to Gettysburg.

A table showing the casualties in the 126th New York from its inception to the close of the Civil War
At the Battle of Gettysburg from July 1 to 3, 1863, the 126th New York redeemed its reputation by capturing five Confederate regiments during Pickett’s Charge, but Darwin Vaughan was wounded on the last day of the battle and died at Gettysburg on the Fourth of July, 1863. He was 26.
Darwin's service record
Darwin was one of 40 men from the 126th to die in that battle, including Col. Willard, the regiment’s commanding officer, and Col. Sherrill, who raised the regiment. The 126th fought on, across Virginia in 1864, and was at Appomattox when Lee surrendered in April 1865.
The monument to the 126th New York Infantry at Gettysburg
Darwin’s widow, Almira, never married again. She took her daughter back to her parents’ farm in Claremont, New Hampshire. When her father moved the family to the seafaring town of Salem, Mass. a few years later, they moved there as well. Almira’s father, by now in his late 60s, took a job as a watchman in a shipyard. Almira and her unmarried sister worked together in a shoe store.
A reunion of the 126th New York, as well as the 111th New York and 125th New York from the same region. Darwin Vaughan did not live to attend any such reunions.
The family next moved to Charlestown (part of Boston) and Chelsea (just north of Boston), where Almira’s father died in 1880 and her mother in 1886. In the 1900 census Almira and Mary Etta (now in her late thirties) were living alone in Reading, Mass., 15 miles north of Boston, where Mary Etta worked as a clerk for a railroad. Soon after they moved to the neighboring town of Wakefield (hometown of Scott Brown but otherwise nice).

By 1916, they had moved to Woodstock, Vermont, where Almira had spent much of her youth and met Darwin Vaughan over 50 years earlier. Mary Etta had never before lived in her father’s home state. They lived right down the road from where Darwin’s parents and many of his relatives were buried, including my own direct ancestors. Many members of his family still lived in the area. I don’t know if, after living away from Vermont for so long, Almira maintained any strong relations with them.

Almira and Mary Etta had two boarders in 1920, a young wife whose husband was away and her baby daughter. I wonder if they saw a reflection of their former selves in those boarders. (That woman was reunited with her husband soon; they had another daughter in 1921 and moved to Nebraska)

Almira Freeman Newcomb Vaughan, well into her 80s, died in Woodstock in the 1920s. She married at 23, spent barely a year married before her husband went off to war, and then lived for more than 60 years as a widow. Her daughter Mary Etta never married, and lived in Woodstock for the rest of her life. She died in 1959 at the age of 97.

Since learning this story I’ve wondered a lot of things. Did Mary Etta feel angry at never knowing her father? How often did Almira feel lonely? Did she believe her husband’s service at Gettysburg had been important in saving the Union? Did she care? Did she blame the South for his death, or Lincoln, or Darwin himself for signing up and leaving her alone with a baby? I’ve wondered if she appreciated the Gettysburg Address, and how they both felt every Fourth of July, knowing that was the day Darwin died as the people around them celebrated. They were ordinary people whose long lives were forever changed in a single moment at Gettysburg.

Coming next Monday: Tragedy strikes the Vaughans again, at Christmastime

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (9+ / 0-)

    Republicans...think the American standard of living is a fine thing--so long as it doesn't spread to all the people. And they admire the Government of the United States so much that they would like to buy it. Harry S. Truman

    by fenway49 on Mon Dec 17, 2012 at 11:00:06 AM PST

  •  Like you (5+ / 0-)

    ... I've been following various lines of cousins down.  I've also been following the ancestry of in-laws up.  In the end, it doesn't matter much that I claim someone as "mine."  I'm more interested in the stories.  And the social history.  It's a whole different way to understand our country, where it came from, how it got to where it is.  And the specifics of the various kinds of diversity our nation is comprised of.

    What do we make of the contrast between heroic teachers who stand up to a gunman and craven, feckless politicians who won’t stand up to the N.R.A.? -- Nicholas Kristof, NYT --

    by Land of Enchantment on Mon Dec 17, 2012 at 11:24:07 AM PST

    •  For me, this makes history real and personal (5+ / 0-)

      I think that each person who has an interest in their family history starts out with some kind of vague idea. Some people seem to be focused on filling in names and dates of their own direct ancestors to be able to literally draw their own family tree. Kinda like the records written in family bibles. Just the immediate family.

      Some folks don't seem to have any interest or curiosity about their family members whatsoever. Whatever their problem, I feel sorry for them. I've had people flat out tell me I'm wasting my time. And it's a stupid hobby. Rude to the max. What an empty life!

      Once I got into finding cousins and cousins of cousins and ancestors and their cousins and their cousins, everything seemed to fall into the same place you describe. It's all about the events and the joys and the sorrows of all these lives and how it all intertwines with time and place and relationships and friends and neighbors and enterprise and service and, and, and...

      Once you find some distant cousin of a cousin who served in the calvary in the Civil War and learn that he's buried next to his faithful calvary horse who lived an amazing 45 years, and his faithful best friend, his old dog, is also buried there, I just can't stop the desire to learn more about this character and his family. Then I find pictures of this old soldier and his old dog sitting on a porch somewhere on ancestry.com. And he;s somehow related to me. He's family, in some way. That makes it personal. I'm hopelessly addicted.

      That's just one of thousands of real-life stories that have changed my entire view of history and historical context. I've learned about historical reality, not biased crap that the far right wing makes up to suit their fantasies.

      It's a valuable and important way to understand historical context.

      It usually isn't family that's "mine", as you say. It just doesn't matter.

      "Never wrestle with a pig: you get dirty and the pig enjoys it"

      by GrumpyOldGeek on Mon Dec 17, 2012 at 04:13:55 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Too bad (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Jim H, klompendanser
        Some folks don't seem to have any interest or curiosity about their family members whatsoever. Whatever their problem, I feel sorry for them.
        I have plenty of those people in my own family. I'd almost count my dad. He's the nicest person you'd ever meet but a bit of a space cadet. His family like was a little weird and he just doesn't value it all that much. He's had very little interest in anything I've found beyond being happy that I like it.

        My brother and sister are not much different. In most ways they take after my dad. I owe important traits of my personality to him, but I'm more my mother's son. She loved stories, history and family and would have been fascinated with this.

        It's been great reconnecting with people, or meeting new relatives for the first time, and hearing stories I'd never have heard otherwise. I love being able to connect it to history.

        The guy in this diary is distant to me, but my direct ancestor and his grandmother were siblings. I see my siblings and first cousins all the time. It makes me wonder how scattered my descendants and their descendants will be in a century or two.

        Republicans...think the American standard of living is a fine thing--so long as it doesn't spread to all the people. And they admire the Government of the United States so much that they would like to buy it. Harry S. Truman

        by fenway49 on Tue Dec 18, 2012 at 06:43:51 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  BTW: (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Jim H, edwardssl, klompendanser

    You might want to include "GFHC" in your title.

    What do we make of the contrast between heroic teachers who stand up to a gunman and craven, feckless politicians who won’t stand up to the N.R.A.? -- Nicholas Kristof, NYT --

    by Land of Enchantment on Mon Dec 17, 2012 at 11:30:37 AM PST

  •  the stories... (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    edwardssl, Jim H, klompendanser, fenway49

    are so amazing to me.   Great diary!

    Get out there and get peace, think peace, live peace, and breathe peace, and you'll get it as soon as you like.” ~ John Lennon

    by Lady Libertine on Mon Dec 17, 2012 at 01:37:53 PM PST

    •  great series topic too btw (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      fenway49, Jim H, klompendanser

      I deleted about four drafts of a comment-reply to you b/c I got so lost going off on tangents! lol.  

      Ive got a few sibling sets Im working on too. We did find one relative via ancestry who is a descendant of my Irish g-grandfather, different g-mother*. Ive just recovered some excellent notes that my sister wrote up from an interview she did with our Mom about 20 years ago. My g-mother remembered this step-mother* very fondly, though she was only 6 when her own mother died. Step-mo died in childbirth of the baby so Im sure my relative will love to hear what my mom/g-mom had to say about her. But... my poor g-grandfather! First wife dies, he remarries within a year, then that wife dies another two years or so later!

      An awful lot of women died young in those days, a lot of my ancestors were raised by step-mom's. I guess that was fairly common? late 1800's.

      Get out there and get peace, think peace, live peace, and breathe peace, and you'll get it as soon as you like.” ~ John Lennon

      by Lady Libertine on Mon Dec 17, 2012 at 02:13:37 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  A lot did die young (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Jim H, Lady Libertine, klompendanser

        My great-grandmother had three sisters. The oldest died a few days shy of 28, living two children under 5. The second had at least five babies stillborn or die young. She died, in childbirth, at 33. Sadly, her only surviving child (9 at the time) died himself at age 29 in the mid-1930s.

        The third sister never had children and lived to be 87. She was the baby of a big family and was alive 30 years after all her siblings were dead. Unfortunately she also was a very difficult person and tyrannized the family the whole time.

        It's good you were able to pass on some recollections. My dad's cousin told me he and his brother did not know much of anything about their grandfather (also my dad's grandfather). For some reason their father's cousin (the grandfather in question was the mother's father) knew all about him.

        Republicans...think the American standard of living is a fine thing--so long as it doesn't spread to all the people. And they admire the Government of the United States so much that they would like to buy it. Harry S. Truman

        by fenway49 on Tue Dec 18, 2012 at 06:51:23 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  All your questions (5+ / 0-)

    about a family member who is now missing forever is very poignant on a day like today.

    How do people go on?

    Yes, human beings are very resilient, they find a way - most times, at least.  And I wonder, how much different would they have turned out as adults if the most important people shaping their lives were still present during the times when it counted the most?

    My Mom's mother died when was 5 years old.  Mom had always felt a big hole in her life and we often talked about how her life (which was a very difficult one) could have been different if her mother had lived.

    Because of her lonely and often (seemingly) unloved upbringing, Mom made sure that her kids knew that even if no one else ever loved them, their Mom did with all her heart.

    Thanks for the diary, and I look forward to the rest of the series you have planned.

    •  Thanks (5+ / 0-)

      My grandfathers each lost a parent (one his father, the other his mother) around their sixth birthdays. My maternal grandfather was lucky. His mom was very loving and he ended up like your mother, making sure to be affectionate with his kids.

      My dad's father less lucky. His father, who had known a lot of tragedy (a topic of a future diary), was a rather distant figure who ignored his kids. The others were older, late teens, but my grandfather was only 6. He largely was raised by his oldest brother and his mother's younger sister, who moved in.

      He did things that showed he cared (he pushed education, always sent me a new dictionary or Reader's Digest word power), but in his personal dealings he was always quite distant.

      Republicans...think the American standard of living is a fine thing--so long as it doesn't spread to all the people. And they admire the Government of the United States so much that they would like to buy it. Harry S. Truman

      by fenway49 on Mon Dec 17, 2012 at 02:35:48 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  very late to the party... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Jim H, fenway49

    had some wifi connectivity problems over my lunch hour, and I think I threw in the towel about half an hour before you posted this diary. :(

    I am biased in favor of the hobby, obviously, but the more I learn the more I want to know  ... particularly when someone, related distantly to me, casually can email me stuff like this

    to ponder over. I've spent hours staring at this photo over last few years, losing myself in the stories of these stern looking old gentlemen, in this photo from 1912 labeled "old pioneers".

    The man on the left is my g-grandfather Cal. Next to him is Lewis -- who was 1st cousin to Cal's 1st wife and married to the sister of Cal's 4th wife. Next to Lewis is "Leaf" who is listed as a witness to Cal's marriage to his 4th wife. Next to Leaf is Daniel, whose son was married to Cal's oldest granddaughter Nellie, whose mother Elinor was Cal's first daughter--who died in childbirth, and the only child of Cal's first wife Eleanor--who also died in childbirth.

    Just one picture of four old men, four old friends, who had so many stories.

    "If you are sure you understand everything that is going on around you, you are hopelessly confused." Walter Mondale

    by klompendanser on Mon Dec 17, 2012 at 07:10:00 PM PST

    •  Great picture and story (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Jim H, klompendanser

      100 years ago. These guys would have been born in the, what, 1840s? What changes they must have seen!

      I think of relatives who are older and grew up with WWII and Milton Berle. Already the world is so different. What will it be in 100 years from now?

      Republicans...think the American standard of living is a fine thing--so long as it doesn't spread to all the people. And they admire the Government of the United States so much that they would like to buy it. Harry S. Truman

      by fenway49 on Tue Dec 18, 2012 at 06:54:50 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Inspiring (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    klompendanser

    Your diaries are really inspiring me to dig more into my wife's family. Her great-grandfather wrote a family history, which details both his mother's family (whose grandparents were English immigrants) and his father's family, which he was able to trace a few generations back into upstate New York.

    When I started poking around on ancestry.com I learned a lot about his father's family. Not only was his grandfather a Civil War veteran, but he and his brothers served in many of the famous battles. And while I was only able to go another generation or two back using census data, I came across a user-generated tree that linked the family back to Connecticut in the 1680s (iirc).

    The tree lacked sources, and I have no idea if the links are accurate or just someone's genealogical wishful thinking. But reading your diaries makes me want to dig deeper and see if my wife's family actually has roots in early colonial New England.

    •  It's highly likely (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      RLF

      if they were Anglo-Saxon and Protestant. There continued to be immigration from England, etc., but nowhere near on the level you got from Ireland and Germany, then after the Civil War from many other places. From the late 1600s to the early 1800s, if I have it right, the population grew mostly via natural forces. Somewhat better medicine, but mostly people having lots of kids who had lots of kids.

      In my family tree there was only one immigrant between 1650 and the arrival of the Irish in the 19th century. All the Yankees in my family who were alive at the Civil War descended exclusively from people who'd been here before 1720. Many a family in New England in the 1600s and 1700s moved to upstate New York, it's where that area got nearly all its early population from.

      Republicans...think the American standard of living is a fine thing--so long as it doesn't spread to all the people. And they admire the Government of the United States so much that they would like to buy it. Harry S. Truman

      by fenway49 on Fri Dec 21, 2012 at 06:31:37 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  I'd add that the tree (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      RLF

      may have lacked sources, but you can often verify the info in published vital records of the New England towns. Many are available, in one form or another (e.g. Google books), online. Many published family genealogies are online these days too. Some have errors here and there but for the most part they're reliable.

      Republicans...think the American standard of living is a fine thing--so long as it doesn't spread to all the people. And they admire the Government of the United States so much that they would like to buy it. Harry S. Truman

      by fenway49 on Fri Dec 21, 2012 at 06:35:52 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Some day... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        fenway49

        It's not an option right now, but some day I'd like to travel to New York and New England to do just that sort of research. In the mean time, I plan to spend some time digging into what I can find online. Thanks for the encouragement and inspiration!

        •  I am in New England (0+ / 0-)

          and 15 minutes from the New England GHS, where they have all that stuff under one roof. I go there sometimes. If there's anything I can look up for you, just send me a message.

          Republicans...think the American standard of living is a fine thing--so long as it doesn't spread to all the people. And they admire the Government of the United States so much that they would like to buy it. Harry S. Truman

          by fenway49 on Sat Dec 22, 2012 at 07:06:41 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

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