Monday, December 2, 2013

Military Monday - a Fold3 Goldmine!

photo courtesy of

Being on a budget is never easy for a genealogist. There are so many good sites, with so much to offer, but that require a paid subscription. Thus, when one of them offers a free trial subscription, I'm more than happy to sign up and test drive their site, especially if it's been a few years since I last visited. Such was the case with a couple weeks ago, and boy am I ever glad for free trials! Never have I ever found so much information in such a short period of time.

I signed up originally to see if I could find some information on the Navy service of my grandpa, Jim Crawford. He served right after WWII on the USS Princeton (CV-37). Veterans Day was coming up, and I thought it'd be fun to see what I could find on him. Unfortunately, I didn't find anything that was definitively about his service. I tried looking up info on my dad's service in the Navy during the Vietnam War (he was on the USS Gridley (DLG-21)), but again, no luck. So I went looking for my wife's 3rd-great-grandfather, Samuel Henry Thacker, who served in the Spanish-American War in the late 1890s. Didn't find much that I didn't already have, except an index card from Company A, 2nd Tennessee Infantry, listing him as a private. So far, pretty underwhelming results.

Then I searched for my another 3rd-great-grandfather of my wife's, James McFarland, who served in the Civil War (interesting how the same generation of one line can be so much older/younger than another line, isn't it?) and struck pay dirt! They had a file of 31 pages of records on him, and it was fascinating stuff. Summing up his service here wouldn't do it justice, so I'll make a separate blog post about him later. But it was a lot more involved than a boring old "enlisted, served, mustered out" experience.

I was sorely tempted to stop here, and analyze what I'd found. I mean, what more could I hope to find than this? But I knew my free trial would expire in less than a week, and I wanted to try to find as much as I could while the trial lasted. So I wrote down quickly what I'd found so far and who it was about, and moved on to my next target - my 4th-great-grandfather, Paul Groff.

Paul has been a brick wall of mine for many years, almost since I got started in researching my family history. I'd traced back to him pretty quickly, as the records of his children and grandchildren were pretty easy to find. But once I got to him,, they all dried up. I couldn't find anything preceding his first marriage to Charlotte Blake in 1848, even after joining the Wapello County, Iowa genealogical society for a year and having them scour their records. But Fold3 had some real treasures waiting for me.

I'd sent away a couple months ago for his pension file from NARA, after his military service in the Mexican-American War, and got back a couple documents that gave his military service unit, but not much more than that. So when I jumped on Fold3, I knew which Paul Groff to look for, and what unit he was from. And it turns out, there were some really interesting documents from him!

Spread out over a couple of different files, I eventually ended up with 19 pages of documents on Paul. Two pages were his enlistments, one in 1842, and the other in 1847. These were really great finds because they not only confirm his birth in New York (and are thus now the earliest documents I have with info on his birth), they both give his birth county - Monroe. I need to follow up on this lead! This wasn't the best part though. The other two files contained collections of letters written to and from different government officials. One group of letters requested Paul's discharge from the military in 1844, saying that his mother was aged, widowed, and needed him to come home and support her. The two gems in this collection - it gives his mother's name, Hannah, and even includes a letter written by Hannah Groff herself!! I've FINALLY broken a big hole in the brick wall!!! The other collection of letters was about Paul's second period of military service, requesting that his dishonorable discharge be changed to honorable, including a letter written by Paul himself! I'm going through that stack of letters first, trying to see if I can find why he was dishonorably discharged. But in what little I've read about his unit so far is absolutely fascinating. He was in the First Dragoons, a cavalry unit, and served in the Mexican War. His unit seems to have gone all the way down to southern Mexico! Definitely need to look further into this.

But the real shocker was what I found about Norton Johnson, first husband of my 3rd-great-grandmother, Maria Janette Beardsley. I'd read/heard elsewhere that Norton had enlisted in the Civil War, and had gotten sick and died in 1864, and wanted to corroborate or refute that story (I was kind of hoping to refute it, as dying from a sickness just seemed...well, a sad way to go in a war). So I went looking to see if there was a file for him. What I found blew me away - there was a pension file for his widow, my ancestor Maria, totaling 94 pages!! It took a while to download it all, and I saw a lot in there while I was downloading - statements from judges, obituaries for Maria, death records for Norton, and other things I didn't really take the time to look at very carefully. I am very excited to go through these records and see what there is to learn about Maria, Norton, and any other family members mentioned in them. I'm still in shock that there were almost 100 pages on just this one family!

So yeah, I'm a firm believer in now. I only had a few days to search the site, and I'm sure my results aren't typical. But I am more than happy with what I've found, and very much looking forward to learning all about these different branches of my family and their military history.

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