Civil War Family Story – But Is It True?

Genealogy Research

Genealogy Research = Piles of papers

Hi guys! Do you receive the Genealogy Tip of the Day? Written by Michael John Neill these gems are regularly delivered to my inbox. They have prompted me to review my genealogy information, take another direction in my research or just take a step back and think. It’s worth it to sign up for them.

One day last week this tip showed up – “If you are completely certain you have exhausted every source on an ancestor, go back and review your material. Is there any piece of information you have that is from a transcription of a document or record? Could that transcription be wrong or incomplete? Even if you are not “stuck” on an ancestor and “think you know everything,” consider getting the actual record if you only have a transcription. You may be surprised at what you discover.” –Michael John Neill

Good advice! Now it’s not that I think I’ve exhausted all my resources but reviewing my information certainly will help me know what I have and don’t have. So I pulled out my Van Meter family file. I’m researching all the Civil War veterans in this line and come across the transcription of a letter. I don’t have the actual letter just a transcription. It reads:

Letter from John J Van Meter to his father James Downing Van Meter while serving in the Fourth Regiment Ohio Volunteer Cavalry during the Civil War:

Camp near Decherd
Sunday, August 17, 1861

Dear Father

I take the present to inform you that I rec’d your letter about one week ago and meant to have answered you before this but I have been very unwell for some time, but I am better now. I hope these few lines may find you all enjoying good health.

Well father it has been almost a year since I left home. The time appears long lived to me but I suppose the time to you seems longer than it does to me for time passes here much faster than it does at home.

Well I suppose times appear very dry and soon will appear so as there is so many more men called for but now is the time for us to strike if ever we intend to crush this rebellion. Now is the time to do it. We have been trifling too much of our time away. I don’t mean to say that the troops in the field have been idle. By no means. They have done too much. There have been many a strong constitution has been made weak, where if the government had called out this great number of troops six months ago the union might have been restored and many of brave man’s life saved. The folks at home may think it rather hard for them to be drafted and taken from home, but they ought to think that there are many in the service who can’t appreciate the enjoyments of home as well as they. I am glad the government is fully aroused to a sense of duty and if men will not volunteer their service draft them.

The weather has been very warm here for some time past but is more pleasant today. It is very dry and has been for some time past.

When you write again tell me who has volunteered and who was drafted if any. I will remain your son till death.

John Van Meter

Well uncle I will tell you that I have a boil on my neck and it is rather unpleasant company. Otherwise my health is good. As a general thing the health of the company is good.

After reading this I am struck at some of the things that just don’t click in this letter. First off John J Van Meter never served with the 4th OVC. He had two cousins that did. One of those cousins lived with John’s family until he (James) enlisted in the 4th. By my research John Van Meter served with Co. D 21st OVI from April 27, 1861 to August 12, 1861. This regiment was only raised for three months. John then enlisted with Co. K 14th OVI from August 25, 1861 to September 12, 1864. So how could he write this letter to his father from Camp Decherd August 17, 1861?

John’s words, “I will remain your son till death” I’m sure was used by many soldiers yet it surprises me because it is the same ending James (the cousin that fought with the 4th and lived with this family) used in a letter to his mother.

Then what is with that last paragraph that was added after the closing. John’s father would be James’ uncle. Did James add his greetings to this letter? Yet my research doesn’t have these two cousins serving together.
I almost think the letter was written by James to his uncle yet it’s addressed Dear Father and again the date is all wrong.

Michael John Neill‘s words, “Could that transcription be wrong or incomplete?” certainly ring true here. I need to see if I can track down the origins of this letter if possible and do some more research to explain some of the inconsistencies here.

This does prove we cannot take our own family’s writings as the whole and absolute truth. We must be discerning. We must double check for accuracy. Even our own ancestors got the facts wrong once in awhile!

Have you come across this problem in your own family papers? Let me know in the comments. How you dealt with these family inconsistencies may help us all!

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2 thoughts on “Civil War Family Story – But Is It True?

  1. i love Genealogy Tip of the Day by Michael John Neill and Michael’s other blogs. They are so good. Michael writes in a laid back way that is enjoyable to read yet you learn so much. He’s also a straight shooter who makes no bones about things but lays it on the line.

    I heard him speak at the OGS Conference several years ago. If you ever get the opportunity to hear him speak, be sure to go. He’s excellent.

    • Debbie ~ Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting! Do you go to OGS every year? I’m going to try to go this year myself and maybe even FGS since it’s in Ft. Wayne. I haven’t been to either so I hope to make it happen. Thanks again!

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