George S. Van Meter #52 Ancestors

#52 Ancestors in 52 WeeksWith Memorial Day only one week away I thought I’d dedicate my #52 Ancestors post to the Civil War veterans in my family. Memorial Day originally called Decoration Day was set aside to honor and remember Civil War soldiers. Today we remember all veterans who have served our country through the decades. Since I’ve already written about my direct ancestor George W. Lowery here my next couple #52 Ancestors posts will remember my first cousins 4x removed who both fought and died in the Civil War, James and George Van Meter.

George S. Vanmeter born in 1841 was the third of seven children to parents John and Rachel Stevenson Vanmeter. John and Rachel had deep roots in Putnam County, Ohio. Both were born there, they married there and started their family there nestled in a prosperous farming community. (John’s brother James is my 3x great grandfather.)

George’s closest friend and playmate growing up may well have been his brother James. Only 22 months younger, I’ll bet James and George were close. Their reliance on each other may have been strengthened when the family left their home, grandparents, numerous aunts, uncles and cousins to live in Lucas County, Ohio. Quite a distance from their relatives and friends, the family farmed in their new location. Their close family ties came to a screeching halt when John the family patriarch died in 1851.

Cannon at Battle of Five Forks Virginia

Cannon at Battle of Five Forks Virginia
Photo Credit: Cindy Freed

George was only 10 years old when his father died. Along with his siblings he brought his father’s body back to Putnam County to be buried. Laid to rest among family members John Vanmeter’s death rocked this family to its very core.

Mother Rachel could not support her seven children ranging in age from 13 years to baby John just over one year old. The children were sent to live with aunts and uncles in the area. Their family was broken apart.

George and James lived in different households for a few years. Living with extended family I think they were able to see each other at church and other gatherings. Yet those years separated didn’t diminish their brotherly love. Continue reading

A Woman of Mystery #52Ancestors

Susannah Van Meter

Susannah Van Meter

My ancestor this week is a mysterious woman to me. Her place in my family tree has question marks all over it. She’s my great great grandmother Susannah Van Meter. Every phase of Susannah’s life seems to have a twist.

Born in Allen County Ohio, 28 August 1833, Susannah was the oldest child of James D. and Mariah Shriver Van Meter. Her parents were among the new settlers to the area and along with the extended family that moved into this part of the state, Susannah had to be one of the first children born in the area.

As her parents worked hard and prospered on their farm Susannah most certainly helped care for the eight younger siblings as they were added to the family. I will never know the contributing circumstances in Susannah’s life but at 27 years old, still unmarried and living with her parents she gives birth to a son.

I can’t begin to imagine the scandal being an unwed mother provoked during this time. James and Mariah were pioneers settlers, pillars of the community, this couldn’t have been easy for anyone involved. Yet to their credit I don’t find they kicked anyone out of their lives.

In 1864 Susannah weds a local widower who has six children. James Hayes Marshall Jr was ten years Susannah’s senior and had lost his wife only nine months earlier. I’m thinking this marriage is one of convenience for both parties. James needs someone to keep house and raise his children. Susannah needs to rip the scarlet letter from her bodice. Continue reading

Civil War Saturday – video style

I’ve written several times about my Civil War ancestor James R. Van Meter. There are posts about him here and here.

James battled disease off and on throughout the three years he served and died 150 years ago February 18, 1864. I waded through snow, wind and cold last week to place a wreath on James headstone to commemorate this significant anniversary.

If you’d take a moment to watch this short video and remember James I would really appreciate it! Thanks!

He Did More for a Sick Young Soldier than any Medical Attention Ever Could #52Ancestors

James D and Mary E (Shriver) Van Meter

James D and Mary E (Shriver) Van Meter

As I sat down to start writing about this week’s #52 Ancestors I had intended to choose one of my grandmothers. I’ve written about both grandfathers the past two weeks so it was only natural to switch over to the women. Yet once I sat down it just didn’t feel like grandmothers day so I pulled up my fan chart to look over my list of ancestors and came to James Downing Van Meter. I realized right away he’s the one to write about this week so here’s his story.

James Downing Van Meter is my 3x great grandfather. He was born September 9, 1804 in Brooke County, Virginia but didn’t stay a Virginian long. Along with his parents and grandparents a young Jim settled in Ohio. I’ve blogged about his youth before here. It’s a great story about this small boy’s broken thigh and a Native American who healed him. I’d love it if you’d check it out but with this post I want to write about the man my research has found James D. Van Meter to be.

James married Mariah Elizabeth Shriver December 16, 1832. They were the parents of nine children. My 2x great grandmother Susannah being their oldest. The family farmed quite a number of acres in the northern part of Allen County, Ohio.

As I check the censuses through the years these Van Meters had no problem opening their doors to whoever needed a home. When James’ brother John passed away he and Mariah took in one of John’s sons James R. into their home. When their oldest daughter turns up pregnant without being married her son is added in the mix and that’s just a couple examples of their open door compassion and generosity.

Yet in my opinion the most telling characteristic of James D Van Meter comes in a passage written by nephew James R. (the one he took in after his father’s death) in a letter home. Continue reading

What Do You Do When Your Civil War Ancestor Isn’t Quite the Hero You Thought He Was?

This was previously published in the Going In-Depth October issue. You can find the entire issue here.

Gettysburg National Battlefield

Gettysburg National Battlefield Photo credit: Cindy Freed

Has this happened to you? After a little bit of research have you found an ancestor that didn’t quite live up to your expectations? It happened to me. You may have heard my story before but let me give you a little background. Like any self respecting family historian or genealogist I spend a good deal of time in cemeteries. I’m really fortunate enough to live in the same area my ancestors lived. I’m the seventh generation in one line of my family tree to live in this area so that translates into many ancestors buried close enough for me to visit. My sister and I joke about one small cemetery, Rockport Methodist in Allen County Ohio, where we believe we’re related to at least half the people buried there.

James R Van Meter Co. A 4th OVC

James R Van Meter Co. F 4th OVC Photo redit: Cindy Freed

It was on one of my excursions to Rockport a couple years back that I came across a Civil War soldier with the same surname as my 2x great grandmother. He was barely 21 years old when he died during the war. I hated to think that he probably didn’t leave a wife or children and that without descendants his memory was lost soon after his death. I knew he was a collateral ancestor but that didn’t matter. I was going to research James R Vanmeter and tell his story. He didn’t serve his country at its most crucial time to be lost to history. Right? So I took up the task of remembering James R. Vanmeter.

As I began my research I was sure James had succumbed to wounds while in battle. He died during the war on February 18, 1864. I was swept away by my own thoughts of his youthful courage and patriotism. I diligently searched the Soldiers and Sailors database, Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org. I soon found he served with Co. F 4th Ohio Volunteer Cavalry (OVC). I found a couple amazing books outlining the history of the 4th OVC. The first was The Invincibles – The Story of the Fourth Ohio Veteran Volunteer Cavalry 1861 – 1865 by Nancy Pape-Findley. The other I found online in Google Books. It was while reading the The Story of the 4th Regiment Ohio Veteran Volunteer Cavalry by Lucien Wulsin I had my first inkling James wasn’t who I’d built him up to be in my mind.

I found the 4th OVC was on furlough when James died. He had reenlisted in January 1864 and was able to go home with a return date of March 7, 1864 to Camp Dennison. Okay so he didn’t die on a battle field riddled with bullets. He died at home. Still his death had to be valiant, right? Due to some kind of injury due to enemy fire.

Civil War, Genealogy Research

James R Van Meter letter to mother. Image in author’s collection

I took a shot and researched James in the Civil War veteran’s pensions. I didn’t expect a thing since he was not married yet found a card on him. Rachel Milliken had filed for a pension on James’ service. His mom’s first name was Rachel but last name was Vanmeter not Milliken or so I thought.

This tidbit that some person had filed for a pension on James’ military service led me to request his pension file from the National Archives. I waited anxiously. What was I thinking? I still wasn’t exactly sure how James and I were related. Shouldn’t I be spending money on my own direct ancestors instead of chasing someone else’s?

When all 64 pages of James Vanmeter’s pension file came I couldn’t wait to get into it and what I read made it worth every cent I spent. It contained blockbuster information. Drunkenness, divorce, illness, death. Lots and lots of letters from James’ mom to the pension board as she pled her case for a pension, even two letters she had received written by James while with the 4th! I was ecstatic! Continue reading