Thursday, December 30, 2010

Age of Civil War soldier & old soldiers' home paperwork

Subject: Age of Civil War soldier
From: Ernest Thode
I am puzzled why you would be so surprised to find a 79-year-old Civil War soldier in the 1920 census.  That places his birth around 1841, just about right for the Civil War.  He was about 20 in 1861 when it began and 24 in 1865 when it ended.  He wasn't a soldier when he was 79, but living in the old soldiers' home.  I have a feeling that you wanted to convey something more about the soldier.


Thank-you for your feedback. You are absolutely correct that one should look for Talbert Higgins as a soldier in the Civil War as for any male except infants living in the US during the time period. Yet as a newbie years ago, I just didn't look because there was no family history of his service.

When I wrote the blog entry listing ten surprising things I learned from my ancestors, there was no specification as to when that surprise occurred. As with any genealogist, it is thrilling to find something new, and to work through additional surviving record groups to determine if indeed the documents concern a specific ancestor, and not someone else who goes by the same name.

Like all newbies, I hadn't done much genealogy in the early 1980s beyond copying the family group sheets and pedigree charts my mother and paternal grandmother had created
. Looking at census microfilm at NARA I, hand-cranking the film reader and making the over-sized, old-fashioned "wet" photocopies, was considered pretty hi-tech at the time. This was a good 15-20 years before online presentation of census images became the norm.

We didn't have comprehensive, all-US census indexes in those early years. Earlier census and land records had this man in Clinton and Daviess counties in Missouri. I figured Talbert had passed away when he didn't show up in Missouri  in the 1910 federal enumerations for those counties. Looking in any other other location even in the immediate vicinity would have necessitated looking at a good twenty or thirty 1,400 page census microfilm.  But as indexes improved, I found Tolbert in the 1910 federal census in Clifton Township, Washington County, Kansas. (Image at

I remember my surprise finding Tolbert/Talbert Higgins in the 1920 census when the images were posted at The Civil War Index at the National Parks Service was either non-existent or newly emerging and therefore incomplete. I didn't bother to use the microfilm of pension index cards at NARA (now available at and, again because I was a short-sighted beginner and simply didn't know any better.

Fortunately, when I found Talbert Higgins' military pension file, his known wife and unusually-named daughter were listed by the soldier including name and birth date as members of his immediate family. From documents in this pension file, I was able to conclude that the Talbert Higgins who served the Union during the Civil War was indeed my known ancestor. added some records from the Leavenworth, Kansas US National Home, and Talbert begins to show up in 1905. Here are the four sections of his listing at the Leavenworth facility. I've taken care to include part of the next section, so that you can consider page 15891 in context.

The first section "MILITARY HISTORY" includes a report of Talbert's enlistment on April 3, 1862 as a private in company F 2nd Missouri Cavalry at All[??], Missouri, and discharged April 17, 1865 at Chatanoooga , Tennessee at the close of the war. Also listed are his medical disabilities.

From's scanned images of
U.S. National Homes for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, 1866-1938
entry for Talbert Higgins.

The second portion of the page is "DOMESTIC HISTORY", indicating that Talbert was born in Missouri. At age 65 he was 5' 10", had ruddy complexion, gray eyes, dark hair, could read and write, was a Protestant, farmer, and lived at Seymour, Indiana subsequent to discharge. Talbert is listed as married to Sarah Ann Higgins [whom we know to be his second wife]. Mrs. Narci Handley of Grayson, Missouri is listed as Talbert's daughter.

The third portion of the page is the "HOME HISTORY", with columns listing rate of pension; date of admission; re-admission and transfer; conditions on re-admissions; date of discharge and transfer; cause of discharge; date of death; and cause of death. Talbert was hospitalized five times from 1905 and 1921 for as little as 3.5  months and as long as 9 months duration.

The bottom of the page is reserved for "GENERAL REMARKS" including Talbert's all-important pension certificate #549430, useful for obtaining access to the original file at the National Archives. Since Talbert did not die while living at the Leavenworth, Kansas soldiers' home, there is nothing about the distribution of his estate or information about burial.

So, yes, Ernest, Ol' Myrt here did have much more to share about this Civil War soldier. Hopefully my genealogy research and analysis will improve considerably in the next 35 years as it did during the previous 35. And I hope I'll never cease to be surprised and amazed by the things learned about my ancestors.

Happy family tree climbing!
Myrt :)
Your friend in genealogy.

1 comment:

  1. While doing research for a friend, I found her g-g-grandfather's file from the Roseburg, Oregon, soldier's home. In that file was the ORIGINAL of his discharge papers from the Union Army. It's holding history in your hand! Sometimes the burial place of a veteran will give you a clue about where to look for his files.