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Ancestral Memoirs

Wouldn't it be nice if you could visit with your ancestors? You could ask questions and spend time getting to know them.


Content Details

Type: Article
Resource: Tracing Lines
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Word Count: 968 (approx.)
Labels: Death Record 
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All of us experience brick walls and problems in genealogical research. Wouldn't it be nice if you could visit with your ancestors? You could ask questions and spend time getting to know them. The next best thing is reading letters, diaries or journals that contain first hand accounts ... words out of their mouths.

Uncle Jake Carpenter lived for eighty seven years just below the crest of the Blue Ridge mountains. His house was two miles up the gap and he knew everybody in the area. From 1842 until his death on 10 March 1920 he entered information into an old book and later copied it into a daybook. The information he wrote was an anthology of death. The people he wrote about lived in what was then Avery County, North Carolina. His entries are not only enlightening, but humorous and sad. His own spelling was phonetic. More details were later added by "Aunt Naomi Cutherbertson." Some examples from the anthology are:

"Wm. Davis age 100.8 dide oc 5 (1841) ware old Solder in rev wre and got his thie brok in laste fite at kinge monte he wars farmer and made brandy and never had Drunker in family"

"Franky Davis his wife age 87 dide Sept 10 (1842)

she had nirv fite wolves all nite at shogar camp to save her caff throde fier chonks to save caff the camp wars haf mil from home noe she mus have nirv to fites wolf all nite"

"Wm Carpenter age 76 dide no. 15 (1881)

wars fine honter cil bare and wolves by 100 der by 100"

(Note by Aunt Naomi -- he was awful sorry man.)

Samel Hoskin ag 72 did may 5 wars (1896)

farmer and grate lier"

(Aunt Naomi added "Preggy braggy old fellow not much at him.")

Uncle Jake described the people in a sentence or less. His English was crude and candid. In January of 1920 he made his last notation in the book ... "Jacob Carpenter is sic took bed this day." Did he have a fixation about death? I think in his own way he was paying respect to his friends, relatives and neighbors. If you have ancestry that was known by Uncle Jake, you will have more insight into their life and death, seen through his eyes.

Jacob Thomas Zehrung enlisted on 14 August 1862 in the 73rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry in Chillicothe, Ohio. He was assigned to Company A which saw service in several battles of the Civil War. From April 1863 through November 1865, Zehrung kept a diary which depicts his feelings, the weather and comments about the war. The first entry was made on Wednesday, 1 April 1863 in which he noted that he had received a "box from home it came through safe and sound." Imagine receiving something from home in the midst of the war. While in Virginia on 10 April 1863, he wrote:

"Friday morning and it is clear and pleasant and spring like and we are getting ready for to be reviewed by the President of the United States Abraham Lincoln and it was a grand sight there was 26 rounds fired by a 6 pounder."

Obviously part of this long sentence was completed after the review. It is brief, but one can sense his excitement at seeing President Lincoln. On 1 July 1863, a Wednesday, Zehrung wrote about crossing the line into Pennsylvania and advancing toward a place called "Gettisburgh." On Friday, 3 July 1863, he wrote:

"... it is cloudy and the fight comenced 4=30 minits this morning our men fight like tigers later all quiet along the line and I sent a letter home today, later the Battle has raged with desperation for the last hour and still raging the sight and sound is awful a desperate battle has bin fought this day our loss is grate but the real loss grater Longstreet killed."

This is a long sentence with great impact through which one can feel the momentum of the war. Even so in a brief period of quietness in a soldier found time to write a letter home. Perhaps he thought it might be his last letter home.

Finding letters, journals and diaries may require an arduous search. Many of them have never survived and those that have can sometimes be found in private, home collections, still with relatives. Be sure to ask questions of relatives as to what family treasures they have, such as diaries and letters. In the case of the Zehrung diary, it has survived through generations, still in the possession of a descendant.

Many of these wonderful treasures have been deposited in museums, libraries and archives. Select an area where your ancestor lived or immediate family lived and begin inquiring at the local or county museums and libraries. Ask your local librarian to use their directory of libraries. You can also find information pertaining to libraries at these web pages:

Libweb - Library WWW Servers

LibDex -

Use Internet to locate museums. Do a search through Google or your favorite search engine for "museum" plus the area of interest. Also check the USGenWeb web page,, for the state and county of interest. Many of the web pages contain information on libraries, museums and archives, as well as historical societies. An excellent listing of state level records repositories can be found at Cyndi's List,

Your search should also include a search online or at a major library of the National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections (NUCMC). Online it can be found at This is great place to search for manuscript collections, which include collections of letters, diaries and journals.

Don't just settle for reading another person's ancestral accounts. Search for your own. There may be something personal and enlightening just waiting to be found!

Source Information: Tracing Lines, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2006.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

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