Never be opposed to using conventional research techniques in a new way.  This is the first in a few blogs that will explain how my background in genealogy searching saved me and allowed me to find information that had been hidden and unconnected for over a century. 

About seven years ago, I was working at a small liberal arts college and a student who was researching his thesis paper in history asked me how many students from the school had served in the Civil War.  I pointed out that there was a list in the back of an early college history.  He rightfully asked if I believed or knew if this list was all inclusive.  I admitted that I was not sure.  Next, he asked if I could find or put together such a thing.  My mind blanked at the challenge, I told him that I doubted it.  He rightfully challenged me by asking why not?  I explained that it would be difficult since we didn’t have many detailed records for these early students and it would be very time consuming to find the information.  The student was disappointed but made another appointment to continue his research. 

That evening as I was driving home from work, I continued to think about the young man’s question.  It was not an unreasonable request and I felt guilty that I couldn’t give him an answer or point to a place where he could figure it out for himself.  By the time I reached the railroad crossing and had to wait for the train to pass, I had decided that I was going to try and figure out how many young men had served in the war.  The question was, how?

The first thing to do was to put together a concise list of young men who had attended from the school’s opening in 1850 through a cutoff date that I arbitrarily picked as fall 1864.[1]  The archives did not have registrar records and I knew the registrar’s office was busy with their own activities, and to ask for their assistance with this might cause it to move to the back burner.  However, I did have the rosters of students that used to appear in the front of each year’s catalog.  Now I had a starting point. 

I created a spreadsheet that included the student’s name, the years he attended, and the home residence listed in the catalog.  That was the easy part.  How was I going to determine if a specific young man served? 

The next step was to search for the name of the student to see if it showed up in the database of soldiers either in Ohio or somewhere else in the country.  For this, I checked through two databases.  First, I entered each name into the Ohio Civil War Roster database at the Ohio Genealogical Society’s website, https://www.ogs.org/research/search_ohcwss.php .  I liked this database because unlike the national database through the National Park Service, it allowed for “fuzzy” searching that gave a more controllable list of results. 

If I found the name in the roster, I highlighted it for more investigation.  Whether or not I found it in the Ohio roster, I would move on to the national Civil War Soldiers and Sailors database provided by the National Park Service at https://www.nps.gov/civilwar/soldiers-and-sailors-database.htm .  Here I would enter the name exactly and then by any “common” misspellings.  If I found the name in these rosters, I once again highlighted the name oh my list for further research.  This meant that some names were highlighted for possible service only from Ohio, or another state, or both.  However, I was not to a point of conclusion yet.  Remember, just because I found the name on a roster did not mean that the soldier was the same young man to attend the school.  To figure that out, I needed to do more investigating. 

Next post: I explain my methodology—or how I opened a lot of windows when the doors were closed. 

Cheers! ~~ Jenn

[1] While I’m very aware that there were women who served in the serving in volunteer brigades, nurses, or even masquerading as men, I felt my chances of succeeding with that search were very small. 

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