A Different Kind of Research Project — Part 2
Knowing that someone named “Mortimer Cowabunga” attended the institution and seeing the same name on a list of Civil War soldiers does not necessarily mean that it is the same fellow. Prove it.
Prove it. Prove it. Prove it. That was my mantra throughout the project. If I was going to take the time to do this, I was going to make sure it was as accurate as I could make it. For some names, it was easy because we had family records and letters to and from soldiers to support the connection and I was able confirm service easily. For the others, I needed to get a plan.
Once I was past the “easy matches” I had to ask myself how was I going to research the rest? In my opinion, I had to prove things in two directions: moving from student to soldier and from soldier to student. In some cases, this meant that while I was researching one student I may have to research multiple soldiers with the same name. The college archives collections could help some since many of the families were at least distantly related and names would appear in letters to and from other relatives. However, that would only take me so far. What I needed to do was to create a biographical record for each student and soldier to see if there were at least three points in common.
Immediately, I ran into the first problem. In most cases, the soldiers were enlisted men and were not mentioned in battle records or histories. Prior to the war they had been students, farmers, clerks, etc. That was true of the students, also. The young men who came to the institution became preachers and teachers, or clerks, or even went back to the family farm. Almost none of the young men I would be researching came from wealthy or influential families. These were “ordinary” men. How do you find information about clerks and teachers living in small town America in the middle to late nineteenth century? My answer—genealogy.
The basic records I decided I needed to use were census, death, marriage, military, and pension. Finding graves would be very helpful and obituaries would be great. If I produced a soldier profile that matched a student profile I could add that young man’s information to my budding database.
I should note here that unfortunately, none of this work was directly benefited the researcher who posed the original question. As a one-woman operation, I didn’t have the time to complete the project in the two months he had before he had to complete his thesis. However, it did allow me to develop a database that could help other researchers.
Next blog: Examples of the search, the problems, the triumphs, and a weird mistake.