Genealogical Karma

I believe in genealogical karma. Give your time, money, learnings and tricks of the trade to others and it will more than come back to you. We depend on the kindness of strangers to send us documents from distant places and it is important to be generous with those that need assistance. Plus, there is the added pleasure of helping people achieve their goals. This month, I was fortunate enough to be on the receiving end of the karma.

Genealogists are insatiable when it comes to information.  There is no such thing as having too much data on a person and such was the case with my 3X Great Grandfather John C. Mattson.  I have started to get a picture of him from the records I have located, but suspected that his Civil War Pension file might have more insight into his past and character. Unfortunately, I have sent for records at the National Archives for other ancestors and haven’t been successful.  So, when I heard a fellow genealogist, Eric Stroschein, was going back to NARA in D.C. and could get some files for me at the same cost as the archives and higher quality copies, I jumped at the chance.  This would help him finance his genealogical business trip and I would be sure of his thoroughness in finding what I wanted. Eric more than delivered!

Pension records and homestead land files can be some of the richest resources for genealogical data, but up till now in my research, I haven’t had an ancestor who had one. John C. Mattson has a 159 pages of genealogical gold. The day before he returned to Seattle, Eric and I spoke on the phone and he gave me the names of John’s parents that were listed in his death certificate in the file. I was up all night working the census records and piecing together his childhood. And now, 6 days after getting the disk with the files of 3 ancestors, I haven’t gotten past extracting all the information on one 6 page letter in the pension file of Private John C. Mattson.

Prior to the pension file, what I knew about John C. Mattson and his family gave an outline of his adult life, but I was still missing the depth of knowledge that would help me see his life holistically.  I had details from federal census records starting in 1860 when he was 31, Civil War basics (, a second marriage record, Civil War regimental information (books at Seattle Public Library) and death records (Trip to Buffalo, NY to the public library and archived vital records).  What I knew:

  • John was was born about 1829 in Pennsylvania and died in Buffalo, NY in 1899.
  • He served in the Pennsylvania militia for 3 months in the early years of the Civil War and might have been in the Chester, PA band.
  • He had been a puddler (early version of making iron and steel) in Pennsylvania and Buffalo, N.Y.
  • He was married to a woman named Susan (no maiden name) who died in 1874. They had 5 children: Ellis, John, Leah, Jesse and Amos
  • He married a second time to Rebecca Oberlander at a Presbyterian church in Buffalo in 1877. She had also been living in the house with his 1st wife and children in 1870. They had 2 sons Joel and Eric.
  • Both he and his 2nd wife and applied for the pension.

The first thing I was drawn to in the pension file was a letter dated In November 19th 1902.  It had been over 3 years since the John’s death and Rebecca wrote articulately and with passion requesting a pension for her and her 2 children still living at home.  No big surprise there, but then come the steady stream of information that suddenly adds a whole new dimension to who this family was.

The big reveal Susan and Rebecca were sisters!

John was 1 of 4 brothers who fought in the Civil War, 2 of who died in the war:

He struggled with a heart condition after the war and there is a long list of his physicians and where he lived over the years.

Rebecca had been previously married and divorced.

It’s hard to get past all the excitement of the new information and not to go through the rest of the file like a feline with catnip.  I am pacing myself trying to absorb the information, add it to the research plan and documentation like a good genealogist should, send a nice thank you to Eric and feed the genealogical well by doing something kind for a fellow researcher. Well…maybe one more peek……

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11 Responses to Genealogical Karma

  1. Val Sanford says:

    Oh what joy in getting our hands on a pile of records! Great find here, Rachelle. I like how the story is starting to piece together for your 3x great-grandfather. It is easy to give in to inertia and not bother someone who can do a good turn. This is a good reminder to resist and ask for help. The wheel will turn.

  2. All I can say is WOW!!! Well maybe I have more to say. I thought just finding your 4X Great Grandparents names, maiden name and birth places was enough? Now you have this incredible letter. I have gone back and read the letter and it is a fabulous piece of genealogical evidence. To be able to have a letter that spells out the relationships, tracks their movements, gives evidence of 3 more brothers with possible pension files. A land record for Rebecca and William Money or Mooney. (Since I took the liberty of doing a little research for you, my wife found a marriage of a Rebecca Oberlander to a William Mooney in Jackson Missouri Dec 4, 1871 divorced Jan 6, 1872.)
    Since the Mattson’s seem to be very patriotic, with 4 sons in the Civil War I would bet there is a history of military service in the family. More files at NARA. I would just like to say WOW!!!

  3. Fantastic! I love that your passions for history, research, exploration and writing are all coming together so magnificently.

  4. Kate Johnston says:

    WOW! What a great find, and what a great friend to have helped you along. : )
    Are you coming on Wed night to talk about this? It will be great to hear you talk about it in person… Since you know our group loves to hear about things like this.

    • Rachelle says:

      Yes, I will be at Tully’s on Wednesday and will bring some of the more interesting documents. See you then!

  5. Karen Stroschein says:

    Eric has a passion for research that is indeed insatiable whether it is his own or for a client. I can still recall how it felt to read medical records describing how my great-great grandfather spent a lot of time in the hospital recovering from illness and injury. Had Eric not been tenacious in his research and insistant on some records being pulled at NARA I would not have had this glimpse into my Civil War soldiers life. This research added a richness and depth I would not have wanted to miss.

    Eric took me to Archives II so I could hold in my hands my maternal great grandfathers passport application which has the only known picture of him in it. I traced his name with my fingertip and felt a closeness to this man I had never even met.

    I am grateful Eric’s research for you was so fruitful. His love of research is indeed rare and wonderful as he is rare and wonderful.

  6. Kathleen says:

    Fabulous stuff honey! I’m impressed! But am mostly happy that you’re having so much fun! Wow! This truly is great! Bravo!

  7. Kristie Paylor says:

    I love your blog and how exciting to have so much information. Seeing the images of the hand-written originals on the weathered paper brings the history alive – how different life was then from our instant-messaging era of today. Really well done!

  8. Pingback: A Day at the Fiske « Suitcase Full of Memories

  9. Pingback: The Mystery of the Missing Mattson Brother – Part I | Ascending the Stairs

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