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 (Ancestry.com), 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……