Friday Find: A Civil War Relief Book

As a librarian and archivist, one of the joys of my profession is finding a new source, discovering a hidden collection, or unearthing a mysterious ledger book. Even if it doesn’t tie into my own family research, perhaps it can help me down the road in an unexpected and invaluable way.

Earlier this week, one such resource jumped out at me at the Archives of Michigan. Found deep within a collection of records, largely assessment rolls, from the Ingham County Treasurer’s Office, one resource stood out. Indeed, only 1 volume in a collection of 314, the Civil War Relief Book lists detailed information about the Civil War soldier, the remaining head of household still residing in the area, other family members and their ages, and the amount of relief required.

Here is an example from the volume:

Entry for Milo[w] Smith in Volunteer Relief Book, Fund Report, 1861-1865. Ingham County Treasurer’s Office. RG 80-10, Vol. 312. Archives of Michigan.

And the rest of the entry:

Part 2: Entry for Milo[w] Smith in Volunteer Relief Book, Fund Report, 1861-1865. Ingham County Treasurer’s Office. RG 80-10, Vol. 312. Archives of Michigan.

38 years old at the time of his 3-year enlistment in Lansing in August 1862, Milo Smith served in Company A of the 20th Michigan Infantry. Louisa Smith became the temporary head of the family until Milo’s return, with Fanny Smith and a Harvey Tussell also in the residence. The family required $15 of relief per month while Milo was off at war.

Here is the family in 1860 in Lansing:

Milo Smith and family. 1860 U.S. Census (M-653, r. 545), Lansing, Ingham, Michigan, p. 202.

Milo Smith unfortunately did not live to see the end of the war. According to the 20th volume of the Record of Service of Michigan Volunteers in the Civil War, 1861-1865, Smith died on the hospital boat “Tycoon” on the Mississippi River on 4 August 1863. Here is that entry:

Record of Service of Michigan Volunteers in the Civil War, 1861-1865 (Vol. 20): Twentieth Infantry, p. 88.

This information found in the Civil War Relief Book adds a certain level of context to the home front and the family members those Civil War ancestors left behind. Indeed, many of our ancestor’s stories are not found on the battlefield, but rather back home as those remaining family members endured their own wartime struggles. The volume discussed above is full of other compelling examples and, although some stories end tragically, others end with the veteran soldier returning to family life in Ingham County and beyond.


All Lines Lead to Chicago

In a few weeks, I’m headed to the Windy City for a few glorious days of research. With my professional and family life as it is, I have to maximize that precious research time, and an upcoming research trip motivates me like nothing else. Although life has gotten in the way (as it often does) the last few weeks, I’m now focused on completing my research agenda and itinerary. I’ve pondered the genealogical questions I’m hoping to resolve, identified the sources I’m anxious to jump into, and mapped out the different locations I’m headed to.

With a 5-day schedule jam-packed from dawn to dusk (and later), my agenda includes visits to the Newberry Library, Chicago Public Library, Cook County Recorder of Deeds, Probate Division of the Cook County Clerk of the Circuit Court, Chicago History Museum, local churches, area cemeteries, and South Side neighborhoods. I’ve not even mentioned the Chicago regional branch of the National Archives or the Polish Museum of America!

Yet I’ve also learned from previous trips. Anxious to fit as much as I can into one trip, I’ve often not given myself the opportunity to truly follow a new discovery or pursue an intriguing avenue of research. Perhaps that speaks to something other than my research habits, but on this trip, I’ve allowed myself a “free agent” day where I will go wherever my research from that week takes me.

With my family’s deep roots in the city, this trip is truly just the clichéd “tip of the iceberg.” Indeed, as I’ve written before, all eight of my great-grandparents lived in Chicago at some point in their lives, and all but two of them during the 1909-1915 time period. I could research non-stop for weeks and still barely scratch the surface of my family’s narrative in the city. Given that, I’ll be thrilled with whatever discoveries are made.