Thursday, October 28, 2010

Wow wow wow!!

Ok, this must be some kind of record. I got TWO sets of records over the past week from the two places I thought I would be most likely to wait the longest for turnaround time. I got the naturalization papers from the Cook County, IL archives and I got the CMSR (compiled military service record) for James Bromagem from NARA. Both of which were sent in just a couple of weeks' time and managed to beat out my order for microfilm from the FHC which I ordered around a week or so before both of them and am still waiting for.

There's really too much to talk about with Julius Bolda naturalization records so I'll save that for the next post. Some of you may have seen the discussion about it on the message board but wow, was it an interesting weekend working on that!

As for the service record, it was for the NGS Home Study Course Lesson 14 on military records. The assignment was to order a record from NARA, which I did online and which may be the reason for the quick turnaround time, and then write a report telling what information is given. The report is to be thorough enough without being just pages and pages of transcription. What it actually sounded like to me, was gaining experience in writing a research report on a record as you would for a client. It just gave me that kind of vibe, very much like something we did in ProGen. So that's basically what I did. I also needed to provide a citation for the CMSR.

This was my first real in-depth work with a Civil War CMSR and it was pretty much as I expected. My experience was what I would term mediocre-not the worst outcome but not necessarily the best either, it falls somewhere in between. The reason I say this is because when I worked at the National Archives, one of my jobs was to give people the files they ordered to be pulled. So when I was working in the research rooms and the pulls would come in, I saw many, many sour faces when they saw the CMSRs come to them. They were more often than not, only a couple of cards and didn't really say anything. We were actually trained to tell people that if they're looking for information on their Civil War ancestors, that they needed to order the pension files rather than the CMSRs for that very reason. It was very very rare that we saw one that was filled to the brim with information. So when I ordered CMSR for my ancestor I was already prepared not to expect much. I already had his pension so I was pretty much only getting the CMSR for this assignment and anything else was a bonus. And, as predicted there is no new vital information given in his service record. It did however, serve to confirm some bits of information that were touched upon in the pension file, such as where he enlisted and a few of the places he had gone with his unit. Also, there was some confusion in the pension file about his unit and the service record helped clear that up by explaining that the initial unit he was in changed names in 1864. So he wasn't in two separate units, it was just one unit that had two different names.

Most importantly, it cleared up the issue of whether he had been taken as a prisoner of war. This was a serious matter of contention in the pension file because his widow claimed that he died as a cause from his getting sick while he was in the service, probably due to poor treatment while held prisoner. There was very little proof shown in the pension however, just one sheet with a remarks section that says there had been suspicion of his being taken in 1862. The service record was a bit more in-depth on the matter because the muster rolls from the time he went missing, in December 1862, until the time he was returned in June 1863, had remarks saying he was missing in action, then presumed taken prisoner, and finally that he had been exchanged and was returned to duty. The packet also contained copies of pages entitled "Memorandum of Prisoner of War Records". These pages told when and where he had been taken prisoner, in this case at Murfreesboro, TN on 31 Dec 1862 (the Battle of Stone River), where he was held, and what camps he was in before returning home. These were pages that I hadn't seen first hand in the service records before, so I was very glad to be able to see what kind of information is available in the CMSRs for those who experienced being POWs.

One thing that I wondered about after going through the packet however, was how in the world a newspaper man ended up being taken prisoner. It was very clear from his service record that James was able to continue his civilian occupation as a printer during his time in the service. I wouldn't think that this would place him in the position of being taken prisoner. That is, until I read this This website describes the battle as being an attempt by the Confederates to cut off the lines of communication. And there you go, that would be why a printer would have been taken prisoner. That is, if he were acting in his capacity as such at the time of the raids. His unit, the 9th IN cavalry, was also there at the time so he could very well have been an active part of the battle. Either way, without the service record, I wouldn't have had this information and I wouldn't have had the details on what he had been doing during the war. This was pretty interesting.

One other tidbit. I have no photos of James or his wife. I have no photos of his parents or his siblings, at least none that I know of. Thanks to one of my very kind, Bromagem cousins, I do have a scan of one of his extended family members, as well as a photo of one of his daughters (my Great Great Grandmother Lillian, who is also the woman in the photo of my google icon) thanks to the son of my Great Uncle Stevens. None of these few images equal the physical description that was given in James' CMSR. Though brief, it is pretty much the only thing I have to devise a picture of him in my mind. He was described as being 5 feet 6 inches tall at age 29-31, with light eyes and light hair, and a sandy complexion. If you look at the photo of Lillian from my google icon, she's got dark hair and dark eyes so I'm guessing those were not features she inherited from her father. But I really do treasure that description. I'm a firm believer that seeing what someone looks like adds a dimension of "realness" to all these facts and dates and information you pick up along the way. Without looking at their face, it can sometimes be hard to make that connection to them and to really feel like they lived. With James, I've felt a connection for some time before now, but that's primarily because I've found so many details about his life and he's been more than just random facts for so long now. But now I have a physical description of the real man and that really adds to the connection I already had.

So while I can warn you that you may not find much more than a single muster roll card in your ancestor's compiled military service record, I can say that there are times and there are instances where that one page may tell you enough.


  1. How exciting!! Wow I can only imagine how amazing and exciting it must have been to receive that file and then go through it piece by piece! Thanks for posting.

  2. Nice posting.....I just received my 3x great-grandfather's Civil War Pension File this week and it is chock full of information - type of injury, physical description, birth dates of children, etc. I haven't had time yet to process it all, but am thrilled to have it. Thanks for your take on your own personal experience with receiving these records. I have also enjoyed hearing about your NGS Home Study Course experiences so far.