Saturday, January 26, 2013

The common sense approach

For years, I believed everything I saw online as fact. Wrong. I want to believe but I've grown wiser. Now I check and doublecheck all I see online.

I'm working on my connection to Charles Featherston right now. My maternal grandfather's grandfather was most likely Charles Featherston, born in 1825 in Charles City, Virginia. I'm 90% sure about this. Charles' father was William Featherston born in 1793 to Carolus and Lucy Elmore Featherstone. There is proof of this. Carolus' parents were Charles and Jean Wright Featherston. There is proof of this too. Both sources are wills. When I look on I find several family trees that take the lineage back further with no other proof than other family trees on I used to be guilty of that too.

I looked at the Featherston family trees. They have Charles being born between 1718 to 1720. We know he died between 1788 and 1790 because of  his will. Where did they get that date for his birth? The same family trees have Jean being born around 1723 and giving birth to children between 1760 and 1776. She died in 1812. There is proof for her death. I don't know where the dates for her birth came from but it seems preposterous. That would mean Jean gave birth from her late 30's to her 50's and then lived to be 90. A brief look at the history of colonial Virginia proves that is a very unusual for a woman. Most women married around 15 years old then. The average lifespan was 45 to 50 years old.

Now that I'm studying the family trees harder, it is making me a little upset at myself and others online for not being more responsible. I was guilty of passing on this information as gospel. Mea culpa. But I have learned. I am checking and rechecking my information and couching most finds in the phrase "possibly" or "probably" but rarely "definitely."

Friday, January 25, 2013

Info for obtaining a file from the VA

This information is probably readily found on the web already but I don't think redundancy will hurt in this instance. I was given this information from a Facebook friend when she heard of my concerns. I am posting it here. I am not acknowledging her by name because she made clear she had privacy issues.

I plan on going to D.C. this spring specifically to look up the pension files of my ancestors that participated in the Civil War. I need to contact the V.A. for the records of Sylvester Ames before I go. I believe Sylvester married my great-grandfather's sister. There is a C in front of his file number. I was told this is because his son applied for the pension after Sylvester died. The following is the information that was given to me from Facebook. It may help those who have a similar problem.

"Info for obtaining a file from the VA for a soldier of :
The Civil War
The Spanish-American War
World War I
World War II

If you have a C# or XC# for the soldier, the file is most likely in the possession of the V.A. See this blog post for wording for a letter requesting access under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA):

I would recommend calling the VA Records Management Center with the information you have on the soldier: (Name/War/Service #/Service Unit/C or XC #) to see if they can tell you the location of the file (I didn't have the patience for a bunch of snail mail inquiries), phone: 888-533-4558.

Be prepared when you call to request that the person conduct a BIRLS (Beneficiary Identification Records Locator Subsystem) search to see at which facility the record is housed and what the transfer date of the file is. THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT!!
Once you have determined the location of the file you WILL then need to write a letter under the FOIA to the Department of Veteran's Affairs requesting a copy of the file. The link above recommends that you NOT include the name of the war if requesting a Civil War record. This is likely because everyone (including people who work for the VA) assumes that ALL CW records are at the National Archives. MOST are but some are not!

Be courteous but be persistent! I guarantee the results are worth it! I had to call several times before I got the information I needed but I did have a soldier with a VERY common name (William Smith). Then my first letter was lost in transit (mail) to the VA—they never received it—so be SURE to make copies of everything you send! After they received the 2nd letter, it took about a month to receive my soldier's packet."

Hopes this helps someone. It definitely helps me.