Arthur T. Bull’s GAR Descriptive Book

Sepia Saturday 502: Second in a series of posts based on recent research discoveries, starting with my U.S. Civil War ancestor Arthur T. Bull of the 6th New York Heavy Artillery.

Delegate badges worn at GAR conventions. Photo: Molly Charboneau

In the last post, I discussed my recent genealogy research trip to the New York State Archives and Library and one of the collections I looked at — the Grand Army of the Republic New York Dept. collection.

This week I want to share some of the remarkable documents and artifacts in this collection — several pertaining to my Union Army ancestor Arthur T. Bull of the 6th New York Heavy Artillery.

My ancestor’s GAR enrollment

First among these (shown below) is the Descriptive Book in which — on 21 July 1886 — my great-great grandfather Arthur was enrolled in GAR Nathan Crosby Post 550 in Salamanca, Cattaraugus Co., N.Y.

Cover of the GAR Nathan Crosby Post 550 Descriptive Book. These post books with marbleized covers were standard issue. The New York State Archives has many of them in their collection from GAR posts statewide. Photo: Molly Charboneau
Number 30: My ancestor’s enrollment in the GAR. My great-great grandfather Arthur T. Bull enrolled as “A.T. Bull.” He was not a founding member of Nathan Crosby Post 550. However, he joined in 1886 soon after moving to Salamanca, N.Y., from the Adirondacks region. Photo: Molly Charboneau

Digital images of the book and his listing are available online — but they were just no substitute for holding the actual Descriptive Book and knowing that my great-great grandfather directly provided his life and military details, which were entered by a fellow veteran.

I was doubly fortunate that a photographer documenting the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society trip happened by and photographed me as I was researching!

Viewing my ancestor’s GAR enrollment record. My great-great grandfather Arthur T. Bull joined the GAR in 1886. Seeing his name in the post’s Descriptive Book was a high point of my Nov. 2019 genealogy research trip to the New York State Archives in Albany, N.Y. Photo: Jennifer Clunie, New York State Archives Partnership Trust

The GAR support network

The story of my ancestor Arthur T. Bull’s membership in the GAR is detailed in a previous post — along with a transcription of his record.

Arthur and his wife Mary benefited greatly from his GAR membership — and through it developed new friendships in an area that they moved to late in life.

The GAR provided a valuable support network to assist with pension issues. And after my great-great grandfather Arthur died, his fellow veterans helped my great-great grandmother Mary with probate.

So it was wonderful to view and photograph the embossed, folio-sized founding charter of the Nathan Crosby Post — a GAR chapter pulled together by a group of Union Army veterans who were there when my ancestors needed them.

Founding charter of my ancestor’s GAR NY Nathan Crosby Post 550. These folio-sized documents are impressive. The New York State Archives has a large collection of GAR charters from throughout the state. Photo: Molly Charboneau

Other items of interest

The GAR New York Department collection — with 99 boxes in 14 sub-series — is a significant source of statewide information about Union Army veterans.

Reunion, encampment and campaign badges from Grand Army of the Republic gatherings. Photo: Molly Charboneau

In addition to specific items pertaining to my ancestor Arthur T. Bull, I pulled several boxes of general interest — and I was amazed at the breadth of what was available.

The collection preserves badges, books, photographs, minutes and other documents from a pivotal time in U.S. history — yet remains very personal in its presentation.

One can almost imagine the veterans who — long after the U.S. Civil War — proudly wore, and carefully saved, their GAR pins and badges from conventions, encampments and reunions before fading from history’s stage.

This archival collection assures that New York’s Union Army veterans and their invaluable contributions are not forgotten.

Up next, more research discoveries in the New York State Archives. Please stop back! Meanwhile, please visit the blogs of other Sepia Saturday participants here.

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16 thoughts on “Arthur T. Bull’s GAR Descriptive Book”

  1. How exciting to hold the Descriptive Book with your 2nd great-grandfather’s information. I’ve never heard of a Descriptive Book. From a photo I have of my 2nd great-grandfather, it appears that he was a member of the GAR as well. I need to do research on this aspect of his life. Thank you for your post!

    1. Yes, by all means see what you can find about your ancestor and his GAR involvement. You will undoubtedly be gratified by what you find!

  2. Wow, what a successful visit. This is one of my dream archives to research. Looking forward to your next blog.

  3. The distinctive star on the GAR medal is such a great clue for identification in photos from the postwar decades. I have photos taken in the 1900s of two great great grandfathers, both Union veterans from Ohio, and both proudly wearing their GAR medals, perhaps the only honor they ever recieved. I don’t think they had a disability or pension, but they probably participated in the GAR encampments. There was an equivalent society for Confederate veterans but it never gained the nationwide membership of the GAR.

  4. I had not heard of the GAR before but reading about it reminds me very much of our Australian Returned Services League Post World Wars 1 and 2. Lots of political influence but I suspect lots of support too for veterans who chose to join.

    1. Definitely! The GAR fought hard for pensions, improvements to them and help for surviving widows, too. Many veterans joined late in life as those issues became more important to them.

  5. My paternal great grandfather was in the Union Navy during the Civil War. I have his sword, but if he ever had any decorative medals or ribbons, I’ve not seen them. Perhaps one of my cousins has them? I should ask.

    1. How great that you have his sword! Did he collect a military pension? Or did his widow? There is a wealth of family history detail in those records.

  6. Excellent records of your ancestor’s GAR involvement. I can certainly understand your excitement at seeing these records in person. Congratulations.

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