NYS Archives discoveries: Arthur T. Bull and the GAR collection

Sepia Saturday 501: Launching a new round 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.

In Nov. 2019, I went on a group research trip to the New York State Archives and Library in Albany, N.Y. — two repositories I had long wanted to visit.

While I didn’t have any major genealogy “brick walls” that I was hoping to resolve on the trip, I looked forward to researching in the NYSA’s Grand Army of the Republic New York Department collection.

Researching at the NYS Archives & Library. I was gratified to discover new information about my paternal and maternal ancestors, which will inform future blogs on Molly’s Canopy.

In his later years, my great-great grandfather Arthur T. Bull — a U.S. Civil War veteran of the 6th New York Heavy Artillery — was a member of the GAR’s Nathan Crosby Post 550 in Salamanca, Cattaraugus Co., N.Y.

I have seen a digital image of his post’s Descriptive Book showing his enrollment — but I wanted to see the actual book in the state archives. I also hoped to get a better feel for the GAR through the other records, photos and artifacts in the collection.

Finding aids point the way

The trip organizer from the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society recommended reviewing the NYSA’s online finding aids before the trip — always a good idea when visiting a new repository.

GAR Records at the NYS Archives. These are the  boxes I reviewed from the extensive collection of Grand Army of the Republic New York Department records, photos and artifacts that are housed in the New York State Archives. Photo: Molly Charboneau

Using the extensive GAR finding aid, I made a list of which of the 99 boxes in 14 sub-series I wanted to look at while in Albany.

My list included records of my ancestor’s GAR post, history interviews with 6th New York Heavy Artillery veterans, attendance rolls from GAR artillery encampments, unidentified veteran photos, GAR medals and even circulars and war songs.

Advance preparation was worthwhile, because the staff was able to quickly pull the items I requested — and soon I was delving into boxes of GAR materials piled high on a rolling cart (shown above).

Documents and interviews tell a tale

Of particular interest were written interviews with veterans of the 6th New York Heavy Artillery — my ancestor Arthur T. Bull’s unit — about their wartime experience and the battles they fought in. The GAR undertook these interviews in 1895 to contribute to a history of the U.S. Civil War while its veterans were still alive.

Example of a GAR member interview. To help compile a history of the U.S. Civil War, in 1895 the GAR conducted written interviews of its Union Army veteran members. In this archival document a veteran lists the battles of the 6th NY Heavy Artillery — the unit my ancestor Arthur T. Bull served in from 1864-65. Photo: Molly Charboneau

Alas, my great-great grandfather died in 1890 after suffering from lung and heart disease stemming from his military service. However, returns from surviving 6th NYHA veterans listing officers, battles fought in, and more were fascinating to read — and added to the wartime details I had already learned from my ancestor’s pension record.

Also impressive were the attendance records from GAR Artillery Encampments that took place in the decades following the end of the U.S. Civil War. I did not find my ancestor among these rosters — but I was moved by how consistently some of his fellow 6th NYHA veterans attended these national gatherings until their deaths sadly dwindled their numbers.

My ancestor’s GAR roster and more

Most moving of all was finally holding in my hands the Nathan Crosby Post 550 Descriptive Book listing my ancestor Arthur T. Bull’s enrollment in the GAR.

After researching for more than 25 years, I don’t often get emotional about new discoveries. Yet seeing my ancestor’s name in the roster of fellow Union Army veterans brought tears to my eyes — along with a feeling of deep satisfaction to have pursued my great-great grandfather’s history this far.

In the next post: Photos of the Descriptive Book and other GAR finds. Please stop back! Meanwhile, please visit the blogs of other Sepia Saturday participants here.

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20 thoughts on “NYS Archives discoveries: Arthur T. Bull and the GAR collection”

  1. Great post! Very interesting read. It makes me want to go! And I’ve no excuse not to once I get back to someone it would help; I’m only 15 minutes away.

  2. What a successful trip! I understand that emotional thrill of discovery too. I have ancestors that were active in the Ohio GAR, so will have to check that out. I’m not near Ohio, so it will have to be long distance research for now. Great post!

    1. Thanks, Kathryn. I hope you eventually get to Ohio. I had seen digital versions of some of the records, but there’s just nothing like holding the originals!

  3. Wow – my hat (if I was wearing one 🙂 is off to you! Congrats on your recent findings and the best of luck with your continued research. You have far more patience than I, but you obviously love what you do which is so much in your favor to find success in your endeavor!

  4. Very interesting history! I visited the National Archives in Washington DC some years ago and found passport applications for my husband’s GG grandfather and his brother, who subsequently emigrated from Pennsylvania to Australia. These documents have since been made available online, but that doesn’t diminish the thrill of finding them originally.

  5. Oh yes yes yes…I sure understand the connection that documents with ancestors names listed makes to you (or me) that they never dreamed would exist. I’m pretty sure I had some NY state veterans as well. Haven’t looked very hard at them, so I’ll enjoy seeing what you have to share!

  6. I share the excitement of your research. It’s a real treasure hunt without knowing exactly what you might discover. The list of battles is sobering to read when looking at a handwritten document. I have a few musicians from New York that served in the war, so I may make a trip to the GAR archives too.

    1. It’s totally worth it. Only a small portion of family history and genealogy documents have been digitized, and the NYS GAR collection is an excellent example of the wealth of material available in manuscript collections. Be sure to check out the war songs if you go.

  7. I need to make a road trip to Indiana to see if they have records like this on the GAR. My ancestor served in the Indiana Infantry but belonged to the GAR in Kansas where the later years of his life were spent.
    I’m interested in finding accounts by the men he served with as it reveals information on his experience in the war.

    1. Since your ancestor was in the GAR in Kansas, you may want to also check the Kansas state archives GAR collection. It appears to be quite extensive, based on their online finding aid.

  8. Ooh yes. I know the emotions felt when handling archival materials directly related to your ancestors. It is so worth the effort isn’t it? Great story and well done on all your preparation.

    1. Thanks, Alex. It’s hard to explain to non-researchers the thrill of making a discovery in an archive. Glad to be able to share the joy with fellow genealogy researchers like you!

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