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.
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.
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.
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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