Monday, July 6, 2009

Madness Monday

Madness Monday - Keeping in the Spirit of fellow Geneabloggers, I have decided to begin posting a "Madness Monday", "Tombstone Tuesday", and "Wordless Wednesday".

In posting a Madness Monday, one is to write about either a "Mad" relative [or other such that you are researching], or someone you are researching that is driving you mad!

I have chosen my subject as William McHarvey Bean, my paternal great-grandfather.

This is "young" William, [named after his "Pa".]

William was born in 1832 in Zenith, Monroe County, Virginia, in what is now West Virginia. He was born along Back Valley. This is a narrow little valley that runs between Peter's Mountain, and a smaller ridge. William was the 12th born of 13 children to William and Rachel [Wiseman] Bean.

In 1852 William married Margaret Smith Perkins/Parkins. William and Margaret went on to parent 8 children, 7 of whom reached adulthood. They lived, also, in Monroe County.

Back in 2001, before I was accurately recording everything I found on my ancestors, I sent an email to a researcher to attempt to locate records on William in the Civil War. At the same time I received his records from NARA regarding his enlistment in the Confederate Army. However, we also knew that William "switched sides", much to his family's dismay, and he was threatened with being disowned. His father even purposely removed him from his will for this action. The researcher I had engaged sent me an email regarding William's Union records. Yes, they had found his records. But there was a problem. They had been sealed, and the seal could not be opened, by Presidential Order of Abraham Lincoln, dated 10 April 1865. The researcher stated that he could make copies of the available info, or I could mail NARA for the info, which would be cheaper than him making a return trip. [This individual did not make copies while he was there, which today confounds me...but we had not, in his defense, make prior arrangements about costs for copies, etc.] So, I chose to send for copies of what was available from NARA.

In the meantime, the copies of William's Confederate record arrived. We found out that William was temporarily listed as AWOL. But within 2 weeks was found to be on a POW list for Elmira Prison in Elmira, NY. This was astonishing! Because the information received from the researcher was that William had enlisted in the Union Army in Elmira, NY, and was immediately sent as a Sgt. to Johnson Island in Ohio to guard Confederate soldiers.

We were so perplexed! How could someone, who had just "switched sides" be trusted to guard Confederate prisoners? Especially the prisoners of Johnson's Island, who were officers???

We began to suspect subterfuge.

Then we began to make a little sense of some of the things we were reading.

It seems that just 10 short days after William arrived in Ohio, a Confederate move to engage the enemy and free the prisoners of Johnson's Island was thwarted by a soldier who had just arrived, 10 short days before, from Elmira Prison. Could it be that William did not "switch sides", but was actually a double agent?

The possibility seemed almost unreal! But we theorized that would be why his records were sealed by President Lincoln. To protect his identity.

But then came the small, business-sized envelope from NARA. No records or copies of anything were inside. Just a form-letter telling me that no records had been found, and that I could search for other family members should I wish to.

Instead of relying on another paper response, I picked up the phone and began making phone calls. I spoke with a NARA representative and explained that I had sent a representative to their facility and this person had seen a file. I explained that he had found that actual records were not available, That within the file was a form that stated William's records had been sealed under Presidential order. This person assured me they would look into it.

I really never expected to hear from them again, and began to mentally form my letter of complaint. Two days later I received a call back from the same individual. While he was most polite, he assured me that he had spent hours attempting to locate the file, and even searched through cross-referencing for it. He was empty-handed.

Could my researcher have either looked at the wrong file, or even, heaven forbid, have lied to me? But not. He couldn't have lied, because the facts all fit. Just like the pieces to a puzzle.

It became curiouser and curiouser.

Well, surely I should be able to locate more information. Somewhere!

In 1890, while serving as a US Marshall, William was shot and killed by a constable who was attempting to repossess a horse and buggy driven by William. The newspaper article clearly stated William was a US Marshall. This is information that had also been handed down to me from family lore.

The interesting thing about William's murder, for it was murder, was that the constable, who claimed to have shot William in self-defense, shot him through the back window of William's buggy. Into the back of the head.

Interestingly enough, local newspaper articles of the trial of the man accused literally state that he was "spirited away to an undisclosed location". Family lore states that the Justice Department approached great-grandmother and asked if she wanted them to pursue the matter on a Federal level. Her reply was "No! You folks have to realize that me and my kids still have to live in this county!"

Well, I would just contact the Justice Department and see about getting William's records for his career as a US Marshall. While I was waiting, I decided to play devil's advocate. Let's say that the search for William's Union records was a farce. He had never served in the Union Army. Then he would have had to have taken a citizen's oath in order to have become a US Marshall. Otherwise, he would not have been able to hold office. I would search for his oath.

I contacted the courthouse. Yes, they did in fact hold copies of all the Monroe Countians who pledged the oath. And so I made my trip to the county seat and the courthouse. I spent hours poring over every single pledge signed.

But no William.

A few days later I received a letter back from the Justice Department. There was no record of William Bean having served as a US Marshall.

Could the newspaper have been wrong?

Then I received a copy of William's granddaughter's memoir's. She clearly stated he was a Marshall. Again I was feeling curiouser and curiouser! [Lewis Carroll is coming out in me, remember "Alice in Wonderland"?]

And so, I thought I would make a trip back to the courthouse and look for William's death record. By 1890, the time of his death, death records for West Virginia included the individuals occupation if known. I was shown to the record room, and the appropriate book for the year in question was pointed out. I began thumbing through the pages until I came to the place where the entries for 1890 should have been. I say "should have been", because at the point, someone had carefully torn the pages for 1890 and 1891 from the book. I immediately went and retrieved the clerk who came into the record room with me to see what my excitement was about.

"Well, I'll be! I've never noticed this before!", she exclaimed. On careful inspection, one could clearly see the discolored edges of the tear, and determine that these pages had been removed many, many years ago. The oxidation was plain to the naked eye.

On questioning if these records would have been sent to the Department of Health I was told no. That was not required until 1895.

However, I began to feel as though someone, or some agency, was carefully covering up William's existence. Even now. Over 100 years since his death.

The Union file that was, and then wasn't. The Justice Department record that should have been, but wasn't. The death record that should have been, but wasn't.

And then we attempted to get the Daughters of the Confederacy to recognize William. After all, here we were looking at his records, showing him to have been AWOL, and then a short few days later a confirmation of his being taken as a prisoner and place in Elmira Prison. Surely, if we couldn't prove he had served in the Union Army, then we had proof positive of the Confederate service!

The Daughters of the Confederacy stated that they could not accept out application, as William had been labeled as a traitor to the Confederacy. When we responded with, please show us your proof that he was a traitor, we were met with no reply at all. Even after repeated attempts for such.

William was a known traitor to the Confederacy? Yet here we sat with his Confederate records. There seemed to have been some kind of service in the Union Army. But there was no proof. Johnson Island records did not reveal William Bean having served there. Courthouse records did not show his oath of allegiance, nor his death record. And yet, newspaper and family stated he was a US Marshall.

A few weeks ago I picked up the phone and called the State Department of Health, in an off-chance hope that maybe there would be a death certificate filed in Charleston. Sure enough. We finally had a small breakthrough.

The kind woman I spoke with not only sent me a copy of William's death certificate, but a copy of great-grandmother's as well, who died in 1891.

The first thing I examined was his occupation. Sure enough, William's occupation at the time of death is listed as US Marshall.

There is another twist to this story.

When William was still in Elmira, his wife and his four children loaded themselves into an oxen-pulled wagon and crossed enemy lines and went to Ohio. They joined William "somewhere" in Ohio. But after the War they moved to Cincinnati, where on December 15, 1866 my grandfather, John was born.

My "madness" is in trying to fit all of these puzzle pieces together in such a way that they "make sense".

Where have all of William's records gone? Could there have been a government cover up of his true purpose during the War? Did the Justice Department hide his records? Was he, in fact, a double-agent during the War? Does that explain why he never had to take an oath of allegiance? Why were his death records torn from the county courthouse?

The search goes on.... and on... and on...

No comments: