Remembering James Marshall Mathers

James is the brother of my 3rd great grandmother.  He fought for the Union in the Civil War and was killed leading a cavalry charge against a surprise attack from Confederate forces on August 11, 1864. He left behind a sweetheart, but was not married as far as I know. Since he has no descendants, I wanted to give him a special shout out on Memorial Day.

James Mathers

Most of my ancestors were out in Utah by the time the Civil War started, so Civil War service in my family is rare. Perhaps that is one of the reasons James holds a special place in my heart. Family was dear to him. Here is a picture of James with his little sister Annie. He came all the way out to Utah with Johnston’s Army just to meet his little nephew, Levi M. Levi remembers that Uncle James gave him a red pair of boots–he cherished that memory all his life.

James and Annie Mathers

US Civil War Soldier Records and Profiles, James “Enlisted in Company L, Michigan 6th Cavalry Regiment on 13 Oct 1862.Promoted to Full 1st Lieutenant on 16 Mar 1863.Promoted to Full Captain on 31 Oct 1863.Mustered out on 11 Aug 1864 at Winchester, VA.” The mustering out would be at his death. This website gives an overview of all the different places the Michigan 6th Calvary served, including Gettysburg.

In June 2006 I was privileged to find his grave in the national cemetery in Winchester, Virginia and honor him.

100_2011 100_2010

And I’m off–with an outline of a research plan

Are you like me? I start researching one ancestor, then something else catches my eye for a different ancestor and I am off in a completely different direction. In my case, it’s counter-productive and I am not getting anything done for any ancestors. So, I have decided to pick just ONE line and work on that for now.

This focus will be good for me. I am blessed to have a plethora of material, including transcriptions of diaries, for many of my ancestors. I keep thinking someday I will read them. In my new approach, I WILL read them as I will go back one generation at a time, prove the links, and then (more interesting to me), incorporate the social history. This includes reading the diaries, biographies, auto-biographies and anything else that I have or can find.

Eventually, and it might take a while, if all the generations that I currently have in my database that have been passed down through a few generations are correct, I will end up with my Loyalist ancestor Thomas Sumner, the ancestor I am really interested in right now.

Here is a rough sketch of what I know I have, or where I think I can find relevant information. It’s an outline of a research plan.

Many of these were prominent Mormons, so there is a lot on (memories, pictures, etc.) as well as diaries, LDS church records and newspapers that I can search. Some were also polygamists, so may find some interesting things in court records.

Here are the generations to get back there:

Parents (living)–know about them


Grandparents (living)–know about them. Kind of embarrassing I don’t have a picture. Working on that.

Robert Ison & Louie May Savage–

He died young, but I know some stories about him. Will seek out some newspaper articles to back them up. I have her lengthy autobiography with lots of pictures and memorabilia

Levi Mathers Savage & Hannah Adeline Hatch

Have a transcription of his diary and a scan of her journal. He was fairly prominent in Mormon Church History, so will search newspapers and LDS history as well. This was a polygamous marriage, so there may also be court records, as well as records from other wives, including Addie’s sister.

Lorenzo Hill Hatch & Catherine Karren

Have a transcription of his diary as well as a book written about him (and well documented). Another prominent Mormon, so will also search newspapers and LDS church history records. Also a polygamist.

Hezekiah Hatch & Aldura Sumner

These were the first to convert to Mormonism in this line. She died in Vermont and he died in Nauvoo, Illinois.

John Austin Sumner & Abigail Plumley

He was the son of Thomas Sumner. As far as I know, the entire family was forced out of Vermont and eventually ended up in Canada. John, along with some of the other children, came back to Vermont. Would love to find out more about that story.

Thomas Sumner & Rebecca Downer

The Loyalist ancestor–really want to find out more about his story.

How has focusing on just one or two lines, and using research plans, worked for you?

6 reasons I attend NERGC

A belated look back at NERGC 2015. This is a regional genealogical conference held every 2 years in New England. I have been going for several years and these are some of the reasons I go every year.

1) Networking. I made some new friends and will learn from them on Facebook and elsewhere. I also met in person some people that have been my Facebook friends for years. I was also able to catch up with friends that I usually only see in genealogy venues.

2) Learning. There were always several sessions on a variety of topics from which to choose–all day for 4 days. There was only one block where I didn’t find anything of interest and had some needed downtime. The big takeaway this year–I need to start using DNA in my research. The kit is on its way

3) New Business. As a follow-up to networking, I ran into 2 people who previously invited me to speak to their genealogy group. They both mentioned they would be interested in having me come back after I mentioned I had some new talks developed

4) Books–I walked away with A LOT of books. I love the exhibition hall that has so many different vendors.

5) New ideas for research/talks. I attended a session by Randy Whited about using weather in genealogy research. I have some ideas for both my own research and how I can use this in talks on social history.

6) Giving back. I always spend some time volunteering as a way to give back to the community. I was at the hospitality desk and hosted a discussion table at a luncheon.

Judy Russell (the Legal Genealogist) at NERGC


I have the privilege of interviewing Judy Russell, one of the keynote speakers at NERGC. I knew who she was long before I had the chance to meet her and listen to her speak. You may know her as a legal expert who uses that expertise to bridge the past and add historical context to her ancestors, and teaches us to do the same. You may also know her as a DNA expert. I know her as a fellow social historian/genealogist and look forward to meeting her again.

I met her in person at the Massachusetts Genealogical Council annual meeting a couple of years ago. One of her talks involved a murder case in the 1800s based on a new form (at the time) of medicine and potential medical malpractice. Since medicine in everyday life is one of my special interests (and the topic of my master’s thesis) I was hooked.

Here are my questions and her responses. I love how her humor shows through, one of the many reasons she is such a great speaker. I hope that you will come to NERGC to hear her and many other experts cover a variety of topics related to genealogy, and my favorite, bringing our ancestors to live through social history.

1) What sparked your interest in family history, and how did you come to combine law and family history?

My mother’s family is mostly Scots-Irish — that means they’re storytellers. And I grew up sitting out under the trees at my grandparents’ farm listening to the stories. Finally I realized it was time to start seeing whether any of the stories were true! Combining law and family history was simply the natural outgrowth of my formal training as a lawyer and the discovery, as a genealogist, that just about every record we use is impacted by its legal context.

2) How do you find the material and/or interesting cases you use for a blog post or lecture?

First and foremost, I’m a reader: I read books and articles and blog posts and Facebook posts and anything I can get my hands on. Some things are sent by folks who read my blog or who know I have a legal background and need help in understanding a record in their own families; some things I just stumble across. The reality is that every set of records we might ever look at will have its own set of stories — we just need to read to find them.

3) What is your favorite story that you have come across, either from your own family or someone else’s family?

One? One favorite story? For someone with Scots-Irish ancestry? That’s like asking a mother who her favorite child is! I’ve never met a story I didn’t love, and some of them are even true! (Well, at least partially. The other thing about the Scots-Irish is that we never let the truth interfere with a good story.) If I had to pick just one, I’d probably have to say it was the discovery that I qualify for membership in the Daughters of the Republic of Texas. To qualify, you have to be able to prove your ancestor lived in the Republic of Texas. Mine was indicted by the Republic of Texas. For bigamy. (I love my family.)

4) Why is adding social context to family history research so important?

Because without social context family history is just a set of begats: John and Mary begat James. The social context tells us what lives John and Mary led, how they struggled to get where they got, what it was like when James was born. What they wore, what they ate, how they lived. It’s the stories that bring our families to life, and the social context helps us tell those stories.


Bridging the Past is on vacation this week so won’t be posting other than to ask you to ponder the following questions:

What kind of vacations did your ancestors take (day trips became popular towards the end of the 19th century)?

Do trips to see extended family count as a vacation?

How do vacations today differ?

Have you written about your favorite family vacations?

Medical History blogs

I am working on some deadlines for my thesis, so this will be a short blog this week. I thought I would share some of the blogs I have come across that cover medical history. They are great resources to learn more about the medical practices that were common, or at least available, during you ancestor’s lives.

Please let me know if there are any that you follow. Enjoy!
These 3 I follow and highly recommend:

These look interesting, but I haven’t yet had a chance to look at them in detail


Genealogy over the holidays

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! I hope you all enjoy lots of family time this holiday season. I will be finalizing an interview with my dad about his childhood and updating the transcription. I also plan to put up some more posts about my life as part of “The Book of Me, Written by You.” What are you plans for genealogy/social history over the holidays?