2:03pm

Mon April 25, 2011
Civil War Sesquicentennial

Civil War: When Houses Were Divided

Long before Internet search engines and network television shows asking celebrities who do you think you are,' genealogists have been combing through census records, newspapers, and family bibles. Family history researchers come from all types of backgrounds, including that of a retired central Kentucky teacher.

"My name is Bettie Tuttle. I was born here in Lexington, 1926, and I've lived here all of my life."

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Miss Tuttle belongs to 32 lineage groups. She's a member of the United Daughters of the Confederacy and Daughters of Union Veterans of the Civil War. We'll get to those connections in a minute, but Tuttle's most interesting link to the 1860's doesn't involve an enlisted family member.

"When my great-grandfather was four years old, Sherman came through Alabama and killed my great-great grandparents."

Around 1863 with Union soldiers gaining control in the south, Richard Gunther Johnson, Tuttle's great-grandfather was sent on a train to an orphanage in Louisville. Little it is known about the boy's family, only that they were farmers killed in the war.

Johnson grew up to become a carpenter, and Tuttle remembers seeing her great-grandfather before he died in 1933. Sometime in the 1980's, Tuttle starting tracing her family history. She learned of distant uncles who fought in the Civil War, one for the north, and one for the south.

"Although I appreciated my family growing up, the interest doesn't come until you're older, when everyone's gone that could answer your questions. I'd love to have my grandparents back to ask them questions, especially my great-grandparents."

At the Thomas D. Clark Center for Kentucky History in Frankfort, the library on the second floor holds 14-thousand rolls of microfilm. Louise Jones is Director of Special Collections:

"Most states east of the Mississippi kept a roster of all the soldiers from that state who went on to the Civil War. And Kentucky actually has both Union and Confederate rosters."

Jones says it doesn't take a special degree to get started doing genealogical research. Just start with parents, grandparents, and see how far you can trace family names and dates of major events.

Jones cautions that not everything will be easily found on website like Ancestry.com, or even on library shelves.

"Especially in a state with a history like Kentucky where courthouses have burned or flooded, or been taken over by military actions and the records have been lost, in many cases the only record of a particular event like a death or a birth is a tombstone."

Bettie Tuttle has made many visits to Civil War cemeteries, and spent days in libraries and walked away with nothing. The amount of time Tuttle has spent studying her family tree is often a deterrent for others.

"It isn't for everybody. Genealogy is not for everybody. But I think people miss the boat by not knowing who they are. It isn't the fact that you want to be from somebody famous or great who has accomplished something important."

Librarian Louise Jones says she's seeing more young people take up genealogy. She's hopeful the Civil War sesquicentennial will spur interest not just in the battles, but in the way of life for civilians who tried to survive a bloody turning point in American history.