Saturday, February 11, 2012

Bringing the Past Up to Date

General James Longstreet
Family stories tell of an illustrious general who, during the Civil War, made a decision that was considered an enormous mistake that eventually cost the South their hopes for victory. He was exonerated years later, when time and investigation showed his "mistake" was really a sane and sensible course of action. Yesterday, after years of searching, of writing and asking and Googling, of reading hundreds upon hundreds of Ancestry.com entries, I discovered my relationship with this soldier. I am third cousin on my father's side, 5 times removed, from General James Longstreet who fought with General Lee at Gettysburgh.

There were clues all along, but not enough of them. There was "The General's" parade sword that we kids brandished at invisible enemies on rainy days. There was Charlie Longstreet's childhood silver fork and spoon that I called mine and wouldn't let anyone else use. There was the elegant silver serving tray with the Longstreet initials elegantly intertwined. There was a lock of "Grandpa Longstreet's" hair in a small, yellowing envelope (that turned out to be Charlie's, not the General's), there was a handwritten but incomplete genealogy in my mother's precise handwriting and a faded, crumpled obituary from a 1918 newspaper stating that Ella Longstreet Ebert, my father's grandmother, was a descendent of the family of General James Longstreet. Charlie was my stumbling block. The General's lineage is public property but finding his connection to Charlie was a mystery I was having trouble solving.

My great-grandmother Ella's obituary
For the past several years, I've filled out search forms, exchanged fruitless letters with the Mormon Family History Library in Utah, and checked out old newspapers on Fultonhistory.com. It was an unexpected message from a woman in Kansas whose grandmother was friends with my grandmother that put me on the right track. She helped me track down Charles' parents and from there the names began to fall into place. My great-grandmother Ella's father was cousin to the General; their grandfathers were brothers.

There are still several dozen of those little wiggling Ancestry.com leaves that indicate hints to investigate but the connection that has eluded me for so long is in writing now. I can salute the General across the years - pleased to claim kinship, Sir.

6 comments:

Brian Miller said...

wow very cool...and how fascinating as well...its like opening rooms in a large house making new discoveries...

Kerry said...

How cool is that. I like the name "Longstreet" so much! I'm glad that your work was so well-rewarded. That woman in Kansas has a darned good memory.

Out on the prairie said...

this is interesting to read.I have found many geneology rooms at libraries around the states.

Friko said...

Your perseverance has paid off. Good for you.
I've been promising myself that I go into family history, but somehow it always gets pushed to the back.

Barbara Shallue said...

So, so, so exciting!! I applaud your determination to keep digging for the precise connection. I'm a fellow genealogy addict so I totally understand!

Marion said...

Wow, I am so envious of your wonderful determination! I have tried to connect with my father's side of the family for a long time, but each time, have put it off again. His history began in Germany, during the first world war and during the second...but I lost touch with him when I was about five. I've since found him, but he died shortly after I did. Any questions I had about the family remain unanswered thus far...you've given me the impetus to try again. Wonderful post! xx