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My Aunt Min isn’t really my aunt. She was my grandmother’s aunt. That makes her my great aunt. Her sister Catherine was eighteen years older than her so she was nearer my grandmother’s age and lived with her when they were old ladies together. Aunt Min lived to be 99 years old and I was privileged to know her. I remember her as a little old lady with white hair and it wasn’t until I started my family history search that I came to know her as a real person who was a child at one time.

She was a young girl of five when the Civil War began. As an adult she had several tales to tell of the times. One was about Stonewall Jackson. Unbelievably I found the story in a book called Shenandoah Voices. Folklore, Legends and Traditions of the Valley, by John L. Heatwole. Like all genealogists (yes, you know you do this), when ever I see a book related to anywhere my ancestors lived I check out the index for their surnames. Lo and behold there was her name – TWICE. Ordered the book of course and devoured it as soon as it arrived. As well as Aunt Min, there was reference to another great aunt and my great great grandmother

Seems Minnie Hedrick (my aunt Min) was swinging in a pear treeone day in June of 1862 after several days of rain. Soldiers on horses paused to drink water from the well in the front yard. Min, being Min immediately went up to one of the big horses and told the soldier not to go up that road ’cause it was all muddy from the rain. He told her he’d been up many a muddy road and that wouldn’t bother him. As they left she asked another soldier who that was and he told her it was Stonewall Jackson. All through her life Aunt Min cherished the experience and told the story often. It was retold in her obituary when she died in 1956 at age 99.

Aunt Min second from the left

The second story involved apple butter (my favorite) and renegade soldiers. Minnie was only eight years old when Sheridan descended on the Valley. The family had such valuables as they owned and meager foodstuffs hidden away as did everyone in the Cross Keys, Virginia area. The farm had been searched more than once but one morning when the women were alone, a Union soldier came riding up to the gate. He demanded their silver or money. They told him they had none. As he went into a rage and started opening and emptying the kitchen cupboards, my grandmother Eliza, Min and her sister Lizzie went to hide in the attic.

When the boy in blue discovered them gone, he started to searching the house and eventually climbed the ladder to the attic. Terrified, Eliza grabbed the closest thing at hand, a gallon size crock of apple butter and threw it at his head. Her aim was true and the soldier died almost instantly.

Eliza and little Min dragged him out of the house and up to the orchard and buried him in a sinkhole. She never told anyone until she was very old. Unfortunately, there’s someone’s ancestor who will never be found.

She married and lived most of her life in Washington, DC, became widowed and lived for awhile with her unmarried son Earl. She had several children, all gone now but maybe I’ll find some of her descendents. I don’t remember when she died in 1956 although I should and she is not buried in the family plot in Petersburg, Virginia. That’s a mystery for another day and I do love a mystery.

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Facts and figures make up the bulk of information that genealogists collect, chart, and savor. We’ve got those dates memorized, got the family names etched in our memories and we’ve got city, states and street names documented solidly on our family trees.

You may know that grandpa was a miller. Or grandma could have been the first female doctor in her county. But unless you are blessed with diaries and family papers, you don’t know much about the day-to-day lives of all those people who make us who we are. And you may never know. But with a little detective work you can find out what was happening around them while they went through life.

As an example let’s look at my great-grandfather who was a private in the Confederacy. I did find his army records in the national archives and paid a handsome price to get a copy of them. What I learned was shocking. It appears that every so often during the whole war, he went AWOL, then came back. What? How could that be? My ancestor a deserter? No way.

Enter a great magazine named Civil War Times. My local library has this magazine and it’s full of Civil War history as well as what was happening in communities both north and south during the war. What I found out was that in the South they thought the war would be short-lived. They only signed up for one year so they had to have all kinds of incentives to keep the boys fighting. I discovered that my ancestor like a lot of farmers, went home every spring to put a crop in the field. So he wasn’t a deserter after all. He was just a farmer who needed to provide for his family.

Another ancestor of an extended family member migrated from Ireland along with so many of his relatives. What was happening in his life to encourage them all to immigrate at the same time? A short history lesson about the potato famine answered that question fast. So now I had insight into his life. He lived in a rural area, probably a farmer and couldn’t feed his family because of the potato famine. So many Irish immigrated to the United States and Canada for the very same reason. Second only to the Germans, the Irish immigration was one of the largest groups of new citizens to North America.

So many magazines like Civil War Times, Military History, Colonial Times, WWII or Wild West will give you a peek into the life styles of our ancestors. You’ll find occupations, hair styles, fashion, and lots of little details that you just don’t know from reading facts and figures.  The larger bookstores like Books-A-Million and Barnes and Noble have huge magazine sections. You can sit there for hours, making notes and not spend a dime. But it is nice to buy at least one magazine so you don’t appear a total cheapskate.

Libraries also have many, many magazines of interest to the genealogist. And some libraries will get a subscription to one that you want to read if you ask them.

Civil War Wife

I know it’s not as great as finding diaries, family Bibles, journals and letters but magazines that tell the history of different periods when your ancestors were alive can help you put a little flesh on the bones of your research.

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Of all my ancestors I’d like to go back in time to meet it would be my paternal great grandmother Catherine (Hedrick) Sipe. She married my great grandfather Archibald Hewston Sipe shortly after he came back from fighting for the Confederacy in the Civil War. She gave birth to my grandmother in January of 1869 and died in March the same year. I wonder if she died from complication of child birth. Seems possible but without documentation I’ll never know.

Catherine F. Sipe

A few things about her tombstone leave me with more questions than answers. For one thing it says Consort of Archibald  Sipe.  Unusual to use the word consort instead of wife. I do have a copy of their marriage bans so I am pretty sure they were married. Or did she change her mind and not to marry the man? Soon after she died the baby was left with Catherine’s parents to raise. Archibald moved on, finally marrying his third wife and settling in North Dakota not very far from the homestead of Catherine and her husband, my grandfather. But that’s a story for another day.

Also she is buried over by the fence of the cemetery instead of with her mother and father which is the German custom. Burials along the fence of cemeteries sometimes indicate a suicide, witch, harlot, take your pick. Several years ago the DAR mapped the entire cemetery but made no note of Catherine. What’s that all about? I only found it because another relative went to the cemetery to look for it and sent me the information.

In the dark and wondering why, I will continue to try to find the answers.

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