Daphne Hopson, clad in white gloves, slowly opened the document. It was amber with age and slightly lighter along the creases where transparent tape once kept it from tearing.
"I don't want to hurt it," she said.
Spidery handwriting inside revealed it was a muster roll from the Thomson Guards, a McDuffie County company that had been part of the 10th Regiment of Georgia Volunteers of the Confederate Army. The list of names was a human snapshot of local Confederate soldiers.
The muster roll came from a box records from one of Georgia's original chapters of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. The box was recently rediscovered at the Augusta Genealogical Society. Directors theorize it may have been sent there for safekeeping after an estate settlement.
Many of the documents are member applications for the now defunct Ida Evans Eve UDC chapter in Thomson, which formed three decades after the Civil War. Also included are old UDC charters and scrapbooks of the group's activities during the early 1900s.
"I think it's a very significant find. A lot of these old records don't exist anymore," said Hopson, president of today's William Henry Talbot Walker UDC Chapter in Augusta.
To join the UDC, prospective members must prove direct lineage with someone who served in the Confederate Army. The Ida Evans Eve application records are thus interesting for genealogical reasons, but the records' age also places them a handshake away from history. Many applicants proved their heritage with letters from soldiers who had served with their relatives. The letters sometimes turned personal.
"You may well be proud of your father's name for he was a good man and a brave soldier," Confederate veteran G.H. Embree wrote in a letter to Lillie Paschal McCord.
The Thomson Guards muster roll says the company began its service May 11, 1861, and was made up of mainly planters and their sons from Columbia County and what is now McDuffie County. Only 77 of its 130 soldiers returned home. Some died at Gettysburg, others at Sharpsburg. Next to some men's names was written simply, "died during the war." Nearly as many men died of disease as battle wounds.
Hopson could relate to the sacrifices. Her great-great-grandfather was a Confederate soldier from Mississippi who became a prisoner of war at a battle at Fort Donaldson.
The rediscovered records will be sent next month to the UDC's division headquarters near Stone Mountain, where they will be placed in a museum in climate-controlled conditions, Hopson said.