Originally created 03/13/98

Computer bank helps descendants find Civil War relatives

FREDERICKSBURG, Va. -- Cliff Galyen grew up a few blocks from the Fredericksburg Battlefield.

He remembers spending youthful days racing up the green terraced hill off Lafayette Boulevard and, truth be told, climbing on monuments elsewhere in Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park.

Now, thanks to a computer database of Civil War soldiers in the battlefield park's bookstore, Galyen knows that he was walking in the footsteps of his great-great-grandfather, a Confederate private from North Carolina.

Fredericksburg is the first battlefield park in the country to get the computer.

"This is absolutely phenomenal," said the 45-year-old insurance agent from Spotsylvania County. "To be able to punch it in and pull up the name."

Among four GalyeansGalyens from North Carolina, the Soldier Search System computer turned up Pvt. William H. Galyean of Surry County. He served in the Confederate Army's 21st Infantry, Co. C.

Bingo, Galyen said.

The computer confirmed genealogical research by Galyen's sister, Caroline Lampert of Spotsylvania. The family moved to the area in the early 1900s.

Ms. Lampert traced the family tree back to William Henderson Galyean. She knew little about his wartime whereabouts, other than he died of an illness in the winter of 1863 near Broad Run. He was 28.

History books show his unit fought in the 1862 Battle of Fredericksburg and the 1863 Chancellorsville Campaign. It was part of Gen. Stonewall Jackson's corps.

The books and maps in the bookstore helped Cliff Galyen fill in the blanks.

"What amazed me more is when you take it to the maps," he said during a visit to the bookstore recently. "That puts it into real life. It brings it to a personal level."

The computer also opened up another avenue for family research. It uncovered the existence of Andrew T. Galyean of Surry County, who also served in Co. C. He might be a great-great-uncle or distant cousin.

"These guys all have to be kin. They've got to be," Galyen said.

The Soldier Search System resides in a rather ordinary-looking computer in a corner of the bookstore behind the National Park Service's Battlefield Visitors Center.

The computer database has the names of all 1.5 million Confederate soldiers. It has thousands of names of Union soldiers from New England, and the U.S. Colored Troops.

By this spring or early summer, the system will have the complete roster of Union forces, 3.5 million in all.

Bookstore Manager Kirk Heflin types in the last names of visitors interested in their roots, and in seconds the computer screen displays a list of names, states where soldiers were from and the regiments they served in.

With the touch of a button, the printer spits out the list for free. For $10, Heflin can print out a suitable-for-framing certificate of Union or Confederate service with the name and unit of the ancestor.

"There are only two of these computers in existence right now," Heflin said. "We have one. The other travels with Tom Broadfoot to a lot of the Civil War shows."

Broadfoot, a Wilmington, N.C., publisher and rare-book dealer, began work on the computerized soldier roster several years ago. His company has published the lists in book form: 16 volumes for the Confederacy and 30 volumes for the Union. It is also working to complete histories of Southern regiments that don't have them now.

"So many people want to know about their ancestors. They'll stand in line to get those certificates," Broadfoot said.

He recalled helping a woman from Texas who had searched for 10 years to find ancestors who fought in the war. "When we were able to find it in 10 seconds, she just broke down crying."

He said finding ancestors and knowing what they went through "makes it very immediate. It becomes a very personal thing."

Broadfoot worked with Robert K. Krick, chief historian of the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania park, to bring the computer system here for a test run.

"Now it looks like it will go in all the parks. It's something fresh and new," Broadfoot said. "It's neat when the bureaucracy will take a chance on a new idea."

John Hennessy, assistant superintendent of the local park, said 20th-century technology is helping to shed light on the past. "It's kind of a first step into the realm of genealogy for people. It'll give them a name and a unit. It's a great place for people to start," he said.


Trending this week:


© 2018. All Rights Reserved.    | Contact Us