Redbank Valley Historical Society to Provide Civil War Veteran Research Assistance

NEW BETHLEHEM, Pa. – The Redbank Valley Historical Society has announced that area residents who had ancestors serving the North during the nation’s four-year struggle to retain the Union in the face of Southern succession will be able to receive some assistance in researching their Pennsylvania ancestors.

A public open workshop will be held on Thursday, September 11.

Cindy Morgan, president of the four-year-old area organization, said the research assistance will be available from 6:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. in the basement social rooms of the First Presbyterian Church, Wood and Penn streets.

Mrs. Morgan said the offer of assistance has grown out of research the sponsoring organization has undertaken since it presented its first Civil War-themed public event on May 1. At that session, which had the largest audience participation of any program the RVHS has presented, the focus was on the war and local connections to it, ranging from looking at the number of Armstrong and Clarion county men who served in that war to highlighting one local hero who emerged from the epic struggle — Capt. Jeremiah Zachariah Brown, who earned the nation’s highest award for valor, the Medal of Honor.

After the May session, Mrs. Morgan said numbers of area residents have commented on ancestors they had who served in the war, and they often noted they knew very little about those men who had taken up President Lincoln’s call to arms. From those conversations, the Historical Society decided it would schedule a second group program dealing with the subject of local veterans. But before the larger public gathering, the group decided it would offer its services to attempt to assist area residents trying to learn information about their ancestors who served during the war.

A committee from the society began compiling listings of names of men who are buried in cemeteries throughout what today is known as the Redbank Valley area — essentially the same boundaries as the school district formed in 1950 but with some neighboring cemeteries also included.

MRS. NORMA TROUP (center), a South Bethlehem resident whose great-grandfather served in the Civil War, receives guidance from Cindy Morgan, president of the Redbank Valley Historical Society, and Don Shilling, another society member.

MRS. NORMA TROUP (center), a South Bethlehem resident whose great-grandfather served in the Civil War, receives guidance from Cindy Morgan, president of the Redbank Valley Historical Society, and Don Shilling, another society member.

To date, the committee has identified cemeteries of approximately 400 men who are interred in the Redbank Valley area, but their research has also taken them on paper to such distant locations as Gettysburg, which marked the high-water point of Southern invasion in Pennsylvania to the infamous Andersonville Prison in Georgia, where about 13,000 captured Union troops died in less than two years of that prison’s existence.

The organization’s research on area cemeteries will be presented at a public program to be held on October 23, but before that, the host group hopes to assist area residents who are undertaking the research on members of their own families who served in the war.

Tools that will be utilized in getting today’s generation started on looking into the histories of their Civil War soldier ancestors include the Internet and various printed research books and documents. One of the chief printed references will be the five-volume set of books, History of Pennsylvania Volunteers, originally published in 1869-70 of information compiled at the direction of Pennsylvania government and recorded by Samuel Bates. Those books provide information on all Pennsylvania units that served in the war, along with rosters of the men who were assigned to them, and a summary of the campaigns in which the units were engaged.

Mrs. Morgan said the Historical Society’s researchers have undertaken a couple of “trial runs” to piece together the history of a few area veterans, and that process, she said, has been a “true learning experience” for the researchers because of a number of challenges that had not initially anticipated. As an example, she cited the research done for a South Bethlehem resident, Mrs. Norma Troup, whose great grandfather had not only served in the war, but he had also endured nine months of incarceration, including time at Andersonville. He survived the rigors of battle and Confederate confinement and lived to the age of 85.

But getting all those pieces of history on Mrs. Troup’s ancestor, John Reddinger, pulled together, caused the researchers to deal with several different spellings of the soldier’s family. Heading up that particular research were two society members, the husband-wife team of Don and Brenda Shilling. They already knew from the limited information Mrs. Troup had about her great-grandfather that he was buried at the cemetery adjacent to the United Methodist Church at what is known today as New Salem in Armstrong County but which had been earlier known as Pierce.

Not only was John Reddinger’s final resting place located after dealing with several spellings of the name that ranged from Rittinger to Redinger to other variations of the name, but it was learned that Mrs. Troup also had other Civil War veteran ancestors buried in the same cemetery.

Looking to the September 11 individualized work session, the Historical Society president explained that the intent of the hosts at the session is to hopefully get interested descendants of Pennsylvania Civil War soldiers get on the right path to “fleshing out” the details on the departed warriors.

“We have learned from our efforts that there are so many tools out there to still piece together the stories of the soldiers about 150 years after the war was actually fought, but it is very helpful if the researchers can have at least the number of the regiment in which the soldier served. Names alone can be very confusing because of not only different spellings but also because on the reality of possibly having several soldiers having identical names. It can be taking a winding trail to finally get to the right conclusion,” Mrs. Morgan said.

Persons coming in for research assistance are urged to bring with them as much information as they can about the Civil War ancestors they wish to research, with correct full name spellings and military unit designations, if possible.

“We will make dedicated efforts to get people headed in the right direction, and while we cannot guarantee success, we should be able to assist most who inquire. And, if they themselves are not skilled in using the Internet on the computer, once a lead or various leads are presented, others who are more adept with what the Internet provides should be able to make progress in the search.”

She concluded the announcement by saying that area residents who wish to present capsule summaries on their Civil War ancestors will be offered an opportunity to do so at the Oct. 23 public event. Details of that event and some guidelines on presentations will be presented at later date, Mrs. Morgan said.

The Historical Society will also have its 2015 calendar available for purchase at all upcoming events of the organization.

The 2014 edition will also be available for those wishing to have a complete set of the calendars, which feature photographs of historic area persons, places or things.

Submitted by Cindy Morgan and Leroy Tabler.


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