Got Books?

I love books! I always have. I think I inherited this trait from my Dad. When I think of Dad one of the images that comes up is him, hand on his forehead, leaning over a book in deep concentration. One of my favorite shows on TV used to be Reading Rainbow, a show that featured children introducing books. I am pleasantly surprised that it still exists after 30 years (I am aging myself here…). Since this is a blog about family research, I want to share some book resources I have found and how they have helped me in connection with my search for family.

One of the members in a genealogy-related Facebook group I belong to regularly supplies us with links to free ebooks on amazon.com. I am not sure if she has a Google alert set up to notify her, or if Amazon offers alerts, but here is an example of a ‘purchase’ entitled Civil War Photography: African Americans. You can buy ebooks as well, of course. I prefer an actual book over an ebook, so I like the free version. I view them with the free Kindle for Mac or Iphone apps, since I do not own an actual ebook reader.

Cover of ebook Civil War Photography: African AmericansSo far, most of the books I have been interested in are still copyrighted, so you can’t just download them from Google Books. If they weren’t, you could. Nonetheless, this is a great resource where I have found some interesting leads, entries of books to consider buying, or information about people I am researching. For example, the last enslaver of my great-great-great-grandfather Edmund Overstreet, named P.S. Fitch, patented a ‘hemp brake’. This made me wonder whether hemp was a crop my ancestors tended to. I will need to do more reading on this, since I thought tobacco was more prominent in the area. I also found an entry for Fitch’s daughter in a directory for the Daughters of the American Revolution on Google Books. I will be using her submission, which I found on ancestry.com, to further research the Fitch family and hopefully find more on my Overstreet line.

Screenshot of P.S. Fitch's patent claim on Google Books

Screenshot of P.S. Fitch’s patent claim on Google Books

Books from the library are great since they are free to use and you can try them out before purchasing. One of my favorite books is Finding a Place Called Home: A Guide to African-American Genealogy and Historical Identity by Dee Parmer Woodtor. I first found this book at the military library on post, in Germany. I was so impressed by the way Mrs. Woodtor was able to explain the research process in a comprehensive way and tie in historical aspects, I decided to buy it. This book gave me the incentive to research my paternal side, since it shows you how to overcome the obstacles one faces when researching African American families.

Which brings me to Used Book Vendors. There are so many books in very good condition that are available through online stores or local book stores. I purchased Finding a Place Called Home for $20 a few years ago. Well worth it! I have also purchased biographies about my German great-uncle who was a Cardinal in the Catholic Church. This book is from the early 1900s and cost me 30 Euro!

If you want to avoid storage issues, Family Search and state historical societies -amongst others- offer books as downloadable PDF files or online. I downloaded Jessamine County and Woodford County histories from Family Search. I found the abolitionist John G. Fee‘s autobiography as an electronic edition, which you can scroll through page by page, but can’t download. The book was on the website Documenting the American South, sponsored by the University Library of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Now we know how to hoard these treasures in their physical or electronic form, but how do we organize them? I was reminded of this recently in a Facebook group on…organization! I have Books2, a free book cataloging app for my Mac that lets me scan the ISBN of a book using my built-in camera. It then tries to pull the info, such as cover image, publication dates etc. from the internet. If the app can’t find anything, you can enter the information manually. I have only done a fraction of my books, but it is a start and might keep me from buying duplicates. If you would rather catalog books online and make book lists to share, then you can try Library Thing or Good Reads (there are most certainly more…). I can only do so much social media, since the day only has 24 hours and I have 3 kids, so I will stick to my Mac app.

Screenshot of my Books2 library

Screenshot of my Books2 library

So this is my argument for utilizing books, in whatever fashion. They can help us visualize a time period, learn some social history or tweak our research skills and so much more. Despite the urge for instant gratification from Google & co. and my short attention span, I am making a conscious effort to grab books more often and read them from front to back or back to front!

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Wordless Wednesday- Unknown Swagger

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Wordless Wednesday- Unknown Swagger

I love this photo of two young men wearing hats. I am always drawn to the one on the left. Unfortunately, I don’t know who they are. I found this photo at my Oma’s (german for ‘grandma’s’) house and she doesn’t know who they are either. I guess you can see it has been man-handled (fingerprints) in the past. Rest assured, it is now in an archival quality box in my house.

Reading a book from the back can give you goose bumps…

I finally received my copy of  Camp Nelson, Kentucky: A Civil War History by Richard D. Sears a few days ago! When I get a new book I read the part about the author first. When it is a genealogy-related book I also check the index for my people’s names. Since the book is about a place I have pegged my Overstreet line at, I looked under “O” and to my surprise found an entry for Overstreet, W. S., page 375!

To put this into context I have to rewind to the end of last year. That is when after listening to a podcast about a U.S. Colored Troop regiment, I decided to check the military collections on ancestry.com again. I thought I would try looking for a sibling of my Edmund Overstreet.

According to a family reunion booklet I copied from my great-aunt, Edmund had a brother named William. In the booklet the children (11 in all) are listed by what could be the order of birth for boys and girls respectively. Edmund is first, William is second. From Ed’s military file I know he was 19 when he enlisted at Camp Nelson on 30 October 1864. Because of the birth order I assumed William to be a few years younger than Ed, let’s say he could have been around 17 that year.

So, I looked for William and found these three entries in the Descriptive Lists of Colored Volunteer Army Soldiers, 1864 on ancestry.com. The list describes the names, rank, birth date & place, age, occupation, enlistment date & place, enlisting officer, enlistment period, eye, hair color, complexion, height, muster-in date & place, owner, remarks. These are the names, ages, birth places and owners of the Williams in the list:

Private Wm Overstreet 26  Jessamine, Kentucky Pattison John
Private Wm Overstreet 48  Jessamine, Kentucky Jno Hanley
Private W S Overstreet 16  Jessamine, Kentucky Fal Fitch
Snippet of Descriptive file found on www.ancestry.com

Snippet of Descriptive file found on http://www.ancestry.com

With this information I signed up for the free seven-day trial at Fold3. Again I found three William Overstreets, this time I saw copies of their actual military files, which named their units and included claims from owners.

Name Co Reg Branch Age Owner
William Overstreet I 124 USCI 26 John Pattison, Kenton Co
William Overstreet K 124 USCI 48 John H Hanly, Jessamine Co
William S. Overstreet K 124 USCI 16 Follansee / Philonzo Fitch, Jessamine Co

I think we have a winner! William S. Overstreet was 16 at the time of his enlistment. Philonzo Fitch was Edmund’s owner, according to the statement and claim in Edmund’s military file. I feel comfortable in assuming this is my great-great-great-grand-uncle!

With the name, birth and unit information I requested a digital copy of William S. Overtsreet’s compiled service records from the National Archives and Records Administration. This will take a few months I guess, but it will most likely be worth the wait!

So, why the goosebumps? After all this I opened page 375 of Camp Nelson, Kentucky: A Civil War History by Richard D. Sears to find this two paragraphs down:

I visited a small cemetery on a bluff with a view of the Kentucky River Palisades, not the big U.S. cemetery, but a village plot where the people of Hall have buried their dead for generations. Most of the older tombstones are weatherbeaten and unreadable, but one has a clear inscription: W.S. Overstreet, Co. K, 124 U.S.C.I. (United States Colored Infantry); a little “street” in Hall is named Overstreet Lane. He was one of the black soldiers who stayed at Camp Nelson with his family after the war was over.

GOOSEBUMPS!