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How does a “wanna-be genealogist” research a family member when so very little is known?

Slowly.  Methodically.  Repeatedly.  You stare at the few details, over and over, and hope that magically they will form into a plan and suddenly make sense.  They sometimes do, but usually they don’t.  You can put away the research and pull it out six months later, looking at it with fresh eyes…but what do you do when there is still little to no information available, leaving your ancestor and his family virtually unknown?

This is how I found myself researching my third great-grandfather.  I really felt there was a story to be told with this ancestor, but instead I only had blank pages with no words.  I had a name,  Armor Abdon, but I did not have a specific birthdate.  I had a span of a few years, and two different states where he may have been born.  There was even a mention of  the possibility of England.  There was no concrete evidence.  I looked, I stared, I put it away and pulled it back out months later.  Still there was nothing within my grasp for me to associate with this ancestor.  Certainly the information was out there, but since I had no plans to drag my family out towards southern Indiana (nor did they have any desire to make that trip), I succumbed to the notion that, at least for now, the life of my ancestor would continue to remain unknown to me.

One day I stumbled upon a listing at FindAGrave.com for a memorial that had been created under the same name as my third great-grandfather who had been buried in Dearborn County, Indiana.  I deemed it a real possibility that this could be MY ancestor, since that was the area his family had resided in (at least from the little info I had seen).  A short while later, I found a record under the same name for a veteran’s headstone in Lawrenceburg.  This opened up the possibility that if indeed, this was MY ancestor, he was a Civil War veteran.


Armor Abdon – Greendale Cemetery, Dearborn County, Indiana (Photo by Justin Meyer, 2009 )

This past summer, while the children were home from school, and I was desperate for time alone and away from everyone, I buried myself in genealogy research and discovered just how fantastically useful the Civil War Pension Index could be.   Before now, these were just images of cards with a lot of numbers that meant nothing to me.  Occasionally, there would be a date and location of the pensioner’s death.  A 2nd look at the image on Fold3 showed that there was an Armer Abdon, who was a pensioner from the Civil War who died in 1883, at Lawrenceburg, Indiana.


“Armer Abdon”: Civil War and Later Pension Index Card, Fold3.com

There was one problem.  The pension file was for Armer Abdon of Co. D, 7th reg’t of the Indiana Cavalry, but the headstone in Lawrenceburg clearly reads Armor Abdon Co. D, 3rd Indiana Cavalry.  Bad record keeping, typo, miscarving on the headstone?  Here’s where the simplest advice becomes the most valuable piece of advice:  Pay attention to ALL of those numbers on those pension cards!  Read every bit of information on them!  In this case, I had completely missed that it read under additional services: “D 3 Ind Cav.”  At the time, I didn’t understand it, but very soon it would all become clearer.

Fast forward to August 2013, when our family vacation found us in Washington D.C.  What were my chances at getting to look at some serious genealogy records while on vacation?  As it turns out, those chances were pretty good actually!  I learned that it was a fairly simple task of getting a researcher’s card to research at the National Archives, which just happens to house Civil War pension files.   On day #3 in our nation’s capitol, I obtained my researcher’s card, I submitted my request for Military Records, and Yes!  I received back a folder on Armor Abdon….and it wasn’t a skinny folder either!  Given that this was my first look at a pension file, I was pretty excited at the 30+ documents that were in this folder.  (The other THREE requests that came back “not found” are another story for another day.)

Inside I found what Paul Harvey would refer to as “the rest of the story”.  Yes, my third great-grandfather, Armor Abdon, was the same man who was buried in Lawrenceburg, Indiana, and yes, he was a Civil War veteran who served under BOTH of those 2 different regiments.  Armor was injured during his first term of service, so he filed for an invalid’s pension, which when documented, gives one a plethora of information.  As it turns out, I now know where my own inherent clumsiness comes from as great-great-great grandpa had been cleaning his gun and managed to shoot himself in the hand:

 “I lost my first finger on my right hand at Luidew Station, VA by the accidental discharge of pistol in my own hands while on picket duty.  This occurred about June 20th 1862.  My finger was shot so seriously that amputations was deemed necessary and was performed by Henry Boyant, Surgeon and Dr. Misdel, Asst at Clifburne hostpital** D.C. I claim a pension on said loss of finger.  Was treated in Patent office hosp. and Judiciary Square in June 1862. Was again enrolled Aug 9th, 1863 Co. “D” 7th Ind Cavy, Discharged Feby 1866.”

And according to the examining surgeon:

“The disability is permanent”…Ball struck second joint of index finger of right hand injuring finger to such an extent as to necessitate amputation of same just above the second joint…”

It makes you cringe just a little bit, doesn’t it?

Armor’s story is short and bittersweet.  He was part of the Civil War when he was injured.  After he recovered from his amputation, he re-enlisted in the OTHER regiment where he continued his service during the war until he was officially discharged in 1865.  In 1875, he married Harriet Durham (grandma!) and they had two daughters.  He was married for only 8 years to my 3rd great grandmother before he died.  His widow documented that she believed he died of “lung disease” that she stated he had suffered from for most of his lifetime.  However a special examiner for Harriet’s pension claim, stated that his death was more accurately contributed to a case of pneumonia that he came down with shortly after the “high water of 1882-1883” in Lawrenceburg.

He once was lost to me, but I now have a considerable amount of details on my 3rd great-grandparents lives.  There are certainly more details to locate, and one day I may have to drag my family with me to southern Indiana to locate those records.  But I’m content now knowing a little more about who Armor was, and the clues that lead me a little deeper into his family.

MY family.