Porter County Reporter

Joyce has been a reporter for nearly 40 years, including 23 years with The Times. She's a native of Merrillville, but has lived in Portage for 39 years. She covers municipal and school government in Porter County.

Remember your Roots: Did he or she serve?

Headstone of my 2nd great grandfather John Calvin Sharp who fought for the Union Army during the Civil War despite living in the Confederate state of Tennessee.

With Veterans Day tomorrow, I first would like to salute all those who have served and tell you how grateful I am to have men and women in this country who are willing to give of their lives and sometimes their life to maintain our freedoms.

When the day rolls around, I also often think of the veterans in my family tree. I've had family members serve in about every war and conflict since the American Revolution.

But, how do you find out if your ancestor served? Sometimes it may be obvious, we hear stories, maybe even from them.

Sometimes maybe not so. I've learned, many time, vets don't like to talk about it, or sometimes the vet may be so far up our family tree, we just simply don't know.

The first tip I use is the ancestor's age. Was he (most likely a he) of what would be considered military age during a time of war or conflict? We have to expand our idea of military age, as I've found ancestors younger than 18 and older than 40 who have served.

Some U.S. federal censuses ask for veterans status.

The 1910 census has a column asking if the person was a survivor of the Union or Confederate Army or Navy.

By looking at the ages of my ancestors, I can determine who might have been the right age to fight in the Civil War, then if they lived to 1910 (which was only 45 years after the end of the war) to see if they fought.

I checked on my 2nd great grandfather John Calvin Sharp. He was born in 1839, which would have made him 22 when the war broke out in 1861. He lived to be 88, dying in 1928. I found him in the 1910 census and sure enough under the column was a "UA." I'm assuming that meant Union Army. I was proud he fought and proud, since he lived in Tennessee, fought on the right side.

The 1930 census also asks if the person was a veteran and of what conflict. 

Another way to determine if your kin was in the military service is a death certificate. Often, but not always, a death certificate will ask if the person were a veteran.

Closely related are obituaries and Find-A-Grave memorials. Many times a person's service to their country will be listed in an obituary or a memorial. If not list, sometimes there is a photo of a headstone with the memorial that can give the researcher a clue.

Another way I've discovered is by looking at draft cards. You would imagine if someone had a draft card, they served. That's not the case. For both WWI and WWII all eligible men had to register for the draft. I found both my grandfathers' cards, but neither served in the military.

I did find, as I was researching my daughter-in-law's family a notation on her great grandfather Rudolph Nehring's WWI draft card that he served with the engineering corps in the Philippines for three years beginning in 1911. I also found a passenger list for a troop transport that had Nehring arriving in San Francisco in March 1914 fro the Philippines.

With a little more research, I learned that in 1911 the U.S. military was involved in the Moro Rebellion in the Philippines.

You can also do research on the National Archives site, in particular it access to archival data base at aad.archive. gov which provides information primarily on WWII, Korea and Vietnam. I have used it several times, finding information on a couple of my uncles.

Drop me a line about the veterans in your family tree and how you found them at joyce.russell@nwi.com