One of the things I really like about working with manuscripts is trying to identify the people mentioned in a document. For example, we recently received a letter that was written June 12, 1864 from Willimantic, written by D.F. Johnson to his mother and referring to “our Alvin that was reported wounded”. Okay, it is 1864, so Alvin must be a soldier, but there are probably a lot of men named Alvin who served in the Civil War. So, where to look now?
First I tried looking for an Alvin Johnson using Ancestry.com looking specifically for soldiers from Connecticut. No luck. Maybe I will have a better chance trying to locate D.F. Johnson–at least I have a last name and a place. Searching the census records on Ancestry for 1860 and 1870 in Willimantic, I found an entry for Don F. Johnson who was married to Sarah C. Johnson. Don F. Johnson certainly fits the initials on the letter. A search for Sarah C. Johnson on Ancestry brought up the 1870 census, and additional suggestions for sources, including one for Sarah Cordelia Crane Johnson referenced from Hale Cemetery Inscriptions and Newspaper Notices, 1629-1934. That entry lists her husband as Don F. Johnson. I now have her maiden name, Crane.
One of our best used sources in the Research Center is an index of Civil War soldiers in Connecticut. I went to that to double check for an Alvin Johnson. No luck. So, on a hunch, I tried Alvin Crane. Hot dog! I found him listed as a captain in Company D, 21st Regiment Connecticut Volunteer Infantry. He was wounded in the battle of Drewry’s Bluff, Virginia, May 16, 1864. The name and the date fit together nicely.
Now, instead of a letter written by D.F. Johnson about Alvin, we have a letter written by Don Johnson about his brother-in-law, Alvin Crane, being wounded in action. We have a much more complete story for this one document, and I had fun on the hunt. What more could I ask for? Oh, by the way, Alvin survived the war—his wound was not serious.