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Archive from May, 2014
20 May
2014

Journey to Fiction- Part 1

This is the first in a serial documentation of the journey I have traveled from reading yellowed documents in the National Archives to launching a historical fiction novel based on the lives of my grandparents.

National Archives“Very few Civil War veterans have thick files like this,” the staff person at the National Archives said as he handed me two thick folders in response to my request for information about my paternal grandfather. Excitedly I began to read the forms and letters, yellow with age, which documented my grandfather’s lengthy pursuit of Veterans Benefits. At first my only goal was to search for the truth of the whispered story, that he had another family. It was true! It was documented in these files. That was why my grandmother never received her widow’s benefits.

Reading these old documents, depositions and letters was intriguing. I learned details about Harvey Depew Scott, the man my grandmother married; but who was born John Howard Scott. He was born in 1840 and reported his father had died when he was four so he was raised by his uncle. He claimed his name was wrongly recorded when he enlisted a second time in the Civil War. He swore his only wife was my grandmother, Ellen; yet his first wife, Harriet, reported in her sworn deposition that he abandoned her in Texas with five children and a sixth on the way. I wanted to know more. Who were his parents? Were there other relatives that had similar names? When did he marry his first wife? When and why did they go to Texas? Could I find an explanation behind these details? Like many other Americans, I began a journey of genealogical research to see what I could find out about this mysterious man that my grandmother never mentioned to her family after he died.

Bev in Spangler Cemetery - 1I had learned from the Archive files that he was born in Vermillion County, Indiana. I already knew that my grandmother’s family also came from Indiana so I made a trip to Indiana to visit cemeteries, libraries and county court house records. I learned the names of his parents, Paul and Rebecca Scott, when they married, stories about the uncle, Bill Swan who was a river boat captain, and when John and Harriet were married. I found the cemetery with the grave of Captain Bill Swan and a record of John’s mother, Rebecca, who was also Bill’s sister, dying in the poor house. Her body was given to Captain Swan but there was no record of her grave. I found minimal information about John’s father, Paul. I wanted to know who his parents were, did he have other relatives, where he lived before he came to Indiana, when he died and where he was buried.

Bev in Spangler Cemetery - 2I was more successful in tracking down information about my grandmother, Ellen’s family. I visited a cemetery, now an overgrown in a cow pasture, in Putnam County, Indiana with her ancestor’s graves. I found family marriage and birth records back three generations. I later visited the small Nebraska town where her parents homesteaded and learned stories of her family and her siblings. I uncovered the marriage records listing my grandmother’s name as Eva Ellen Russell marrying Harvey Depew Scott in 1892. She was 22; he was 52. There were records of their homestead land claims made right after they married as well as land claims filed by Eva Ellen in the years after Harvey Depew died.

Later I found the newspaper report of Harvey Depew Scott’s death in 1911 in Hanley, New Mexico a small community outside of Tucumcari. Why were they in New Mexico? How long had they been there before Harvey Depew died? How long did my grandmother stay in New Mexico? My next trip was to New Mexico to see what else I could uncover about Harvey Depew Scott.

Have you begun a genealogical search to learn about your ancestors? What first got you interested?

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