Top Ten: Genealogy Sites



When following your family history and acting as an amateur genealogist, you will need the help of the interwebs.   I have been lucky to have access to a few sites that have really helped in my journey to find out all the answers behind my family tree.  So, I wanted to share with you the top ten sites that I have used in order to get all the information that I have gathered.  Listed below will be all the websites that I have used and as much information that I could gather on them.  I have listed them in the order of the most helpful for me.  Now, this is a list based on how much I have used the website and how helpful the information has been on my search.  Anyone who uses any of these sites may have different results, but I wanted to share what has worked on my search for my ancestors.


Ancestry has been the most valuable tool that my sister and I have used to gather information and collect it in one spot.  Ancestry is the original website that we signed up for in order to start researching.  The website is very user-friendly and is easy to navigate.  Ancestry offers a 14 day free trial for you to explore and see all the website has to offer.  They also offer the Ancestry DNA program for $99.00.  With this program you can uncover your ethnic mix and maybe discover relatives and get new details on your family history with an easy use DNA test.  It is a secure and private process backed by the website.  If you choose you start a new account and not do the 14 day free trial there are many options available for payment.  You can choose from U.S. Discovery and assess all U.S. records only for around $20.00 a month.  If you chose the World Explorer option (which is what we have) it runs around $35.00 per month and you are able to access not only U.S. Records, but international ones as well.  Then, for the hardcore researchers, there is the All Access membership.  This runs around $45.00 per month and also gets you into,, access to ancestry and ancestryacademy.   You can also choose to pay in 6 month intervals which can save you a little bit of dough.   This website has been a godsend for our research.  Our entire family tree of 358 (and growing) is stored here and it is perfect for easy access.  I even have an app on my phone! It allows us to follow a life story, save documents in a gallery and even add in our own personal information such as facts and stories.  A lot of sources are attached to the site.  And new hints arrive daily in my inbox to lead me down the rabbit hole of documents and census records.  I could spend a long time on this site and never get bored adding new branches to my tree.


This is another very valuable website.  I tend to use this site a lot.  Searching keywords is a cinch and you can spend hours reading through old newspaper articles.  This site is where my sister and I discovered the lengthy article written by our second great-grandfather, John Bryant.  It really is a different feel to read through an article and get a sense of the way of life was in the past.  The language they used, what made headlines and the subject of the articles is fascinating at times. holds four plus thousand of archived clippings from all over the nation from as early as the 1700s.  Obituaries, marriage announcements, birth announcements and advertisements are just among a few of the things that you can use to discover the path of your ancestors.  You can access this site with a 7 day free trial.  You will have to enter your credit card information to access the free trial.  After the seven days are up, your monthly fee comes to about $13.00 a month.  Not too bad considering the plethora of articles awaiting your viewing on the other side!


Find a Grave Index

This site usually pops up under my ancestry account for “records” and is free to use and it comes with good information.  To my knowledge, I believe there are people who volunteer to obtain the information available on this site or it is entered by relatives and fellow genealogy enthusiasts.  Usually, there will be a picture of the headstone and cemetery locations.  Sometimes, you even get a lot of information to the immediate family associated with the person you are searching.  This can be good and bad.  Just make sure that you check your sources before adding them to your tree.  Regardless, it can be a good starting point.  I like to take down the names and match things up with records I can find on  It helps me solidify that the person I am adding to my tree as a sibling or child of a person is correct.   If you have to, follow my sister’s rule.  She always likes to find two or three sources that verify family members before we add them to our tree as a permanent “branch” or “twig” if you will.  One thing I can say for sure is it is very helpful when you are in a cemetery actually trying to visit a relative of your past.  It will give you the location of the plot if the grave has already been previously found.



This website is AWESOME for military records.  Now, if you purchase the most expensive membership on, this should come with the subscription.  But, if not you can access with a 7 day free trial.  Again, you will have to enter your credit card information and after your free trial you will be billed around $80.00.  That’s about $7.00 per month if you decide to keep the site as a way to gather information for military records.   This site has records such as pension files, war service records, war rolls and more.  Famous battles like the American Revolution, the War of 1812, Civil War and up to World War I and II and Vietnam are just a few of the records they have on file.  My sister and I were able to access pension records, which are great for finding family members and address of where the veterans lived when they received their pension.  This isn’t just a great site for genealogy but also a great site for history buffs!  This is the kind of website that will make you think about getting that history degree.  Also, if you are interested in applying to something like the Daughters of the American Revolution or the Daughters of the Confederacy to name a few, this is a great site to obtain the records you need to prove your ancestry.  What a great way to find the patriot in your tree.



Family Search is a nonprofit organization available to connect families across many generations.  And the best news about this site is it is FREE.  That’s right, free to use and store all of your information.  Simply create an account and you can get started.   By joining you have access to create and save a family tree, search free records online, upload and share photos and collaborate with fellow members.   They even offer free, personal help with your history with Family History Centers.  The site is easy to navigate with a site map that shows core products and they offer indexing as well. accepts donations too.  You can help preserve family records for others to see and search!  There are many great things to research and it is a great resource, especially if you are on a budget while exploring your own history.  I can’t wait to use this site to make a family booklet to share with my loved ones.


Scotlands People

Now, remember me saying that my family has roots in Scotland.  Well, before we opted for the international account on, this website came in handy.  You see, we were stuck on a direct relative on the Ferguson side of our family tree.  We just couldn’t seem to make it past Murdock, our third time great-grandfather.  We even went to the National Archives in hopes of accessing some sort of information on him.  We wanted to know how far back we could trace our lineage in Scotland.  So, I came across this site and decided every pound would be worth it.  On Scotlands People, you purchase “tokens”.  I purchased 30 of these tokens and it came out to around $10.00 in USD.  You search for a record, to access the record it costs one token, to open the actual document…it cost 3.  So, you can see how quickly this can become an addictive problem.  Alas, it was money well spent because not only did I find Murdock’s parents…I found his parent’s parents too!  I had to quit before I put my account in the negative with the rush of finding a new ancestor.  But, I was able to print the documents I purchased and also was able to attach them to the family tree we currently have saved.  I would definitely use this site again in the future and recommend it to people looking for Scottish relatives.  It was user-friendly and they had records that went back farther than my mind could imagine.  It is good if you just need to search for a few records and aren’t currently paying for a membership with international access.



Archives is another great site to store your family tree and search over 4.3 billion genealogy records.  You can access the site with a 14 day free trial.  Here, you will have to give up that credit info again and the membership is only $9.99 a month.  So, it is definitely an alternative to something like ancestry if you budget is limited.  They have been around since 2009 and are part of the family and work with the National Archives and Family Search to help bring exclusive content to you under one roof.   They are always adding to their collection of records, photos, newspapers and other family trees.  This site is simple and affordable and has 322 collections for you to explore.




This website offers a great source for history fanatics to find research originally posted in GenForum and genealogy articles.  Here, you will be able to access the forums for free to communicate with like-minded people also searching for information.  This could be a great way to find relatives and work together to build a family tree.  Someone out there may have information you don’t know yet including records you normally would have to pay for from Vital records in your state to family photos not available on ancestry websites.  So stop, collaborate and listen with others in the same giant genealogy pool as yourself!



Here is another great source for like-minded folks.  Wikitree is a community of genealogists who work together to grow an accurate tree using DNA and traditional sources.  All of the modern details on the site are private of course.  But, everything on this site is free.  You can search via Surnames and find tons of information that has already been gathered!




Last, but not least for sure is Google.  There have been so many times that I have been stuck using a resource that I pay for, that I forget about some more of the free resources available to me that I use every day.  I personally have found great information using Google.  For example, I found a military record for my ancestor Alva Hart, who was in the Union Army during the Civil War.  I had a picture of an original muster sheet from the Civil War that shows when he went missing in action.  My mind was kind of blown by finding that document.  I have also found a list of people who perished in the Yellow Fever Epidemic in Portsmouth during the early 1800s.  On that list was a relative of mine and his family.  I had no idea there was a yellow fever epidemic in Portsmouth, let alone my family members had suffered in that time.  It was great to use a tool that has become such a part of everyday life for so many to find those details of my family tree.  So, don’t sell something so ordinary short when it comes to finding out your past.  You might be amazed at what you can find with a little digging.

I hope that this helps some who are just starting out in their own research.  There are so many wonderful online tools and resources available to help even the most amateur person find out more about their past life.  These are just the tip of the genealogy iceberg.   Feel free to share more in the comments below!  I am always interested in finding new ways to expand my search.


Thanks for reading!


In the Works

Whoa, I have so many things in the works that I couldn’t pick just one subject to write about in this week’s post.  So please, bear with me as a ramble and tell you all that My Past Life has planned for the future!

This one may be a little short and sweet today, but I will be back to the usual blog posts next week.  I have a lot of research to do for upcoming posts and what seems like so little time.  Raising two kids on your own while your husband is deployed is hard work and time consuming.  Especially when one kid is home from school on summer break already.  But, I wouldn’t have it any other way.  My family is my number one priority and what brings me the most joy in my life.  That is why “My Past Life” means so much to me and I am very excited to be pursuing the story of my family history.  So, here are a few of the things we have planned for upcoming posts and projects!




This has to be the number one thing I am excited for.  As many of you will learn in a future post about the Ferguson side of my family, I have some deep roots in Scotland.  My father’s paternal side is from North Uist on the Outer Hebrides.  It is beautiful there.  Rural and natural; untouched by modern times.   I really think they still have homes with thatched roofs.  I have been slowly planning and plotting my trip there for a few months but finally decided that my husband and I will travel there next spring/summer to research my family history and also take in as many of the sites as we can.  One of my best friends will help me plan my trip.  She recently spent about 18 days gallivanting around Europe attending Cannes and filming a documentary in Spain.  I am almost planning a “backpacking” trip across Scotland so we can hit as many places as possible in the week that we will visit.   Our first stop being Edinburgh, on to Perth, Aberdeen, Inverness, Isle of Skye, North Uist, down to Oban and finishing in Glasgow.  I think we may rent a car, and drive ourselves around so we have the freedom to travel when and where we want.  I want to stay in bed and breakfasts, hit every castle on the way, ride the Harry Potter train, see the standing stones and ride the ferry from Uig to Lochmaddy to see the place where my ancestors lived and worked and raised children.  I believe I also read somewhere that the Outer Hebrides and the surrounding area has already done past research on every household on the isles and all you have to do is go to the research center.  Let us hope that this is true and all I will have to do is copy and paste.  I swear I should start a go fund me page to supply the funds for this trip, but we will make it work.  I just received my passport in the mail a few days ago and it is already burning a hole in my pocket, screaming travel and see the world!!!


 My Past Life Shop

Another adventure I am very excited for is the possible opening of a “My Past Life” related shop.  Here you will be able to purchase themed t-shirts, coffee mugs, totes and the likes.  I have come up with a few designs that I really am giddy over.  I think others interested in history and genealogy will enjoy them as well.  I am working on getting the shop up and running and getting the items made for purchase in the next few weeks.  I have always wanted to write and own my own business.  I like being free to make my own decisions and make my own schedule.  I hope that this shop will help me pursue my dreams of doing that and also allow me plenty of time for my passions and my family and friends.  I don’t want to be tied to a desk.  I want to go where I please with the people I love and show something to this world that I have done.  Leave my tiny mark and my legacy behind.  Whoa, not sure t-shirts will really do that but it’s a start.   I’ll let you know when I am about to cut the ribbon and open the shop!




I am working on doing a post on what it takes to become a certified Genealogist.  Also, different schools and websites that offer a certificate and classes to prepare people to become board certified.  It is going to be a lot of hard work and blood, sweat and I am sure what will be many tears to pass the board certification.  I plan on joining the National Genealogical Society.  They offer an at home study course that I would like to try.  There are also many resources for self-study that I would like to take a crack at before the board.  I will list some sites that offer free training and information on family history research that I will use to help me on this journey.

Top Ten

That also leads me to an upcoming post about the top ten sites that I use for my research.  I will highlight the best use of the websites that I have found in my research practices.  What has worked for me and what has been a bust.  Google can really be very helpful when trying to find an unconventional way to find a record.

23 and me
Stock photo of 23 and Me site.

DNA Project

My sister and I have always wanted to send in our DNA to find out more about our ancestry.  My cousin recently used a website called 23andMe and was sent a breakdown of her ancestry composition.  It was fascinating and I am happy she shared that with me.  So, send me that q-tip or capsule for my spit and let’s do this!  I have a prediction that it will say I am like 50 percent German.  So far in our research we have discovered many people in our family, especially on my mother’s side, have descended from Germany.  The Holt family is a prime example of this.  I plan on doing a post about my ancestors from Germany who came over and founded a little place in Virginia called Germanna.  I feel this will really shed some light on many of the information we already gathered.


There are a few places that I will be traveling to and want to travel to in the upcoming year.  This summer my family will be in Carolina Beach and I hope to make a stop in Bath, NC to learn more about Edward Teach.  My husband and I will also travel to Gettysburg to visit the battle grounds in the fall.  Ever since my post about my great, great grandfather he wants to take me to a place he fought and survived.  I would like to travel back to North Carolina to learn more about the Holt ancestry after the family left Germanna and was given land.  I would also like to travel to Pittsburg to learn more about my father’s maternal side and the secrets that holds.  Not to mention my sister and I will attend a conference in early October to learn more practices in the family history field.

Living History Project

Another project I am working on is to preserve the oral history in families by sharing other people’s stories through words and photographs.  I not only want to share my story and the story of people I know, but also be able to share your story.  This is still a work in progress but I hope to have my first post up very soon on my Instagram account.  Please follow me @ashleytillmanpics and @mypastlifeblog.

These are just a few of the things that I have planned this year.  Sounds like I have my hands full already.  I hope that you will stick with me and watch my year unfold.  I can’t wait to share my story and yours!


Thanks for reading!


Try on a little Jane



It’s #JuneAusten and I, being a faithful servant in the Janeite army, would love to share my experience I had while attending Jane Austen in June at Tryon Palace in New Bern, North Carolina.   I convinced my sister to travel with me to New Bern to attend Jane Austen in June on June 7, 2014.  I have always loved Jane Austen.  I have read every novel, seen every adaptation and day dreamed of my own Mr. Tilney.  That’s right; I wanted Mr. Tilney or a Colonel Brandon…not Mr. Darcy.   The funny, sweet-natured man or the steadfast and ever faithful romantic were more my cup of tea.  All though, a large income would have been very fortunate so I could buy all the silk dresses and bonnets my heart could have desired.  Any who, enough of day dreams.  I have always loved Austen.  It all started with Sense and Sensibility.  I think I must have watched the adaptation with Kate Winslet and Emma Thompson a thousand times and still never get enough of it.  I swear in a past life I must have been like Marianne Dashwood;  Passionate and headstrong when it came to matters of the heart and obviously sometimes making a bad choice in a man.  This has all led me to where I am today.  I am a member of the Jane Austen Society of North America and also a member of the Regency Society of Virginia.  All though I have not been able to be as active in the latter as much as I have wanted to lately, I hope to get back into the swing of things once my mom duties have settled.   I guarantee those lovely ladies of the RSV will grace my blog very soon!


New Bern, North Carolina is one of the cutest, historic little cities I have had the pleasure to visit.  My sister and I traveled about three hours south and stayed on the outskirts of downtown New Bern for the weekend to enjoy all the festivities of Jane Austen in June the following day.  Our first night we drove a few miles to the historic city and parked our car to walk around and take in all the sights.  One thing I loved was that New Bern was right on the water.  The breeze was great on a rather sticky Friday night in the summer.  We chose what we thought was a rather popular place to have drinks seeing as we had already eaten on the way down.   We visited a bustling restaurant and chose to sit at the bar, tucked away under exposed beams and drank a specialty martini.

Another thing I noticed about this little city was the bears.  I, being from the Hampton Roads area, was used to seeing Mermaids everywhere to represent our city.   In New Bern, bears were everywhere.  We got quite a few pictures to share with our mother, who loves bears and has a collection to prove it.

Me in front of Tryon Palace.

The next morning, we made our way downtown again and found Tryon Palace.  Such a beautiful, historic location tucked away nicely into the charming city.  Tryon Palace is a replica of the mansion built in the late 1760s for the Royal Governor of the Province of North Carolina. It was the seat of the province’s Colonial government and was seized by rebel troops in 1775 and maintained that role through 1789. In 1792, the state capital was relocated to Raleigh.  The original building burned to the ground and a modern recreation almost identical to the original architect’s plans was erected on the site in the 1950s and opened to the public in 1959. Today it is a State Historic Site and the North Carolina History Center with two interactive museums is located adjacent to the property.

commision house
Commission House

We snapped a few photos before heading over to The Commission House, formerly known as the Lehman-Duffy House.  This home currently serves as administrative offices for Tryon Palace and the surrounding gardens.  It was built circa 1886 by Robert B. Lehman, and the interior was remodeled in 1920 in Colonial Revival style. It is considered one of the best examples of Italianate architecture in New Bern. We begin our Jane Austen themed day here.  We were broken up into several smaller groups to enjoy an assortment of activities.

Painting teacups

The first being to paint our own tea cups.  Small teacups and paint was provided with our admission cost and we sat at a table in one of the parlor rooms of the historic home.  Let’s just start off by saying I do not have an artistic bone in my body.  I am terrible at drawing or painting so my tea cup was a series of lines and dashes.  It was simple and I thought I could present it as a gift for my daughter and she would love it and praise it on how fancy it was.  Score one for mom.  This task was over quickly and we then set out on a tour of another historic home across the street.

John Wright Stanly House

This was the house of John Wright Stanly, an entrepreneur and patriot.  The house has historical significance. Stanly purchased land to build upon in 1779 but it was not until 1787 that the residence was completed. Many consider the house in New Bern a great example of late Georgian architecture. The Stanly House is important in both New Bern and North Carolina history. Here, we were able to listen to a brief history and story on the owners of the house interpreted by a costumed woman in the dining room.  A table was set and she reviewed over how many people in that time period took their tea and also to fill us in on the gossip of the home.  John Stanly Jr., born in New Bern in 1774 and was a prominent politician, serving terms in Congress and as Speaker of the North Carolina House of Representatives. Stanly is infamous for the murder of former North Carolina governor Richard Dobbs Spaight in a duel behind the Masonic lodge in New Bern on September 5, 1802. Spaight’s murder prompted North Carolina to pass legislation banning duels, although such acts of rivalry and honor were common until well after the Civil War.

Tea time spread.

Next was tea time back at the Commission House; A proper tea time at that. English tea with milk and sugar and an assortment of snacks such as scones and cucumber sandwiches were served.  It was delightful and a refreshing break from being out in the early summer heat.  I think I ate everything on my plate and had two cups of tea before feeling energized for the next outing.  Our tea was served by a few lovely volunteers dressed in period fashion and we had a little joke about milk before or after tea. I do love a good tea “party” experience.

From here, we did have a break for lunch and decided to walk downtown to explore and find a place to eat.  Before coming to this city, I had no idea that it was the birth place of Pepsi.  We passed by the original drug store named Bradham’s Drug Store, where the soft drink was created.  It was called Brad’s drink.  In 1893, “Brad’s Drink,” was made from a mix of sugar, water, caramel, lemon oil, nutmeg, and other natural additives and became an overnight sensation.


I, being the tourist I am, snapped quite a few photographs on our small self guided tour.  We decided on a restaurant close to the location of our Austen Festival and discovered it used to be a bank in the early 1900s.  The vault was still inside and open for a peak into the past.  I can’t remember the name of this restaurant either.  I think I was more enraptured by the history of New Bern that the names of these wonderful restaurants slip my mind.  The history was more of a highlight for me on this trip.

We walked back to the small historic center of downtown and on to our next activity.  This by far was my favorite thing about the festival.  Behind the Commission House in the small garden outside were three dancers and a violinist.  We were able to do several dances of that time period with the help of a person calling out all of the “moves”.  I believe if you know about ten different moves, you can do any dance of the regency time period.  It really is a lot of hand holding and moving in circles.  Our gentleman, who led some of the dances, was dressed in period garb along with his two partners, who were both in cotton day dresses.  My sister and I referred to him as the smolderer.  He just had a very theatrical way of staring into your soul as you danced.  It was a little unnerving but fun all the same dizzily spinning around and around but laughing all the while.  Regency dancing is a work out.  We did about five different types of dances arranging from a circle dance to a line dance (and by line I mean everyone stands in two lines opposite each other and slowly makes a progression to the front of the line…not the cowboy sort).  I know now that the Regency Society now offers almost weekly dance lessons in the Hampton Roads area and I cannot wait to attend.  If not for fun, at least for a weekly workout.

Finally on our agenda was the tour of Tryon Palace itself.  We were not granted admission into the building but were able to walk the extensive gardens at our leisure.  Encompassing more than 16 acres of gardens and landscapes, the Palace gardens were designed by Morley Jeffers Williams in the 1950s and represent the formal garden style of 18th-century Britain. The gardens were exquisite and wonderfully maintained and felt as if we were in a bygone era.  We spent about an hour wandering around and taking lots of pretty pictures.  We even made it all the way to the water’s edge to look back at the historic house in its entire splendor.  They were getting ready to set up for a weeding that evening so we decided to depart and start our journey back home.  We did make a trip to the history center itself but did not go to the interactive museums they offer.

Tryon Palace and its surrounding historic homes is a place that I would love to visit again.  New Bern has a way of making you feel transported back in time.  A charming coastal town that will forever be in my memories as one of the best weekends I was able to share with my sister and Jane’s memory.


Thanks for reading!


North and South: Aftermath

I will start out by saying that John Bryant is by far one of my favorite ancestors.  Why you ask?  Well, because I feel like I know so much about him just from paper documents trailed throughout history.   He is the ancestor that I have the most information on and I am very excited to have taken this journey and to be able to share what I do know on this blog.  Now, I cannot take all the credit for gathering the information that we do have.  My sister is a very large part of the investigations into our family’s past.  Most of the documents that we have found came from a few sources.  We used for a bulk of the documents such as census records, death certificates and even a few of the pictures I will share in this post.  Another great source we used was  I love reading the old articles in the newspapers.  It really does give you a glimpse into what life was like and what made headlines in that time.  So, without further ado I present the years scattered before and after the war for John Bryant Casteen (Castine).

John Bryant Casteen was born on November 25, 1841 in North Carolina.  He was a twin to his brother Jacob.  His father was William Wright Casteen (Castine), aged 29, and his mother was Nancy “Patsy” Humphrey.  I hope to gather more information on his parentage in future posts. It is believed that his father married several times and bore children from at least two of his marriages.  John and Jacob were the first-born sons of the Casteen family.  So, from what we have gathered from census records John Bryant and Jacob were soon joined by a brother named Kinsey around 1847.  John Bryant would have been around six years old.

1850 census
1850 Census

According to the 1850 census, the family lived in New Hanover County in North Carolina.  There is one other relation that puzzles me, that of a person named Hepsey.  I believe that was a nickname for Elizabeth.  The records we found in relation to the family place her as a sister to John.  I cannot confirm this relation just yet via sources on  She is still a mystery as far as her true connection to the Casteen family.  Work shall continue to discover her secrets!

1860 census
1860 Census

In 1860, when the south seceded, John Bryant and his family were residing in Harrison’s Creek, New Hanover, North Carolina.  It is likely that his family would have supported the decision for the south to secede, hence his decision to join the war.

In 1861, John joined the military on May 27th.   As we previously know from the article he wrote for the Wilmington Star, it was a choice he took seriously and felt as if it were a duty to his country and the state he lived in.  We were able to obtain a U.S. Civil War record that showed us John was 19 years old and worked as a laborer and entered the army as a Private.  We can also see he was in Company D, 3rd infantry regiment.  He mustered out on August 14, 1861 in Fredericksburg due to illness and then joined the army again with his brother, Jacob, on February 18, 1862.  As the article also stated, this time he joined to be with his brother in the same company rather than be drafted somewhere else.  John was promoted for Full Sergeant on July 4, 1863.  This is what we can tell from his military record.  If you would like a more detailed description of his time in the war, please see my previous post “North and South”.

We also know from the Wilmington Star that John’s brother, Jacob, died of illness on June 20, 1862 in Richmond, Virginia.  John witnessed his brother being wrapped in a blanket and given a soldiers’ grave, not knowing where he was buried even in 1917.

marriage jb
John Bryant and Minerva’s marriage certificate.

After the war, John married Minvera Felissa Holt on June 23, 1868 at the age of twenty-seven.   We do have the marriage certificate showing proof of their union in Wilmington, North Carolina.  It looks like they were married at the house of Jacob Shodruck (Sp).  Together, John and Minerva, had five children (Minerva’s parentage is excellent as well, but that’s later).

Their first child, Florence Idella, was born on May 18, 1869.  At this time, they lived in Grant, New Hanover, North Carolina per the 1870 census.

may e
Photograph of May.

In 1872, another daughter was born.  Her name was May.  I do not have her exact birth date just yet, but I did find a person who believes they have a photograph of May.   I, of course, saved this to my tree.  I love finding photographs and being able to put a face with the name and the story that the documents weave.

After Della and May came Miranda Catherine on March 25, 1874.

Samuel Edward was born on February 18, 1876 in New Hanover.  He is my direct link to John Bryant being my great-grandfather on my mother’s maternal side.

Last, but I am sure not least, was Lizzie Hassell born on March 25, 1882.

1880 census
1880 Census


The 1880 census still has the family in Wilmington, North Carolina.

Then in 1885, tragedy struck the Castine family.

miranda article
“Badly Burned”

“Badly Burned” read the headline.

“Explosions of a kerosene lamp with nearly fatal results – a young girl the victim.

The fire which caused the alarm about 8 o’clock Thursday night came very near resulting most disastrously in more ways than one.  The house is located on the corner of Seventh and Castle streets, belongs to Mr. Holden, on Ninth Street, and is occupied by Mr. John Casteen, superintendent of the city lights.  Mr. Casteen’s wife had gone to pay a brief visit to her sister, who lives in the country, about nine miles from the city.  Mr. Casteen was away from home, attending to his business of seeing the lighting of the street lamps, and the only occupants of the house at the time were his two daughters, Della and Catherine, the former about sixteen years of age and the latter about eleven.  The youngest sister was engaged at some work at a table in the kitchen, upon which was sitting a kerosene lamp, and the older sister was not far from her.  All of the sudden the lamp exploded and the burning oil was thrown upon the person of the young girl, communicating to her clothing, which was quickly in a light blaze.  The older sister rushed to her rescue, but was so overcome with horror and fright that she could render but little assistance.  The screams of the girls, however, quickly brought some of the neighbors to their aid, and through their exertions the life of the poor girl was saved.  The most active among the rescuers were Henry Berry and David Williams, colored people living in the vicinity, who showed great presence of mind under the circumstances, smothering the fire with appropriate material and even taking measures to prevent the unfortunate girl from inhaling the fire, one of the first acts of Williams being to place his hand over her mouth.  Catherine was burned very badly from the waist upwards, especially about the breast, face and arms, and it is feared that she inhaled some of the fire.  Surgical assistance was immediately summoned and at last accounts she was resting as easy as could be expected.  Miss Della also had her hands and arms burned pretty badly in trying to save her sister.  The house caught fire, but, thanks to prompt assistance, the damage was trifling.  A messenger was sent for Mrs. Casteen and she reached the bedside of her suffering daughter yesterday morning. “

Miranda passed away from her injuries on May 16, 1885.  She was eleven years old.  This article was very sad to read.  I felt for my relatives, having at the time of this discovery, a daughter of my own.  I couldn’t imagine what Minerva was feeling, seeing her daughter so very badly injured or how Della probably felt, helpless and at fault for not doing more to save her sister.  These of course are only my interpretations of their feelings.  But, this article does provide wonderful information.  We know that they lived on Castle and Seventh Street in a house they rented from a Mr. Holden.  We also discover that John Bryant was the superintendent of the city lights.  He was in charge of making sure the street lamps were lit in the city of Wilmington.  We can also find that Minerva has a sister who lives not far in the country.  This article will definitely stay tucked somewhere in my heart.

sam shot
Samuel Casteen “Shot Himself”

Then, in 1890, we discovered another article on  I am not sure if this is actually my great-grandfather, because I cannot confirm the source with my family.  A small snippet of the Wilmington Messenger from August 9, 1890, page 8, reads “Shot Himself.”

“A young man by the name of Sam Casteen, who lives on Castle Street between Fourth and Fifth streets, accidentally shot himself in the leg yesterday morning while handling a pistol.  The wound is not a dangerous one. “

I feel like this could be my great-grandfather.  How many other Sam Casteens live on Castle Street in Wilmington at this time?  He would have been about 14 years old when this incident occurred.  I will be able to go a little more into Samuel Casteen at a later date when I explore more of the Casteen family.

In 1900, the family resided in Ward 5 of Wilmington, North Carolina and on August 26th, Minerva passes away.  She will have a funeral held at the Primitive Baptist Church by the Pastor, Rev. Issac Jones, of Maple Hill, Pender County.  This was clipped from the Wilmington Star.

John Bryant’s father will pass on July 18, 1903 at the age of 91 in Castle Hayne, North Carolina.

1905 Directory


In 1905 we can see in a city directory that John Bryant lived with his daughter, Lizzie at 915 Queen Street in Wilmington, North Carolina.  I believe there is a house still standing at the address, but I doubt it is the same house that stood back in 1905.  It would be very interesting to see if it was the same structure.  In this directory are also several other Casteens.  I have not been able to connect the dots with these other possible relations.  I still have many questions about Hepsy.  According to our family tree we built on Ancestry, she is the sister of John.  Listed in this directory, she is the widow of a John, and lives on 1016 Swann.  This only adds the unknown facts about her.

1910 census
1910 Census

The 1910 census shows John still residing in the fifth ward of Wilmington.

lizzie death
Lizze’s death certificate.

In 1911, another sad event occurred.  John’s daughter, Lizzie, who he had been residing with, died on September 1, 1911 due to complications during childbirth.  Her death certificate, from what I can make out, seems to say something about blood poisoning.

We also know that John was approached in 1917 by the Daughters of the Confederacy to write an article about his experiences during the civil war.  I think I cried when I read that article for the first time and it still gives me chills every time I read it after.

johnbryant obit
J.B. Casteen’s obituary

After a long life, John passes away in Newport News, Virginia at the age of 78 on April 16th, 1920.

“Friends in Wilmington will learn with regret of the death of J.B. Casteen, of this city, which occurred at the home of his daughter, Mrs. W. T. Southerland, at Newport News, Va, last week.  Mr. Casteen was 78 years old and a veteran of the War Between the States, having served throughout with the Third North Carolina regiment.  He is survived by one son and two daughters.  Sam Casteen of Portsmouth, Va; Mrs. W.T. Southerland of Newport News, Va, and Mrs. W.E. Reece of Wilmington.  He was a consistent member of the Primitive Baptist Church of this city.”

There ends this blog posting about John Bryant.  There are many more interesting facts about his family weaved in and out of his life while we researched him.  Those stories must wait for another day.  In the end, he is still a favorite of mine and every time I review his life story I feel closer and closer to this man who I never met.

Thanks for reading!







TBT: Wilmington, NC



Throwing it back this Thursday with my trip to Wilmington, North Carolina.  My sister and I drove the four hours from our home in Hampton Roads to this awesome city to do a little family research.  We packed our bags and made our way down highway 17 on Easter weekend of last year.  Unfortunately, we didn’t think to check to make sure the Main Library in Wilmington would be open on a holiday weekend.  It wasn’t.

Celebrating Easter with carriage rides around downtown.

Never fret.  My sister and I always know how to take a bad thing and make it into a good thing.  And by that I mean an excuse to bar hop across the city instead of doing a ton of family research.

We stayed in a hotel about two miles from the downtown area of Wilmington.  It was a pretty straight shot down Market street until we started seeing the houses speckled in the charm of yester-year.  The area was beautiful with old and new mixed in together to create the charming city of Wilmington.  I am a huge fan of historic architecture.  I snap pictures left and right and probably look like a crazy tourist in every city I visit, even in my own back yard.  I’m a sucker for mural walls and any hidden nook and cranny of a city that looks appealing to the eye and this city had it all.

Night One:

On Friday night we did do a little online research with the help of a website called  This research had us scratching our heads even more than before with our three times great grandfather, William W. Castine (Casteen).  He is John Bryant’s father.  According to our search, William W. seems to have married at least three times and bore children from two of his marriages.  We are still working to sort out the details about the senior Mr. Castine.   I hope in a future post I will be able to tell his life story.  He seems to be proving harder than not to track down.    We are stuck.  At a genealogical stand still with him.  If this were a novel, I would kill him off to get the story to progress because of a serious case of writers block.  He and John Bryant were the main reasons we came to Wilmington, to unlock the secrets of the Castine gentlemen.   Any who, lets drink some beers, go over our Pinterest board and call it a night!

Day One:

We wake early and drive downtown to Chestnut Street.  One thing I don’t like about traveling to a different city is parking.  I never know where to park and never seem to have enough change for street meters.  I will remedy this the next time I make any plans to go somewhere new.   Well, like I said before, we didn’t check to make sure the Main Library would actually be open for our research.  We decided to get breakfast and make a plan.

The walls decorated in Bourbon Street.

I, of course, suggested Bourbon Street as soon as I saw it on the corner of a street after we parked closer to the water.  I, having been married only a few months before in City Park in New Orleans, was craving a café au lait and beignets.  No luck on the café au lait but a great cup of coffee and a very enthusiastic waitress.  I wished I remembered her name to give her the credit she deserves.  She was running that floor almost all on her own.  The restaurant was decorated with knick knacks and purple, green and gold.  It screamed kitche NOLA and I was just waiting for someone to shout out “who dat”.  It was perfect and the Eggs Benedict were delicious.

Entrance to the Cotton Exchange shopping complex.

Over breakfast we decided to stay and explore the city instead of heading home a day early.  So, our next stop was the Cotton Exchange on North Front Street.  This building was fantastic.  If you don’t know what the Cotton Exchange is, it’s a collection of eight buildings that date back to the late 19th and early 20th century.   It’s named the Cotton Exchange because of the Old James Sprunt Cotton Exchange building, which occupies most of the shopping complex.


The buildings ranged from a warehouse that stored flour to boarding houses and a saloon.  I could probably write a post on these buildings and their history myself but if you would like further information I suggest using Wikipedia at or  The brick buildings were littered with shops and a few places to eat.  I have to say that my favorite shop was Elizabeth’s Ladies Boutique.  They had reproductions that made me feel reminiscent of the Edwardian Period and hats, hats, hats.

Paddy’s Hollow entrance.

From shopping we went to eating and decided on Paddy’s Hollow.  An Irish pub tucked into one of the courtyards in the exchange.  The food was great pub food and the beer was much needed.  Being only April, it was a little muggy and warm in the city.   We sat and relaxed in a large booth and planned our next move.

Part of the wrap around porch at the Bellamy Mansion.

We walked around downtown.  Meandering in and out of many shops mostly filled with souvenirs and books and candles.  Typical tourist fares of any city.  The light rain was refreshing but we wanted to escape somewhere and wait for it to pass.  So after almost two hours of wandering we decided to visit the Bellamy Mansion Museum on Market Street; A beautiful example of antebellum architecture to feast the eye upon…and history too! It was built for John Dillard Bellamy and his wife and nine children on the eve of the Civil War.  And seeing how we were here in regards to our own Civil War veteran it seemed fitting to visit this historic site.  The mansion now serves as a museum and offers daily tours and educational programs.  It’s a 10,000 square foot home with three floors and a restored slave quarters and gardens.   It wasn’t too expensive to get in and it was a welcomed haven from the rain outside.

Inside the Bellamy Mansion parlors.

We started out on the guided tour after we were able to explore the slave quarters alone but somehow managed roaming the house on our own..  Chandeliers and mantles and pocket doors.  Oh my!  The house was meticulously restored to its grandeur and it looked beautiful.  I think the coolest thing was on the top floor.  It was a water pump and cistern that showed how they were able to get water up on the top floors and eventually run plumbing in the bathrooms. Very interesting to say the least.  Last on our tour of the mansion was the fourth floor belevedere.  The sight from the top of the mansion was outstanding, being able to see a sweeping view of the city around us.

View from the top in the belvedere.

We spent the afternoon driving around the city and tried to locate the locations of previous addresses that we knew of thanks to census records and directories.  We didn’t have any luck.  One address looked like a warehouse had taken over and the other a convenience store.  After that we visited Bellevue cemetery, which I believe is currently named Oakdale Cemetery on North 15th Street.    All I can say is that cemetery is not alphabetically accurate.  Jumping between letters as they added on is the only explanation I have.  It took us a while to find him but when we did it was worth it.


John Bryant lay next to his wife Minerva on a corner plot near the back part of the gardens.   We scoped around and found many other members of the family.  The only thing we could not find for certain was a grave marker for Miranda, his daughter.  She passed very young (I will tell this story in an upcoming post when I finish JBs story).  My sister and I want to start a family fund to purchase her a new marker.  It only seemed right.   We sat for a few moments, feeling like we really knew this person after being able to read his own words just a few weeks prior.  I felt saddened by his story but also happy to be able to share in it and have it as my heritage.

Night Two:


Next…drinks of course.  We ventured to The Husk on South Front Street and you guess it…this was also once a building that housed feed.  It was a nice little bar with only a few patrons on that hot afternoon.  The bar tender was great and it was a nice place to relax and recharge our phones.   They did offer an assortment of beers and a good looking menu but we were saving our appetite for the Riverboat Landing restaurant.

Riverboat Landing Restaurant.

This was a neat little gem right on the water on Market Street offering southern, French and Mediterranean dishes in a circa 1857 building with private waterfront balconies.

View from the second floor balconies.

Yes, we chose to eat on a private balcony facing the water with a view of the Cape Fear River and the Battleship North Carolina.

View from the boardwalk of the Cape Fear River.

I had the spinach ravioli and some fruity mixed drink I can’t remember the name of but enjoyed at the time.  It was moderately priced but it was our splurge having dinner on the private balconies overlooking the streets below as the sun set.

The Blind Elephant sign.

We stopped in at another little bar before hitting up the Blind Elephant.  This was by far my favorite spot in Wilmington.  It was hidden down a back alley and we were told about it from another bartender.  Apparently it was a word of mouth kind of place.  It was reminiscent of a 1920s prohibition bar.  The drinks were all hand crafted and stellar.  They had a man playing piano tunes of a bygone era and black and white moving pictures on the wall.  If you ever get the chance to try elder flower liquor do it.  My favorite drink of the night was called “The Jive”.  It contained gin, lime, simple syrup, cucumber and elder flower liquor.  It was crisp and went down easy.  I am a gin girl myself so I enjoyed this drink very much.

Entrance to the KGB bar taken that day.

After the roaring twenties, our last stop of the evening was the KGB bar on Princess Street.  They had a great court yard with tables out front behind the iron doors that led you into the bar.  The drinks were amazingly good and the whole bar had a really neat vibe.  There we ended up talking to a couple about family research and they said they have traced their family back hundreds of years.  I think it made my sister and I very excited to be on our journey of tracing our roots.

Day Two:

Waking up feeling less than refreshed after our night out, we packed up our bags to make our way back home in time to snuggle up to our kiddos.  But first we had one last stop in Castle Hayne.  This excursion led us down many twisted two lane country roads to a church having Sunday service and people dressing in their Easter best.  This was the resting place of William W.  Castine buried across from a church in Castle Hayne, in a small little grave yard next to the road.  His maker was worn but it took us no time to find it.  After not being able to make out the words on his headstone, we ran back to the car for a pencil and paper to see if he could make a rubbing of  some sort.  “Twas hard to part with thee, But thy will O God be done.”

Grave site of W.W. Castine.

He was 91 years and seven days old when he died on July 18, 1903.  This feeling of sitting in front of him was different than that of his son’s grave.  We felt like we had barely scratched the surface on this man that lay in the ground beneath our feet.  Soon we reassured ourselves that we would know more.

The trip was a success in my eyes.  Even though we were not able to hunker down in the library for the weekend, we were able to see the place that our relatives grew up and lived their lives.  To walk the same streets and see the same buildings they would have been able to enter and buy supplies in, we were now enjoying refreshments and music.  The world will never stop changing, but I am glad that Wilmington, North Carolina is doing its part to preserve the history within its city limits.  I hope to return to Wilmington in the future and may do so this summer.  If not for family research at least for the drinks!


Thanks for reading!






North and South


Let’s start out with a bang!  By bang I mean a genealogy post that packs some serious punch.  I have already done a significant amount of research on my family tree but I haven’t come close to finding as much information on most people as I have for my great, great grandfather John Bryant Castine.  So, for this blog post I shall do two parts for the esteemed Mr. Castine.  The first part shall document an account of his time during the civil war, taken almost verbatim from an article he wrote himself in 1917 for the Wilmington Star.   The second post to come soon after will tell more about his life and family after the war.  Both, being heartbreaking accounts, had a deep impact on me when I learned about his life.  Difficulties and hardships remained a constant for John Bryant during his time here on earth.  This strangely is the relative that I feel almost as if I know.  Being able to read his own words and see photos, newspaper articles and even the records of his children make me feel as if I knew him in his past life.   My sister and I had a chance to visit Wilmington, North Carolina where my second great grandfather lived.  We even had the opportunity to visit his grave, where he was laid to rest in Bellevue Cemetery next to his wife and family.   We left stones to show that he has been visited and that he is, even to this day, remembered.

“I am now in my seventy-sixth year of age and have passed many milestones of life since the war and many hardships since, and I hope when the last “taps” is sounded for me (and I feel it would not be long, for every year the ranks grow thinner) I will be ready to answer the call and go where hardships and trials are felt and feared no more.” JB Castine 14 May 1917

John Bryant Castine was born in New Hanover County, the part now referred to as Pender, North Carolina on November 25th, 1841.

When the war began between the North and the South, he enlisted in the Confederate service in May of 1861.  He was part of company D, 3rd Regiment of Infantry.  His captain was a man named Edward Savage and the lieutenants were Cumming,  Meares and Van Bokkelen.

He was 20 years old and like many others thought that War would be short and they would soon return home.  John had a twin brother named Jacob.  Both he and Jacob had walked 20 miles to Wilmington, North Carolina to join the company only to find that the company was already filled up.  They left Wilmington and went to a place called Garysburg.  From there, they went down on the Potomac River for a while to Goldsboro on the Weldon Road and stayed for about a month. Then they traveled over to Kinston Road for another month and then onto somewhere near Petersburg.

When he arrived back on the Potomac he became sick with a fever.  He had been exposed from lying on the cold ground.  He could go no farther and they sent them to the Fredericksburg Hospital. He remained there for a while, delirious with the fever. The doctor said that he would never get well.

John Bryant had become sick with typhoid pneumonia and the doctors told him that one lung was gone and the other badly decayed.  He describes his stay in the hospital and the moment when Lieutenant Van Bokkelen’s father came to see him.  The father had asked him if he wanted to go home and John Bryant replied “yes”.  He stated he would be back for him in the morning and had nurses help him walk because he could not on his own.  They gave him a remedy of a toddy and told him to drink it three times a day once he was at  home and to eat the fattest meat he could.

When he finally made it home he was sick for a very long time but became well after a while. He was taken to his father’s house 20 miles into the country.

After being sent home the Army sent him a discharge and exempted him from all public duties but that didn’t last long. The recruiting officers had him running to town standing draft. So, he made up his mind; if he had to go back to the war he would go back to the same company.  He enlisted again with his previous company. His brother was still there and he wanted to be in the same company with him but was not with him for long for he died of typhoid fever just eight days before the 7 Days fighting commenced.

John Bryant states that the “Lord saw fit to take Jacob out of the trouble and leave me here.” He missed his brother very much for they had always been together and Jacob always lead and John followed. John Bryant was not with his brother very much during his illness but was there to see him buried. They wrapped Jacob in a blanket and lowered him into a soldier’s grave near Richmond,Virginia.

John Bryant would fight with his regiment for the first time in the Seven Days fighting near Richmond. He was in every battle from the first day until the 7th and he was with the company at Mechanicsville and with them at Cold Harbor. The Mechanicsville battle was on Wednesday evening, Cold Harbor was on Friday evening, Malvern Hill was on Tuesday the 1st of July. There was fighting on Monday but they were not in it. They passed along where they had been fighting on their way to Malvern Hill.

John Bryant was wounded at Malvern Hill late in the afternoon of the first day of July. He was lying by the side of Lieutenant Van Bokkelen, when right on top of the hill a ball struck him.  Van Bokkelen asked “Castine are you wounded?” and he told him “yes”.  Then he asked if he was hurt much and John told him he did not know.  Van Bokkelen ordered John better try to get to the rear if he could. John did not get up right away.  When the line was ordered to move and when they arose John Bryant arose with them and went down to the foot of the hill and stay there until the fighting was done. It was then after dark that several more wounded showed up and after the fighting ceased they bunched up and started to make their way to the road.  They went to a vacant house in a field and went to see if they could get any water to drink but did not get any while they were there. Cavalry passed and they didn’t know if they were some of their own men or Yankees. So, they kept quiet until they moved on. It was getting late in the night and they were at a loss to know which way to go but finally decided to go on the way the Calvary went.  If they were Yankees and captured them, the would have to go with them.  They went across the field and when they got near a road they heard soldiers talking in the woods. They did not know who they were and were afraid to say anything out of fear that they would be captured, but finally someone in the crowd hailed to know who they were.  “We are as it were you,  we are Rebs too.” was a response.  Then they went in the road towards them and they heard someone coming. It was a dark night, but when he spoke John recognized Mr. Van Bokkelen’s voice.  When they met he wanted to know if he was wounded and John was hurt very much. He told John to go about a quarter of a mile farther and he would see a church by the side of the road and for John to go back and wait until he came back and he would help me to the camp.  Before John got to the church he began to feel weak and sick from the loss of blood.  He stopped outside of the road and laid down and didn’t know how long it was before he got to the church.  Upon entering, the floor was filled up with wounded soldiers and he found a small space to lay down. It was getting late, as the nights were short, and they have been marching and fighting and laying on the ground in the open for 7 or 8 days. They were all very much fatigued and when he would stop he would drop asleep.

When he was awakened, a doctor was pouring water on his wounds. The doctor told him not to be frightened. When it got light enough for John to see he found the church crowded with wounded Yankees. There was only one more North Carolinian except himself and they went up to the gallerey where they could see all that was going on. Three doctors were in there taking off limbs and now and then they would carry out one dead. It was a distressful sight to see the wounded and hear the moans of the dying in the afternoon.  Mr. Van Bokkelen stepped in the door and looked all over the house.  John called out to him and he came up where the men were and after talking with the pair a little he asked if they  had anything to eat or any water. He took the canteens and went off in the rain and he soon came back with water and crackers and told them he would send the ambulance to take them to the camps and for them not to leave until he got there. But it rained all the next morning and in the afternoon it was still raining. It slacked up in the evening and the wagon came.  The driver came to the door asking for wounded Rebs.

There were only two of them there so they went to the camp. John had been at the church for two days and nights before he got back to the camp. There was a train that took them to Richmond and they went to a hospital called Richardson’s Hospital.  It would be three days since he was wounded and nothing had been done for his wound except the water poured on by the doctor at the church. He was very weak and the hospital was filled with wounded.  He saw a man there who had a wound on his mouth. For a bullet struck him under the lip and it came out just below his ear and knocked out several of his teeth.  John stated the ladies there were kind to them. They came every day and brought them nourishment and assisted the doctors and dressed wounds. He was there 15 days until they gave him a furlough home.  John was only home 60 days when he went back to the company. He wouldn’t get home anymore until the 12th day of July 1865.

He was in the Battle of Chancellorsville. They were on a forced march nearly all day Saturday to take the Yankees on by surprise. Many men were surprised and they ran off and left beef and coffee on the fire and some of the guns in stacks. They chased them until after dark that night.  The Yankees built works out of logs to fight behind. They worked all night and the next morning they charged the works and took them. Their losses were heavy with the killed and wounded, but the Yankees vacated and the Rebs held the field. General Jackson was wounded on Saturday night and in his death General Lee lost and able Ally in the South and a big stake. John thought if Jackson could have lived to have assisted Lee, it would have been different for they were brave generals.

He was in the Battle of the Wilderness and Winchester and Gettysburg and many skirmishes he does not remember, with names of places he cannot recall.  He was with the regiment all the time after he went back from being wounded until he was taken prisoner. They had had some pretty hard fighting and at the Battle of the Wilderness they fronted a regiment of Zouaves and gained a victory and took prisoners. Before the Battle of Winchester, they marched all night to get around to cut off the Yankees retreat at Winchester. After fighting about an hour they disappeared. He never forgot the words of General Johnston. There was a high hill some distance from the company.  General Milroy and his staff ran up the hill and someone said to General Johnston, “General the Cavalry is flanking us!”  General Johnston, who was about 50 yards in the rear, sitting on his horse said “Let them come. Let them come. That is what I want them to do. Turn that battery on them.”  Then he said “Be quiet, men, be quiet. I want them to think there is only a handful of you.”

John Bryant was not in the first days fighting at Gettysburg. He was on his way to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. He heard about 20 miles from Harrisburg they received orders to go to Gettysburg.  General Lee had found the Yankees were coming another way so they turned around and marched back on the same road for a while. Then they turned in another road and marched all afternoon. By the time they were within twelve or fifteen miles of Gettysburg, they stopped for the night. The next morning after getting something to eat, they gave  everyone a strong drink of some kind and put them on a forced march to Gettysburg. They reached their destination in the afternoon and the fighting was over and the Yankees had fallen back and fortified themselves on the height. The ground was covered with the dead both Yankee and Rebels.

On the following day, they lay in a line of battle. After an artillery duel, they were much exposed to the Yankees. That morning they were captured. There were as many as five Yankees to each Rebel,  if not more.  There they met two lines of Yankees and one line of African Americans going to the front. As they were on their way to the rear, a few of the first line fired upon them, thinking they were armed Rebels, but the officers quickly shouted to them don’t shoot for they are only prisoners. The morning he was captured a Yankee had the muzzle of his gun about three feet from his head with his finger on the trigger and ordered him to surrender. John had been reloading his weapon at the time and when he looked up he was standing on the hill beside him pointing his gun directly at his finger.  John cites “but his hand was stayed by the power of God, who is above all things and who has the power to shield souls from harm.” He did not throw down his gun until ordered to do so by Captain Cowan.

While fighting in Gettysburg, John Bryant saw an amusing incident which showed that even in battle the opossums were in danger. The last day they fought there he had shot away all of the cartridges and went down the hill to wait until some more cartridges were brought from the front. While he was lying there, he got to looking at the tops of the trees noticing how recklessly the Yankees were shooting.  Frequently the bullets from their guns would cut the twigs from the tops of the trees. While he was looking, he saw a large possum on a limb and he kept watching him and he saw him shaking one of his feet as if a ball had hit it. As soon as he got some cartridges, he went to the front.  He didn’t know what became of that possum.  He never saw him anymore but he never forgot how he looked shaking his foot.

That morning when they left the battlefield, John Bryant ran on vidette some distance from the main line but was left.  When got out onto the field he could not see anything of them there and he went on and after he had gone half a mile he saw them again.  He decided to sit down and rest a little while but soon saw five or six Yankees come to the edge of the field. He was so tired and thought he would let them take him prisoner as they were coming towards him but he decided not to bear that idea if he could help it and he got up and moved on and was soon back with his men.

On the following day, late in the evening, they marched and waded to their waists through a creek.   They fought until about 10 o’clock with the Yankees then they ceased firing at each other and the line fell back about 50 yards. They called out to our company as videttes and put us on the line where they would have been fighting right between their line and the Yankees. Everything was quiet for the rest of the night. The next morning when it got light enough for them to see they began fighting with each other and kept it up until in the day when the line fell back a hundred yards or more. They called their company on vidette again. The next morning, just before their line retreated on the other side of Gettysburg, they entrenched and they stayed there all day. That night they had the men build fires up and down the line and put them on a forced march all night and all the next day until late in the afternoon. Some of the Yankees followed.  They came within a mile of the river that evening and stopped until dark.  They had to build up fires again and then they started to cross the river and had to wade through. The next morning they crossed into Virginia and it had taken them all night and part of the morning to cross. The men marched until 11 o’clock then they stopped and rations were cooked and ate. When they left Gettysburg to come back to Virginia they stopped about a mile or two out of the town and entrenched in case the Yankees should pursue and attack them.  They would have some protection as soon as it was dark and they moved on and marched all night.  The next morning after daybreak they stopped to rest a little.

John Bryant had been on guard duty two nights in succession and was very fatigued.  He lay down on the naked ground and went to sleep. A shower of rain fell on him while he was sleeping and when he awoke he was laying in a puddle of water.  John Bryant had laid down many nights with his blanket spread on the ground and not having anything but a cartridge box for a pillow to sleep.   He states “All night you know very little of the general who led and the different battles but all I knew was I would always be there when the fighting begins and when it ended.”  There was one thing which took place the night before they were captured that he never understood. They were entrenched and had everything arranged. Artillery guns were all along the line and ready for the Yankees when they came,  but instead of staying in the entrenchment that night they moved off into a strip of woods and stayed there with their guns in their arms. The next morning before it was light, the Yankees begin to throw shells over where they were lying. They got in line and ran to the trenches but it didn’t seem much less than 30 minutes before the place was covered with Blue Jackets shouting “Surrender!” and  “Get to the rear!”  Of course they were outnumbered by a large majority. They cannot do anything but surrender or be killed. He never knew why they were ordered from the trenches that night and had thought if they stayed in the entrenchments they could have held the works longer and not have been captured as soon as they were. But of course the commanding officers had reasons for it not known to the privates.

Even fifty years later, John Bryant can never forget hearing the wounded soldiers on the battlefield after the battle ended begging for water. “I feel like I can almost hear the sound of their voices in my ears now calling…wat-er,  wat-er… all night long you could hear that cry. I can never forget the ‘huzzahs’ of the Yankees when they made a charge nor the ‘Rebel Yell’ when the Rebs charged.”

John Bryant was taken prisoner at Spotsylvania early in the morning of May 12th 1864. His whole division, generals and all, were taken.  Captain John Cowan was the captain of the company at the time and he was a brave man according to John. He did not look like he knew what fear was. Cowan encouraged everyone as long as he could but he felt we had all done what we could. John wrote that Cowan told them to lay down their guns.

John Bryant though if they had held out longer they would not have been captured at the time. He heard later that reinforcements soon came and took the works back after they were captured.  He marched nearly all day when they stopped for the night and put them in a very small, low, muddy place.  Huddled close together they could not sit down or lie down and to add to their discomfort it was raining.  Guards were stationed every five steps and had a battery of artillery on a hill pointing down on them so if they made any attempt to get away, they could fire on them.  The officers had tents not very far.  The next morning, they moved them to a more comfortable place and threw up crackers for the men to get. Everyone scrambled for them, knocking each other down in the rush. They had not had anything to eat since they were captured. He left his haversack on a stake in the trenches with everything else that had belonged to him.
They took the prisoners across the river to Point Lookout Prison.  They were met there by African-American guards. He heard some of the guards tell prisoners “Look out there,  I will make my gun smoke at you. The ball is turning over in my gun for you now.”

They slept in tents on the ground and the blankets were scarce. The tents were put up in rows with a wide path for streets and the African-American guards would patrol the streets at night. When the drum would tap, the lights would have to go out at once and no more talking was allowed. If any talking was heard the guards would say “Stop that talking in there or I will make my gun smoke at you.”  The rations were 12 soda crackers a day, a cup of coffee.  Six crackers and a small piece of meat of some kind for breakfast and six crackers with a cup of bean soup for dinner.  Sometimes it would be a cup of salt water. He was glad to get away from there.

Some of the prisoners got sick on the steamer from Point Lookout to New York but John didn’t. He claims the men fared better at Elmira.  They had houses to live in and bunks wide enough to sleep, two heaters to a ward and two hospital wards. One for smallpox, another for fever and other troubles. The Yankees would patrol at night but they were not so mean as the African Americans he said.  But they would not allow us to make tea on the heaters. They would take the crust off the bread and  when they would catch someone with tea on the heater, they would punish them by making him saw wood for the furnace where they cooked the rations. If there was a second offense, they would keep him sawing for two days. Sometimes one of the prisoners would man up and get a double portion for his meal and if it was found out he would have to wear a board on his back with the words “ration flanker” on it.
They kept these men at Point Lookout for about two months before they moved them to Elmira, New York. John Bryant remained there 12 months, making it 14 months from the day he was taken prisoner on the 12th day of July 1865 when he returned home.
At Elmira they did not get much to eat. One slice of white bread, a cup of coffee and a small piece of pickled pork or beef for breakfast. A slice of bread and a cup of white beans or vegetable soup for dinner. The water was good at Elmira unlike at Point Lookout. They had houses to stay in and bunks to sleep in but it was the coldest weather he’d ever felt. He felt like he would freeze before warm weather.  The exposure, scarcity of food and long marches caused the soldiers much more suffering than the fighting.  They would have to take some hard marches and his feet would get so sometimes he would feel he could not walk on anymore but he had to go on hurt or not hurt.  They crossed the Blue Ridge Mountains over to Gettysburg and back.  It was a tiresome walk and rough on the feet. They had laid down on the ground in open-air just to sleep and would wake up with their blankets covered in snow. The men would suffer very much for water when they were on long marches and warm weather rations would be given out sometimes. He would be hungry before he could get any more. John and these men had to do a lot of marching to keep up with the Yankees but General Lee would always meet them. Sometimes he would have to be in mud over his shoe tops and have to lie on the ground at night or have to be on guard no matter what the weather.
He had seen men be shot down to the right and the left; at the top of the head shot off and the brains lying on the ground.  He remembers he got in a close place at Gettysburg before capture. He was about halfway between his own line and the Yankees line and they were shooting at each other and the bullets flying in the air.  Thick shot broke his gun in two at the small part of the stock. He picked up another one lying near him, some wounded Reb had thrown down, and examined it finding it loaded. He fired it off at the Yankees and made his way to the rebel line as fast as he could go. He got through safely but it was all in through the “mercy of God that he did and it was in and through His mercy that they were spared. God has all power in heaven and on Earth. He speaks and it is done.  Peace be still and the seas obey. He shuts and no one can open. He had the power to keep me from being killed on the battlefield and did so. There was a cause for it. God knows; I do not. Only it was his will.”
While in prison his bunk mate contracted smallpox.  He slept beside him until it broke out.
John Bryant was taken sick for nearly a year after he got home from prison with chills and fevers. He was discharged from Elmira prison on the morning of the 5th day of July 1865 and went to Baltimore. He had to ride in boxcars with plank boards for seats and the car was filled with Rebs.  They stayed on board all night and did not do much sleeping. They arrived in Baltimore the next day about noon. Some of the Yankee soldiers met the train and had them fall in line and marched them down to the river where there was a boat waiting to take them to City Point. They had dinner prepared for them in a building and marched them in to find plenty to eat for all.  The citizens were very kind to the men on the way home.  After dinner they were told they had better stay close if they wanted to get home. The boat would leave and if they were not there they would be left. A wagon drove up with white bread and apple butter and they gave out to everyone that would go get it. Another had straw hats and clothing to give to the Rebs. A lady stood on the sidewalk on a box with a handful of small bills of money giving out as many as would go and get it.

They boarded the boat that afternoon at City Point and traveled all night and didn’t sleep. They had dinner prepared and  after a while an engine and a box car came and they piled in on top and all around wherever they could and went to Petersburg.  There they gave them something to eat as well. They had to lie all night or walk 15 miles to make connections with another road to get to the train the next morning. Twenty of the men decided to make the trip for the nights were short and they did not get much sleep anyway. It took them all night to make the trip but they made it in time for the train and were very much fatigued. From there they went to Gaston and had to cross a river in a boat to get to another train to come to Raleigh. At Raleigh, they had to lie overnight on the ground in the open air but of course they did not mind for they were used to the rough fare.  John Bryant rested well and the next morning a train came along around 10 o’clock to Wilmington and they got on, homeward bound on their native soil once more.

The train arrived around 10 p.m. that night and he decided to get off there and go to his aunt’s house, who lived only 6 miles from the station. He thought he wanted to stop there and rest before he went on to his father’s.  He was anxious to see him.  It had been a long time since he had seen his father but he went down the wrong road and went down to North East ferry.  The Yankees had a pontoon bridge down.  He walked over on the other side and when he got over he saw only two African American soldiers there to guard the bridge.  In the article he said he would go back and try to return to his aunts.   One of the men told him to stay until morning and take the time to travel so that he would not be hurt.  He said did not feel exactly safe but decided to stay and rest a little.  Just as soon as it got light enough for him to see he bid them goodbye and made his way to his aunts.  He soon arrived at her house.  She did not know him.  He told her who he was and she prepared him something to eat and he stay there and rested until about 3 o’clock then went on to his father’s. John got there just before sun set and they did not know him either.  He was so thin in flesh because he  was sick before he left prison and was sick a long time after he got back home.
He was glad to be back home again after all the hardships he had been through.  There was one vacant place not there before; that of his twin brother.  John says “No one knows how to appreciate home like those who have been through the hardships and perils of war.  Many times I was begged to leave and go over to the Yankees and while I was in prison I could have taken the oath of Allegiance and would have been free from prison but I pledged myself to the South, the land of my birth, and I felt like I wanted to go with it and be true to the cause I have pledged myself to and sharing her victory or defeat.”
When the South was conquered, General Lee, with his little handful of tattered battle-scarred brave men had surrendered to Grant and were sent home from prison.  Before John left prison he had been taken to a building, names were called and men were told to hold up their hands and take the oath of allegiance to the union. He felt if he were young and able, he would be just as ready to take up arms in the cause for our country as he was when he did before and try to do his duty as faithfully as he did for the South.
At the end of the article, he tries to write some of his personal experiences from the war of what he saw and felt for himself.
“I know I have not told near all the hardships I went through in body and mind, for the half can never be told.  None of those who have been in a battle themselves can do anything about it, for tongue nor pen can express it.  When I first started in a battle, I would feel a dread of thinking perhaps it was my last but after I got into the fray and got to shooting, I would not study about it, but the protecting arm of the Lord was with me.  After I got home I knew how to appreciate a good cup of coffee for many times I have parched acorns and made a tea in the place of coffee: but also parched corn and would pick up around where the horses were feeding and make tea.  I used to,  while in prison,  think if I ever got home I would have as many “Soldier” beans as I could eat and I have eaten them many times since but they have never tasted as sweet as that one cup of beans tasted in Elmira prison.  I am glad that bridge has been held between the North and South and I can conscientiously say I have no ill-will towards the Yankees although they gained the Victory and the old flag is furled. I feel they did not gain it only by outnumbering us,  for there has never been any braver soldiers than marched and fought with General Lee under the stars and bars, and if Lee’s men had have had the same advantage that the northern soldiers had we would never have been conquered.  I say this because I feel it is true.”

This was an account of the events that my maternal great-great-grandfather, John Bryant, had experienced during the war between the North and the South and was written by the request of the United Daughters of the Confederacy.  He states he wrote this for the ladies to honor the “old veterans” and people who fought for what they thought was right.  He thinks of them as the representations of the tried-and-true women of the days of 61 through 65.  The women who had to bare hardships and dangers at home while husbands, fathers and sons were away in the army fighting.  And he says they did well to fill their post and after the close of the war, when all that was left returned home, weakend from exposure and hardships, many sick in body and mind, to find their homes devastated and in ruin the women came to their aid and help them bare their burdens.

When I first read this article from the Wilmington Star it brought a tear to my eyes to think that a person I never knew went through such hardships during the war.  And the hardships did not end with the war.  In the next post, I will share with you what happened in John Bryant’s life after the war.  His marriage and his children and the time he spent in Wilmington.  Thank you for reading.


11024621_10204009302981971_1711740133101187000_nThey say history repeats itself, that we are surrounded by it, we learn from it, it will consume us.  I cannot deny that fact.  My love for history came from my father, who could tell you anything you wanted to know about wars and politics and the birth of our nation.  I am a suburban girl living in a city that was built from history itself.  My area breaths it, it’s on every corner and you can smell the lives of the past in the air as if it were a thick smog covering my seven cities.  I am from Hampton Roads in Virginia.  It is a hop, skip and a jump away from our colonial past.  The state of Virginia is rich with our nations history.  Our culture is reflected in the pages of textbooks.  My schooling experience was littered with many trips to places in my own back yard.  I felt amazed to learn from it and take steps in the same places that many of my ancestors had.  And that is what brings me here today.  A passion.  One for writing, one for my love of history and a yearning to know more about my family tree and the role they may have played in the forming of the place I call home.  I want to share my experiences delving into the roots of my family tree and all the wonderful and exciting places that my home state and surrounding area has to offer.  That is what this blog will be about.  I will take you with me to visit historic locations.  You will join me as I attend functions of the different society associations I am a part of.  I will share my findings as I research my ancestry and become a professional genealogist and many other exciting features posted weekly in this series such as costumes, entertainment and food and culture.  Come with me as I live through the past with My Past Life.