THE BLOG
01/14/2015 03:19 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Obituary Is Just the Beginning of the Story

Question: Can you provide me a copy of the obituary for Albert Allison Slingerland, who last lived in Sturgis, Michigan. He was the next-to-the-last Civil War veteran in that state. ~ Lyle

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There is a saying that there are no boring ancestors, just boring researchers. But with an ancestor like Albert Allison Slingerland, you will have no trouble at all finding a wealth of interesting stories.

The obituary you are looking for was kindly posted by a Find A Grave member on your ancestor's memorial page.

The obituary sheds light on Albert's Civil War service in the 9th New York Infantry, Company K, telling us that he had two fingers shot off, and he was audacious enough to enlist in the Civil War at the age of 13! Also, according to the obituary, he reenlisted in 1872 and fought out west in the Indian Wars. These details made us want to learn more about Albert's military service.

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Enlistment in the Indian Wars

The information on his service out west is easy enough to find in the U.S. Army, Register of Enlistments, 1798-1914, at Ancestry.com. There we learn he was born in Almond, New York, had hazel eyes and brown hair, and enlisted at the age of 22 in 1872 in Buffalo, New York.

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A detail from Albert's entry in the U.S. Army Register of Enlistments at Ancestry.com.

But some of the details don't quite match up with the obituary. When he was out west, he enlisted in May of 1872 and he was discharged in January of 1873, meaning he served less than a year. But Albert's obituary says 1875. Given that it was more than 50 years after the fact and the obituary was not likely written by Albert, it is understandable that there are discrepancies in the dates. We also see that he was discharged "For Disability."

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A detail from Albert's entry in the U.S. Army Register of Enlistment at Ancestry.com.

Another bit of information from the obituary may have been confused as well. Reading the obituary we are led to believe he served in the 9th New York Infantry, Company K, in the Civil War. When he served out west, he served in the 9th Infantry, Company K. Is this another piece of information that was confused, or did he serve in the same company in the Civil War? Or should we be looking for him in a different company?

Civil War Record

Looking for Albert in Civil War records we come up with nothing. There is no record of an Albert or Allison Slingerland in the 9th New York Infantry, much less in Company K. In fact, searching on Fold3, Ancestry, and the Soldiers and Sailors Database from the National Park Service turned up nothing. There is an Alvin Slingerland listed, but he was born in 1846 and died in 1899.

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Examining Possible Census Records

The 1855 New York Census has an Albertus living with his parents, David and Jane, in Almond, Alleghany County, New York. You will recall his enlistment record states that he was born in Almond, although it was in 1850. On the census, Albertus' age is listed as 1, which suggests he was born around 1854, not 1850.

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The 1855 New York Census record for the Slingerland family.

A quick check of Albertus" 1860 census record again shows him living with his parents, David and Jane Slingerland. His obituary says his parents' names were David and Elizabeth. And this census tells us he was 6 in 1860. If he enlisted at the age of 13 in 1862, he should be 11. But we all know that ages in census records can be wrong.

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A detail from the 1860 record for the David Slingerland family.

The New York 1865 census also shows him as being born about 1854. In 1870, he is living with just his mother and his brothers and sisters. And again his age is given as 16, making his birth year about 1854.

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The Slingerland family in the 1865 New York census.

Examining the Pension Record

His pension record confirms that he did indeed serve in the wars out west from May of 1872 to January of 1873 in the 9th U.S. Infantry, Company K.

And it is out west where his fingers were shot off!

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From Albert Slingerland's pension record.

Nowhere is there a record of Albert applying for a Civil War pension, and there is no mention of it in his Indian War pension records. If he served 21 months in the Union Army, why didn't he apply for a pension there as well?

So when was Albert born, 1850 or 1854? His pension record says 1850, but the three census records we found suggest 1854, if that is indeed our Albert. But there is only one Albert Slingerland in the 1855 New York census in the Almond, New York, area where both the obituary and his enlistment record say he was born.

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Usually four years wouldn't mean that much. But given that the Civil War was fought between 1861 and 1865, it means a lot in this case. Was he 15 or 11 when the war ended?
So did he enlist? Maybe he did at the end of the war when he would have been 11. Maybe under a different name. Or maybe he didn't. He was most assuredly a veteran, given his pension, but in what war?

It is a mystery to be sure. But Albert was nothing if not a colorful and interesting character in your family tree and worth further investigation.

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Do you have a mystery in your own family tree? Or have you wondered what family history discoveries you could make with a DNA test? Send Henry Louis Gates, Jr and his team of Ancestry experts your question at ask@ancestry.com.