Thursday, June 16, 2016

Following the Wrong Family Line: Not a Mistake after All

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I followed the wrong family line! Gordon Johnson was born about 1827 in Tazewell County, Virginia.[1] He married Cosby Green in about 1849. I thought Gordon was the “right” guy. I had been doing the family history of my cousin’s paternal line when I stumbled across Gordon and Cosby.

Sadly, it was the wrong family line. However, I just couldn’t shake the feeling that Gordon wanted to be “found.” You see, Gordon didn’t appear with his family in the 1870 census. Cosby was listed with five children ages nine to seventeen. I wondered where he was. His last child was born in about 1861. Then, I knew. Gordon must have been a soldier in the Civil War.

I couldn’t help myself. I had to find out what happened to him. His story ended up being fascinating and down-right uncanny.

Following Gordon in Time

I first found Gordon at age 23, listed with his wife, Cosby, and a baby in the 1850 Lee County, Virginia census. The 1860 census found Gordon again in Lee County, Virginia with his wife and six children.  She was obviously quite the busy young mother! By 1870, Cosby was head of the household with five children.[2]

My next step was to see what was available for Civil War records online. and both have several databases available for Civil War research. I did a military search for Gordon on and found many good matches.

I learned that Gordon was living in Lee County, Virginia and was about thirty-six years old on enlistment day. He served for Virginia and did not survive the war.[3] Well, that answered my first question. He was definitely a soldier and he had never returned home.

I also learned that Gordon was enlisted in the 64th Virginia Infantry on 13 Aug 1862 and was mustered out on 26 Dec 1863 at Camp Douglas, Chicago, IL.[4] This is the uncanny part! Guess where I was living when I found this record…yep, just outside of Chicago. What were the odds?! It just convinced me even more that Gordon was cheering me on from the “other side.” “Find me,” he called, “Tell my story!”

Another fun find was in the Alabama, Texas and Virginia, Confederate Pensions, 1884-1958 in which his widow filed for pension.[5] Did you realize that Confederate soldier widows could get pensions?

The application for pension filed by Cosby was only one page, but she stated that she and Gordon had married in Mulberry Gap, Tennessee.[6] A quick Google search showed Mulberry Gap to be in Hancock County. Hancock County courthouse had a fire and marriage records between 1844 and 1930 were lost.[7] Because of this loss, it is likely this pension record is the only record that states the exact location they were married. This was a great find!

I Hit the Mother Lode

I love using Fold3, especially for Civil War and War of 1812 research. I searched for Gordon and hit the mother lode. There were seventeen pages in the “Compiled Service Records of Confederate Soldiers Who Served in Organizations from the State of Virginia” file. It confirmed he was in Company G of the 64th Virginia Mounted Infantry and enlisted in Lee County, Virginia for three years.

Other new tidbits of information included that he was captured at Cumberland Gap, Tennessee on 9 Sept 1863. He was then sent to Camp Douglas [Illinois] on 24 Sept 1863 via Louisville, Kentucky. He died on 26 Dec 1863 at Camp Douglas, Illinois of phthisis pulmonalis, another name for tuberculosis. At that time, he was buried at Chicago City Cemetery in grave #918. Wow! What a story!

Gordon’s wife Cosby filed a claim on 12 July 1864 suggesting that she was given word of his death at least within six months.[8] I hope she found out sooner, rather than later.

Some Enriching Details

A Google search for “64th Virginia Mounted Infantry” gave me some insight into Gordon’s time in the military and his imprisonment.

The 64th Virginia Mounted Infantry was recruited from the Virginia counties of Lee, Scott, Wise, and Buchanan. They were allowed to stay in their home area as long as they promised to protect the Confederacy. The regiment did not see much “action” or bloodshed, but their mortality rate was high due to their dying of disease as prisoners of war.[9]

Two thirds of the 64th regiment were captured on 9 Sept 1863 at Cumberland Gap, Tennessee.[10] Gordon and a couple of his brothers were among those captured.

The winter of 1863 and 1864 were some of the harshest on record. Cold temperatures, insufficient food, lack of adequate clothing, and disease ravaged the camp. By the end of the war, Camp Douglas had housed over 26,000 Confederate prisoners and had over 3,000 fatalities due in large part to the horrible conditions.[11]

Fort Douglas, Chicago, IL. Image from Wikimedia Commons.
Soldiers who had died at the camp were first buried in the Chicago City Cemetery, but due to flooding, in 1866, the soldiers were exhumed and removed to Oak Woods Cemetery in a large mass grave.[12] A monument stands there and reads “ERECTED TO THE MEMORY OF SIX THOUSAND SOLDIERS HERE BURIED WHO DIED IN CAMP DOUGLAS PRISON 1862-5”. There are large bronze tablets that list some of the dead that are buried there. I checked to see if his name appeared on the tablets…it does.


Even though I had followed the wrong family line and found the “wrong guy,” it was a pleasure to get to know Gordon Johnson. I was kind of disappointed when I learned he wasn’t in my cousin’s family line. But guess what…after more research, I found that it was me who was related to Gordon…through his wife Cosby! I love it when a family history story comes together, don’t you?

Do you wonder how to best write about tragic events in your family history? If you are struggling with that question, I think you will enjoy reading:
Thoughts on Writing Tragic Events in Family History


[1] 1850 US Federal Census, District 31, Lee, Virginia, population schedule, page 351 (stamped), dwelling 657, family 679, Gordon Johnston [sic], digital image, Ancestry ( : accessed 27 Mar 2015); citing NARA microfilm publication M432, roll 955.
[2] 1870 US Federal Census, Jonesville, Lee, Virginia, population schedule, page 14 (penned), dwelling 88, family 89, Cosby Johnson, digital image, Ancestry ( : accessed 6 Apr 2015); citing NARA microfilm publication M593, roll 1658.
[3] “U.S., Civil War Soldier Records and Profiles, 1861-1865,” index, Ancestry ( : accessed 5 Apr 2015), entry for Gordon Johnson, born 1826, resident of Lee County, Virginia.
[4] Ibid.
[5] “Alabama, Texas and Virginia, Confederate Pensions, 1884-1958,” digital image, Ancestry ( : accessed 5 Apr 2015), entry for Mrs. Causby [sic] Johnson, widow, Lee County, Virginia.
[6] Ibid. Note the location of marriage is indexed as Troutburg, TN, however after viewing the image, it was determined to be transcribed incorrectly and the location of marriage is Mulberry Gap, TN.
[7] “Hancock County, Tennessee Genealogy”, FamilySearch, (,_Tennessee_Genealogy : accessed 4 Apr 2015).
[8] “Compiled Service Records of Confederate Soldiers Who Served in Organizations from the State of Virginia,” digital image, Fold3, ( : accessed 7 April 2015), entry for Gordon Johnson, 64th Mounted Infantry; citing NARA microfilm publication M324, roll 1044.
[9] Jeff Weaver, “64th Virginia Infantry,” USGenWeb Archives, ( : accessed 6 Apr 2015).
[10] Ibid.
[11] The Chicago Story that must be Told, Dec 2013, pg. 3; digital image, Camp Douglas Restoration Foundation ( : accessed 2 Apr 2015). This number has been disputed over the years.  Most have declared the official number to be about 3,108, however the monument placed at Oak Woods Cemetery in Chicago gives the number as 6,000.
[12] Confederate Mound at Oak Woods Cemetery in Chicago, Illinois, para. 2-3, digital image, National Park Service


  1. Great story!! btw, it is mother "lode", not "load".

  2. Amie, this is the reason I always keep any and all research. You never know when you'll find a connection.

    1. Yep...I do the same thing. I think there are likely more stories like this that are bound to happen. It's just the way genealogy goes!

  3. How fun! I'm crazy when it comes to seeking out the full story of folks (wrong line or not). Great work and great details. I wish I liked Fold3 as much as you do. I don't have relatives that have enough discoveries on that site to make me giddy. But I'm so glad the service helps others.

  4. This is why I have research notebooks overflowing my genealogy space! Once you realize you have the wrong line it's like a BSO and you can't let it go until you have told their story.

  5. This is why I have research notebooks overflowing my genealogy space! Once you realize you have the wrong line it's like a BSO and you can't let it go until you have told their story.

  6. That is such an interesting story. Amazing you found so many records and that after thinking he was the wrong guy, it turns out you were connected to him anyway :) Thanks for sharing!

    1. It sure was an amazing journey! Thanks for reading, Teresa!

  7. Wow! This really shows that it can pay off to continue researching if you have a 'gut feeling'.

  8. What an interesting turn of events! Thanks for sharing the story.
    Isn't it funny how sometimes it seems we're being guided from the other side?

    1. Thanks for reading, Leslie! Definitely felt a guiding hand. It is one of my most favorite genealogy experiences.

  9. What a journey you went on! I guess that shows sometimes you just have to follow that gut feeling. Thanks for sharing. :)


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