Wesley crept up the wooden steps, his frail crooked body moving tepidly along each rung. The chatter of children lilted through the walls and he paused to listen; hoping to recognize a voice. Reaching into his pocket, he fingered a ragged picture and pulled it out, focusing his eyes on the three impish faces staring back.They were his children, half-orphans of the Civil War. Motherless from the brutality of a cruel war, Wesley placed his children in the arms of the St. Louis Catholic school praying they would be in a safe-haven; a respite far from the depraved outside world.

Wesley knocked against the door, his heart seemingly louder than his fist. A woman opened the door and gazed toward the disheveled Union soldier. A conversation pursued and Wesley raised the picture upward for the woman to see. The tall, plump woman lowered her glasses, her brow wrinkled as her eyes peered at the three young faces.

"We don't have your children, sir. They're not here any longer."

Wesley's heart slowed and he questioned whether he heard clearly what the woman said. His children are gone? The war was only a blip; a minor deviation compared to this.

                               ***

Children's orphanages in America bloomed from the 19th century into the beginning of the 20th century. Children orphaned from the ravages of cholera and smallpox were gathered and sent to state-run homes for children operated by churches. Children of immigrants whose parents died within the poverty-stricken and overpopulated eastern cities were sent westward, filling the state and church-run orphanages.

And then there were the young victims of the Civil War. Children were gathered and placed into boarding schools and church schools for their protection. But as I have learned with my ancestor's story, many of the children were not orphans. Instead, their parents placed them in what they considered safe-havens, only to learn their children were taken aboard the Orphan Train as indentured servants.

If you stumble across this kind of story within your family history  you will have a formidable task in your research but it can be done. Orphanages operated by state and local governments maintained better records and a good place start your research is within the state's archives. Go well prepared with a name, age, birthplace of the child, names of parents and to whom the child was indentured, if known.

If a religious group operated the orphanage, the records may be archived at their state or national headquarters. Also, local and state historical societies may be a good resource for your search. And if you ancestor was an indentured servant selected during one of the Orphan Train's whistle stops, his/her records could be (believe it or not) found within the county courthouse deed books.

If your research lands you within the realm of lost children, don't stall out. The task may be great but the story begs to be told. War, disease and poverty played a significant role in shaping our ancestor's lives and some of them lost their families as a result. Get your hands dirty and dig deeper for the truth.

We owe it to them to finish the story they never knew.

Keep searching for answers,

Cheryl
(Genealogy In St. Louis)
 
 
After years spent in front of my laptop, searching every website, e-book, blog, to find pieces of my genealogical puzzle, I reached the decision that more effort should be made with my husband's ancestral search. As with most families, the family historian is assumed by default and I have taken the assignment with great passion. But the intensity of passion is fueled by an inner spark and my spark at late has been dim. Not from a lack of interest in genealogy, but more as a result of a feeling of contentedness. A sense of satisfaction with knowledge found, puzzles solved, book written. Or so I thought.

With the undertaking of reviewing my husband's ancestral lineages and genealogical documents, I became reacquainted with his family tree. Focusing on a particular ancestor, I began the familiar search on Ancestry.com. Census records were brought forward and with a question of military service, I began searching the Civil War Pension Index. A match was quickly revealed for my husband's ancestor, shouting out: "Here he is, I found his Civil War Pension file!".

And with that, my spark began to flicker.

Perhaps new files have been added to the Ancestry.com Civil War Pension Index: records seem to be added daily, once again reminding me to keep searching and always go back to look again. So with a feeling of new energy and renewed curiosity, I decided to run all of my own ancestors of Civil War eligibility through the search engine once more. And as I casually added one of my great great grandfather's names to the search, the inner spark not only flickered, it began to flare.
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I discovered that Wesley Lewis, my paternal great great grandfather, was a Farrier with the Union's First Arkansas Calvary during the Civil War. Such information is remarkable, as Arkansas joined the Confederacy in 1861, and Union sympathizers often faced physical harassment from the Confederate armies. The First Arkansas Calvary was a result of a few men from the hills of northwestern Arkansas, crossing the state boarder into Missouri, escaping the Confederates. Noticing the Arkansas refugee's movement into Missouri, Federal officers raised a regiment and the Union's First Arkansas Calvary was formed.

The ragtag group of the newly formed Union troops undertook their first battle at Prairie Grove, Arkansas on the seventh of December 1862. Overwhelmed by a sudden Confederate attack, the soldiers quickly fled and their military performance was considered weak. The First Arkansas was reassigned as garrisons to the town of Fayetteville, where they were relegated to escorting wagon trains and providing neighborhood patrols. But the turning point for the Union First Arkansas 'Mountain Feds', was a result of their overwhelming victory in a bloody battle with the Confederate troops in Fayetteville on the 18th of April 1863.

After three hours of battle, the First Arkansas Calvary held their ground and the Confederates retreated.

A feeling of triumph resulted in a stronger, more cohesive unit and the First Arkansas Calvary proudly served Fayetteville and northwestern Arkansas until they were mustered out of service in August 1865. Becoming the most famous Union regiment raised from the state.

The discovery of my ancestor's Civil War history and the heroic story of his experience, has once again brought spark and passion to my eternal genealogical flame. Providing further inspiration to undertake my husband's ancestral search and a renewed passion to restart mine.

Keep searching for answers,

Cheryl
(Source: The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture)