Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Nitty Gritty of Genealogy

In 1816 Josiah Witter wrote to the government to inquire about the status of his pension application.  He had applied in 1792 and been approved but still hadn't received any pension funds.  Witter was a veteran of the Revolutionary War and had been injured in battle.  He believed he deserved a pension and so did the United States government.  So why was it taking so long for him to get it?

The answer to that question is found in an interesting article by Diane Rapaport called "A Matter of Extreme Regret": Josiah Witter's Pension Plight" which can be found in her Tales from the Courthouse column in the current issue American Ancestors (Vol. 12, no. 4, Fall 2011, page 51).  If you are a member of the New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS) [members receive the publication automatically] or have access to a genealogy library please be sure to read this article.

Not only is Josiah Witter the backdrop to a fascinating story but his example provides a lesson in the true nitty gritty of genealogical research.  If Witter was approved for a pension why didn't he get it?  Therein lies the lesson of going beyond a basic genealogical search.  The answer to this story lies in understanding contemporary politics and law.  Without understanding those two factors it would be impossible to understand the full story of Josiah Witter.

Unfortunately, I can't give away the story plot or the details of how the mystery was unraveled.  It will be much more fun for you to read it yourself.  But I strongly encourage everyone to read this article as an example of the kind of approach you should be taking with all your genealogical challenges and brick walls.


  1. Well then, I look forward to the issue arriving shortly! I'm a fan of the Tales from the Courthouse column.

  2. Just another reason that I want to be a NEHGS member. One day!

  3. I'm going to have to dig for a copy... still too expensive for me to join NEHGS - there are so many demands on limited funds. Sounds like a fascinating article, about the times he lived in. Neat that a relative of his read your blog post (on Google+).

  4. Most libraries or library networks carry a subscription. If you're local library doesn't have it see if you can get it on loan through your network.