Monday, May 5, 2008

Solving Family Mysteries one at a time

Do you have a family mystery? For example, why did a man leave his family? Or why did he move to the west?

One mystery on my wife's side of the family was "why did Elijah McKnew leave Maryland and come to California before 1865?" The "family story" was that Elijah did not want to serve in the Army during the Civil War and went to the "gold country" in California to escape military service.

The US Army Register of Enlistments, 1798-1914, which is a new database recently added on, provides one of the answers to the family mystery:

Elijah McKnew, age 23, born in Baltimore MD, a laborer, enlisted in the 1st Dragoons, Company A on 3 January 1856. He was 5' 7-1/2" tall, hazel eyes, brown hair, fair complexion. He deserted on 20 January 1856. He served all of 17 days!

My guess is that he came west after deserting. In 1856, he was just 20 years old. His mother died in 1845, and his father married twice more, and they resided in Washington DC for several years. So now we have a probable reason for coming to California.

I can't find Elijah McKnew in the 1860 census. He is in the 1870 census in Tuolumne County CA (listed as E A McNew, age 34 born in MD, with wife Jane and children A.J. and A.R. McNew).

He must have corresponded with his siblings over the years, since he and his family corresponded with several of his siblings and their children. A picture of Elijah and some of his family in 1906 is here.

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