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The rewards of genealogy

Last night, suffering from a long day and a pinch of insomnia, and frustrated with modern, medical science’s ability to put me to sleep, I posted an entry that wasn’t exactly an advertisement for genealogy. As it happens, I enjoy it immensely – whatever the reasons may be.

If I may, I’d like to bore you with one family member in particular I’ve been studying who fascinates me. Rev John M Rice (the link takes you to a page on my web site with details about his life, though it contains a few spoilers for the rest of this entry) is my great-great grandfather. He is my paternal grandmother’s paternal grandfather. Part of my fascination lies with a real, tangible connection I have with him. I’m sitting in his bed as I type this entry, a rope bed we think was made sometime in the mid 19th century. While my grandmother wasn’t old enough to remember her grandfather Rice when he died (she was two), she was fascinated by the stories her parents, brothers and sisters shared with her. My grandmother was much younger than her siblings, born very late in her parents lives. Her closest sibling was more than ten years older. Many of them were more like an aunt or uncle. According to my aunt, she loved this bed. It wasn’t an unhealthy love, like you’d love a living thing, but as far as belongings went, it was something she valued above many others. But my connection goes beyond owning something from my family’s history, or my grandmothers affinity for it. My grandmother inherited it when a sibling died, and I remember sleeping in it when we visited her house as a child. But there’s more.

My great-great grandfather Rice holds a special place in my heart, even though I never met the man, through the stories I’ve heard. He was a college student at Gettysburg College in 1860, and a seminarian at the Gettysburg Theological seminary in 1862- ordained in 1864. He wrote detailed accounts about being present for the famous Gettysburg battlefield commemoration. (I don’t have a copy or transcription of his letters and diary, but I know relatives who’ve read them, and I’m dying to get a copy. My aunt has promised me one.) His stories are endearing to me because the punch line of the story sounds like something that would happen to me. His account detailed, moving, and well written, but says nothing about the President being there. He missed it. That is SO me. When I was in high school my pastor leaned on me heavily to consider going to seminary myself. While I was honored, I didn’t think it was my calling. I’ve often wondered if it was something I could carry off, something I would have been good at or enjoyed; and it would have been particularly interesting to go the seminary in Gettysburg myself, following in my Rice ancestor’s footsteps. Shortly after being ordained, he and Hannah were missionaries in Africa. For all I know he could have been over there pushing Christianity and western culture on an indigenous people who needed/wanted neither. But I like to think he was over there with good intentions, trying to help the hungry… those not as fortunate as himself, and I wonder if he was the kind of man I’ve always aspired to be: someone who saw life as an opportunity to help people in need, who sometimes placed the needs of others above his own. His mission trip was cut short by Yellow Fever though. His diary supposedly notes he and Hannah learned the news of Lincoln being shot from a passing ship on the way home across the Atlantic.

These last couple weeks of genealogical mania, I’ve been scouring the web for information on John Rice (in between my data clean up efforts). It’s born fruit. I found a scanned copy of a book from the 1920s about the history of the seminary in Gettysburg. In it, I found a brief summary for each alumnus before 1920 – including my great-great grandfather.

I knew from various resources his wife’s name was Hannah Zeigler, but I was having trouble tracking down where she was from. But this Wednesday night I was up later than I wanted to be, and I found a transcribed newspaper section from The Adams Sentinel, containing the marriage announcement of John and Hannah. I knew (approximately) when they were married from prior research (within a few years), but I didn’t know exactly when or where. With this new piece of information, suggesting Hannah was from Gettysburg (they were likely married while John was a student), I was able to track down a Hannah M Zeigler, born the same year, from recently indexed census records from 1850, 60, and 70 from Gettysburg, giving me some pretty good evidence of who her parents were. Census records can be off, misspelling names and getting other data just plain wrong, but given that there weren’t any other Hannah (or Anna) Zeiglers in Gettysburg with the same birth date (or particularly close) in each of these censuses; plus the newspaper article and book excerpt, I’m pretty sure I’ve found my match. I’m stoked.

The famous battle occurred after they were married, so I don’t know if any records were lost, but my next step is to see if any vital records exist in Gettysburg (Adams Co, PA) to back this up.

It’s been a pretty exciting week – even if I’ve been feeling lousy for much of it. It’s been a huge pick me up when I really needed it.

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  1. I hope to go someday. We’ll make a grand tour of the northeast, visiting graves, taking pictures of markers, and visiting some of the other historical sites my ancestors were involved with. I have a great x3 grandfather who fought there (Gettysburg). He survived, only to be injured in a later campaign.

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