Do you know what your great-great-great grandfather did in the U.S. Civil War? If you are interested in finding out this bit of family history from more than 150 years ago, Mt. Hood Community College (MHCC) has a fun class for you: Discovering Your Civil War Ancestor.
Kate Eakman, the MHCC instructor who teaches the class, is an expert in Civil War ancestry. Her own family had several Civil War relatives, but Thomas “Big Tom” McConahy was a standout at over 6 feet, when most men of the day were only 5 feet 8 inches tall.
“Big Tom was my grandmother’s grandfather who was in the 100th Pennsylvania regiment in the Civil War,” says Eakman. “He fought at battles such as Antietam, Fredericksburg and the Wilderness where he witnessed slaughter on a scale that we cannot understand today. In one battle his regiment fielded 400 men, and 15 of them were killed. That is the equivalent of 150 men from the town you were born and raised in being shot to death in front of you.”
“Not only did men lose their lives, but some suffered greatly after the war, with physical and mental wounds,” says Eakman, who believes that Big Tom suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD). “One day he packed his bags and left home, traveling all the way from Pennsylvania to Los Angeles where he lived in the precursor of a Veterans Administration hospital for more than 20 years. He never spoke to his wife or his five children, to the best of my knowledge.”
Eakman notes that it was supposed to be a 90-day war. Both sides had an unreasonable view of themselves and both thought God was on their side. Unfortunately, the war dragged on for many years, taking the lives of up to 750,000 Americans.
And each one of those Americans has a story to tell; uncovering it is up to you, says Eakman.
Eakman is well versed in genealogy. She taught history for 15 years, and now teaches others how to research their own family genealogy through family records, the Internet and other primary sources. Learning about your family’s genealogy will help you to discover your Civil War ancestor – their lives before the war, the battles in which their unit fought and their lives once the war was over.
“One of the keys to genealogy is to think like a historian and a detective,” says Eakman. “You have a mystery in front of you – who was this man? What was his life like? To solve the mystery, you need to be a detective, follow the clues and ask the right questions.”
Eakman’s class, Discovering Your Civil War Ancestor (HOM4CW), is offered Saturdays, July 14 – Aug. 11, 10 a.m.-noon on the Gresham Campus, 26000 SE Stark St. Open registration for credit and non-credit classes for summer term begins May 15 at mhcc.edu/schedule.