Wednesday, July 01, 2009


We're coming up on the 4th of July on this coming Saturday. As you might expect here in
New England, it's a pretty special time. After all, this is where the American Revolution
began, isn't it? The celebrations are steeped in tradition, from the oldest 4th of July
Parade down in Rhode Island to the Boston Pops concert and fireworks on the banks of
the Charles River in Boston on Saturday night.

I've come to have a greater appreciation of the 4th and of our colonial ancestors in general
since I began researching the family tree. I'm not sure exactly how many of my ancestors
were Revolutionary War veterans since I'm still discovering new information almost every
day but I do know it's over ten. The documentation for eight of them is by means of their
Pension Request files, and in that my fortune was in their misfortune because they had
fallen on hard times. I had the chance to read their statements regarding their service in
the Army, and to read inventories of their personal possessions. I found out that my 4x
great grandfather Moses Coburn's list of possessions included a table, a chair, 4 "dung hill
fowls" and other livestock but apparently did not include beds for himself, his wife and
three children. My 5x great grandfather John Ames often saw Washington, Putnam, and
Lee while he took part in the siege of Boston. Several ancestors were present at the
surrender of the British General Burgoyne and others served at Valley Forge.

(You can read my transcriptions of the pension files of John Ames and Jonathan Barker
by clicking their names on my label list on the right of your screen. You can see a list of
my Revolutionary War veteran ancestors here.)

Despite all that they endured and survived in the Revolution, they found themselves
at the start of the 19th century in need of financial help. The young men of Lexington and
Concord were now in their late middle ages. Some of them were able to pick themselves
up and start over, or their widows and children were able to do so, with the help of the
pension. Others, like my 4th great-grandfather Jonathan Barker, were not so successful;
he rests in an unmarked grave in Newry, Oxford, Me.

In other words, they were real people, facing everyday life and trying to get by the
best they could, much like their descendants do to this very day.

It wasn't just political independence they were fighting for back then, it was also for an
independence of thought and speech. Even after they'd won it from the British they
continued on with the struggle in taking stands and voicing opinions that sometimes weren't
popular with the majority. It's a New England tradition!

Many of us grew up being taught history in the old "names and dates" method. Certain
figures (Washington, Lincoln, Roosevelt, etc) are given a bit more time, as are the major
conflicts. But it's not until college that we are able to study American history in more
depth. Even then, the everyday lives of people who lived in a certain period, who fought
the Great Wars or who survived the economic crises get less attention or perhaps a passing
mention. There's only so much time in a school year or a semester. Lesson plans must
be met.

That's why I think those of us who are genealogists and family historians are lucky. We
take the time to study not just the where and when of our ancestor's lives, but also other
aspects. How did they fight for independence, what effect did that fight have on them and
their family, why did they migrate to a certain part of the country? And then we share that
information with others. Studying our family histories gives us a greater appreciation and
pride of our country's history as well.

So I'll be watching the Boston Pops concert and fireworks display this Saturday night and
wonder once more, as I have the past few years, what those Revolutionary War veterans
would make of it all if they could there to take it in!

Written for the 75th Edition of the Carnival of Genealogy

1 comment:

GeneaDiva said...

Enjoyed your post. I also wonder what our ancestors might think of how we celebrate Independence Day.