Tuesday, November 10, 2009

How to find your American Veteran Ancestors (A. Frank Hitchings)

Abijah Franklin Hitchings, Civil War, Co. I, 8th Reg. Mass. Vol. Inf.

Veterans Day 2009

The further your family tree goes back in time, the more chances you have of finding an ancestor, sibling, or distant cousin who served as a soldier or sailor. My first advice is to continue collecting oral histories, and asking all your older relatives about anyone they might have known who served in the military. Use those oral histories to build your family tree, and to investigate the possibilities of proving that those named relatives were veterans.

A great resource is www.ancestry.com for finding veterans. Almost every year Ancestry offers a free pass to their records on Veteran’s Day weekend. If not, your local library might have a free subscription to Ancestry. Use their search options to find your male ancestors, or, as in my case, I tried a wider search such as just the surname “Wilkinson” in “New Hampshire” to see what results came up. Often the results are just names in indexes, and you will need to take the name, military branch, service unit, and other details to the National Archives or other sources to find the actual information.

This was the case of my ancestor Abijah Franklin Hitchings. When I put his name into the Ancestry search, I found his name listed under the Civil War. He was listed in several fields, “Civil War Pension Index”, “Mass. Soldiers, Sailors and Marines in the Civil War”, “History of the “Salem Light Infantry”, etc. When I clicked on his name under the pension index, all that came up was a scanned image of the index card held in the National Archives, listing his name, state, unit of service, and some application and certificate numbers. It was not very useful information to me at first, but when I wrote to the National Archives in Washington, D.C. they were able to send me a large folder which included all his service records, his pension records, his widow’s pension records, and his medical records. It was over 100 pages of information on him, his wife, children, birth date, and even named neighbors who witnessed his signature.

Abijah Franklin Hitchings served twice in the Civil War. First he served in “Company I” of the 8th Regiment of the Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, called the “Minute Men.” This was the group of men who sailed to Annapolis and took the ship “Constitution” (Old Ironsides) safely to New York harbor, out of reach of the confederates. The second time he enlisted in “Company H” of the 19th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, and was wounded in the Battle of Fredericksburg. Apparently his leg injury was severe, but he wouldn’t let them “take” his leg. The ensuing injuries and illnesses from this injury plagued him for the rest of his life, and he left a long medical record and pension records.

About ten years ago we took a family vacation to Williamsburg, Virginia, and stopped by the Fredericksburg Battlefield to see where great, great grandfather Hitchings was injured. I made some specific inquiries at the ranger station of the National Battlefield office, and the young woman there broke into a big smile at my questions. She came out from behind the desk with a large book and a map, and after finding the name Hitchings and his regiment, she told us the whole story of the skirmishes at the Sunken Road, and the Salem, Massachusetts men involved in the battle. She told us where to look for the exact little mound of earth where the men hid from the gunfire, and how they escaped death. When we went out to the Sunken Road, we were able to find the exact spot where Abijah Franklin Hitchings was shot (more or less). We took photos and ran back to thank our National Park Ranger, and promised to send her a copy of the photo of A. F. Hitchings in uniform.

It pays to ask questions! And it pays to continue looking for information. After knowing that Abijah Franklin Hitchings was a veteran, I wrote to the superintendant of the cemetery where he was buried, and she was able to photocopy the 1910 obituaries for me from her files. It was easy to find his gravestone in the cemetery, (just look for the flags around Memorial Day!) As a civil war widow with a pension, his wife, Hannah Eliza Lewis, had her own pension records included in with the veteran’s records. Among these records on Hannah, was a letter written by my great grandfather, Arthur Treadwell Hitchings, asking for an increase in her pension to cover her care at Danvers State Asylum, where she died in 1921.

Obituaries (filed by the Harmony Grove Cemetery)

May 20, 1910


Was Deputy Collector of the Port of Beverly and Salem for Many Years


A. Frank Hitchings, deputy collector of customs for the district of Salem and Beverly, died at his home, 8 Bentley Street, last night. He was born in Salem, was the son of the late Abijah and Eliza (Treadwell) Hitchings, and was in his 69th year. He was educated in the Salem public schools, and afterwards worked at shoe making. He was one of the original minute men, enlisting as a boy of 19 years, in the old Salem Zouaves. Company J, Eighth regiment, M.V.M., Capt. Arthur F. Devereaux, and serving until discharged August 1, 1861. He re-enlisted as a sergeant in Company H., 19th Massachusetts regiment, and was discharged July 25, 1863 on account of wounds received at the battle of Fredericksburg. He joined Post 34, G.A.R., May 17, 1869.

Nov. 19, 1873 Mr. Hitchings was appointed an inspector in the Salem Custom house and assigned to duty as clerk. June 3, 1881, he was promoted to deputy collector, succeeding Col. J. Frank Dalton, who resigned May 7, 1881, to become postmaster of Salem. Mr. Hitchings has held the position of deputy collector ever since. He was a fine penman, very careful and methodical in everything that he did, and was a valuable government official. In connection with Stephen W. Phillips he prepared for publication by the Essex Institute the official register of all Salem vessels of which any record could be found in the Salem Custom house, a work which is extremely valuable today. He was a member of the Essex Institute. He possessed a fund of valuable information of Salem's early history, gleaned from his long service in the custom house.

Mr. Hitchings leaves a widow, a son, a daughter, and grandchildren.

Obituary from an unknown newspaper in Salem, Massachusetts
May 23, 1910

A. Frank Hitchings

The funeral of Deputy Collector of Customs A. Frank Hitchings was held at his late home, 8 Bentley Street, yesterday afternoon. Rev. Charles H. Puffer, D. D., and Rev. Alfred Manchester officiated, and there was a very large attendance, including comrades of Post 34, G.A.R., the old Salem Zouaves, Collector of Customs David M. Little, and past and present Custom house officials, and many prominent citizens. The G. A. R. service was conducted by Commander J. Frank Dalton, Chaplain William I. Arvedson, S.V.C. Eben S. Perkins, O.D.,John C. Grover, Adjutant Everett E. Austin and Patriotic Instructor Charles H. Frye of Post 34.

The honorary pallbearers were Hon. David M. Little, William J. Sullivan, Daniel F. Connolly and I.P. Hanscomb of the Custom house force, and the active bearers were Capt. John R. Lakeman, Charles P. Luscomb, Joseph A. Perkins, and Henry Symonds of the Salem Zouaves and all members of Post 34. The floral tributes were profuse and beautiful. Burial was at Harmony Grove cemetery.

Mr. Hitchings was born in Salem, the son of Abijah and Eliza (Treadwell) Hitchings, and was in his 69th year. He was educated in the Salem public schools, graduating from the High school. He afterwards learned the sailmaker's trade, and was an apprentice when the Civil war broke out, when he enlisted as private in the old Salem Zouaves, Company J., Eighth Massachusetts regiment, Capt. Charles U. Devereaux, and Col. Edward H. Hincks, October 25, 1861, and served until discharged on account of disability from wounds July 25, 1863.

Passed through all the trials and hardships of the Fighting 19th, he took part in all the battles of the Peninsula campaign, some of them particularly severe, notably Antietam and Fredricksburg. Wounded on the third day of the battle Fredricksburg by a gun shot in the left leg, he was carried to a church in Fredricksburg where the bullet was extracted, and from there to the hospital camp across the river, and soon after to the Finley hospital in Washington. He remained six weeks, and then came home on a 60-day furlough, dated Jan. 23, 1863.

Mr. Hitchings was never able to return to his regiment, and was discharged, as before stated. He went to the Massachusetts General hospital the following December, and a portion of the bone was removed from his leg. He came home to Salem, Jan. 18, 1864, and for a long time was obliged to go on crutches. Obtaining employment in the United States navy yard, Boston, he continued to work there until he received the appointment of inspector of customs for the district of Salem and Beverly, Nov. 19, 1873, he being detailed for clerk duty June 3, 1881, he was promoted to deputy collector, succeeding Col. J. Frank Dalton, who was appointed postmaster of Salem, May 7, 1881. Mr. Hitchings held the latter position up to the time of his death.


Family Tree Information:

Gen. 1. Daniel Hitchings, born about 1597 in England, son of Gyles Hitchins and Mary Trotman. He was the first Hitchings in New England.

Gen. 2. Daniel Hitchings, born 1632 in England, died 15 April 1731 in Lynn, Massachusetts; married 10 September 1694 in Lynn to Eleanor Unknown. Daniel held land at Rumney Marsh on the Saugus River at the west end of Iron Works Pond, bought from the Indians James Quonopihik and David Kunkshamooshaw.

Gen. 3. Daniel Hitchings, born about 1660 in Lynn, died 15 January 1734/5 in Lynn; married 19 October 1708 in Lynn to Susannah Townsend, daughter of Thomas Townsend and Mary Davis, born 5 November 1672 in Boston, died 12 May 1737 in Lynn.

Gen. 4. Daniel Hitchings, born 19 Oct 1709 in Lynn, died 25 April 1760 in Lynn; married June 1735 in Lynn to Hannah Ingalls, daughter of Nathaniel Ingalls and Anne Collins, born about 1713, died after 1797.

Gen. 5. Abijah Hitchings, born 18 January 1752/3 in Lynn, died 27 March 1826 in Salem; married 24 June 1775 in Lynn, daughter of Benjamin Gardner, died 23 May 1807 in Salem.

Gen. 6. Abijah Hitchings, born about 1775; married 21 December 1795 in Salem to Mary Cloutman, daughter of Joseph Cloutman and Hannah Becket, died 28 November 1853 in Salem.

Gen. 7 . Abijah Hitchings, born 18 January 1809, Salem, died 18 January 1864 in Salem; married 4 December 1836 in Salem to Eliza Ann Treadwell, daughter of Jabez Treadwell and Betsey Jillings Homan, born 27 August 1812 in Salem, died 31 January 1896 in Salem.

Gen. 8. Abijah Franklin Hitchings, born 28 October 1841 in Salem died 19 May 1910 in Salem; married 22 September 1864 to Hannah Eliza Lewis, daughter of Captain Thomas Russell Lewis and Hannah Phillips, born about 1844 in Salem, died 15 February 1921 at Danvers State Hospital. Civil War Veteran.

Copyright 2009, Heather Wilkinson Rojo

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