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Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Family treasure at the National Archives: 19th-century birth records & more

My great-great-grandparents William & Margaret (Foley) Cowhey had many children.  Prior to their marriage, William and his first wife also had several children.  I had the information from a handwritten family tree that I had been given by a distant cousin.  I hoped to sort out and confirm these names, birthdates and mother/child relationships with official birth records. 

At first my search was not easy.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health didn't have the information I was looking for.  Their records only went back to 1906.

I had no success either when I contacted the Schuylkill County Courthouse.

St. Patrick's Catholic Church of Pottsville, Pennsylvania surely had the information somewhere in their archives, but they wouldn't allow information requests for records of that age due to their fragility. (They had a parishioner who had been painstakingly transcribing those records, but he had passed away and no one had taken his place.)

I had heard of the existence of a Cowhey family Bible (possibly a good source for some of the information) but I had no idea if it had survived the second half of the 20th-century, and if it had, in whose home it might currently reside.

Ironically, it turned out that the records that I was looking for did not reside in Pennsylvania at all - at least not that I could find.  Like many Cowhey family descendants who had moved out of state, these birth records had also.  I found them (unfortunately after my original research visit) residing happily at the National Archives building in Washington D.C. within the Civil War pension (and widow's pension) file for William Cowhey and his wife Margaret (Foley) Cowhey.

You can imagine how happy I was when I received the envelope in the mail with copies of the documents in this file and found the one below.  As part of the paperwork filled out at the time of Williams' death on behalf of his wife Margaret was this Record Proof of Births of Surviving Children of Soldier Under Sixteen Years of Age - a list of eight of their children's names, birthdates and baptism dates taken from the records and bearing the seal of St. Patrick's Catholic Church of Pottsville, Pennsylvania.

As I mentioned in Death comes in threes: The sorrows of Margaret (Foley) Cowhey, William's untimely death had left his 37-year-old wife Margaret a widow and the sole caretaker for their eight youngest children.  The Record Proof of Births of Surviving Children of Soldier Under Sixteen Years of Age within the pension file listed Margaret's living children from age fourteen down to eight months. (The couple's two eldest children were not covered by the pension, nor were the children of William Cowhey and his first wife.)

This primary source document was the first that I had found (besides U.S. census records) that validated some of the information in the handwritten Cowhey family tree that I had been given: a true family treasure.


The eight children listed within the Record Proof of Births of Surviving Children of Soldier Under Sixteen Years of Age shown above are Mary, Elizabeth, Thomas, Ambrose, Clara, Charles, Blanche and Isabella Cowhey, born 1881 to 1892. (The youngest, nicknamed Bella, would die a tragic death at a young age only two and a half years following William's death.)

Williams's Civil War pension file also included many other family treasures within its pages, including the handwritten account of he and his brother Thomas' night crossing the Potomac River in 1861. The account was written in Thomas' own handwriting in 1889 and is another one of the family documents that I treasure most.


In search of your own Civil War ancestors' pension file?  Check out the resources on this Genealogy Branches webpage to get started.  (Note: You might have to try several sources before you find your ancestors' index card. I finally found William Cowhey's on Footnote.  Try their Civil War & Later Veterans Pension Index to do your own search.)


FranE said...

What a find! The children all listed that is great. Thanks for the research resources all helps are welcome.
Thank you for having this carnival. It has been a learning experience.

irishpoetry said...

Was browsing the net and stumbled upon your site. Couldn't believe the amount of stuff you have crammed in here. I particularly like your sketch of St. Patrick. I would be grateful if you would make a link back to my humble website back in Ireland, which I am trying to get some stuff on.



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