My favorite personal project this year has been researching our family tree online. I love history and have always been a Civil War junkie. So, you can imagine how stoked I was to find out that Sandy’s family is an old New England clan that can trace their lineage back to the landing of the Mayflower at Plymouth Rock. Her grandmother regaled me with stories of the family on one of our visits about ten years ago.
Grandma told me their house has been in the family since before the civil war. She asked if I would like to look around their barn. Heck yeah! That place was a treasure trove of awesomeness. While I poked around through all kinds of cool old tools, wagon wheels, and clothes, I came across a yellowed portrait of a civil war soldier in a broken frame. This discovery captivated me. I carefully turned it over, trying to find any identifying information, finding none.
Grandma L asked if we would like to have it. She was serious. Wow.
I asked her who the soldier was. She said his name was Jonas Craig. They thought he had enlisted in Massachusetts and he never came back from the war. She had no other information. So, we carefully wrapped Jonas in a towel and took him back to Florida with us. We knew we would hang Jonas’s picture in our log home someday.
Last year, when we finally moved into our log home, we unpacked Jonas. We took the pieces of broken frame and the portrait to a specialty shop to have it restored. The company did a fabulous job matching the piece of broken frame. We brought Jonas home and found the perfect spot for his portrait. He looks over our living space and gives us connection to our roots.
But…our new life and kept me busy and sidetracked. Every so often I’d look up at Jonas and vow to find his story. I logged onto Ancestry a few times and searched the web without any luck. Jonas was a mystery. No military records I could find. I had a sneaking suspicion they had the wrong name. I thought maybe his name wasn’t Jonas, maybe it was a middle name or something. With other priorities, I put the search aside.
This week, I decided to pull out the family tree again, determined to find Jonas. I felt like I owed it to him. I started back at the beginning of the family tree. After fits and starts and dead ends, this time, I followed Sandy’s grandfather’s side. I pulled up a census record from 1860 for a family I thought was his grandfather’s and boom. There, in the list of kids in this family, I see the name Jonas. I thought, holy shit. It’s him. He was 18 years old and a twin! His name was Jonas, but it wasn’t Craig.
If you’ve ever used Ancestry, you know that they give you suggestions for people. A Civil War record popped up. I could hardly contain myself. It was him. The first record was a New Hampshire war record of locals and it seemed as if he’d made it home. After cross-checking, I found another record that wasn’t good news. Jonas is Private Jonas G. Learned, Company K, MA Heavy Artillery. Jonas was a prisoner of war and died at the notorious Andersonville Prison in September of 1864.
I don’t know if Jonas’s parents or siblings knew his fate. It’s clear his descendants didn’t. Hell, they didn’t even remember his name. But, now we all know his story.
Thank you, Jonas, for your service and your life.