Finding Jonas

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.

IMG_1282I 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.


  1. So cool! I’ve beeb doing this with my dad for the past year. We are also a New England and Mayflower family (Alden and Standish). It’s been so much fun walking the graveyards and checking census records on Ancestry. It’s also given my 79 year old dad and me a chance to connect in a way we haven’t before.

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    • That’s fabulous. Standish and Alden are some heavy-hitting US historical names. Telling their stories would be really cool.

      When we first spoke with her grandmother, I remember realizing that Sandy had never had this type of conversation with them. It was all vague family stories, and of course, details get lost over the years. She has another ancestor next on my list: Ebenezer Learned, was said to be commissioned by George Washington. We found a plaque with his name on it in the Pilgrim Monument in P-Town. I can’t wait to drill down on this. Good luck with your search!

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    • I know, R.G. my family is ridiculously clueless about history. My mother didn’t even know her maternal grandmother’s maiden name. Ugh. We’re more the immigrant norm, she was from Tipperary, Ireland. At least I have that clue.

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  2. Very Interesting Lynette. I have been search both my father and my mother’s parents sides of the family. I have 4 families going at this time. My father’s parents were from Poland so my father was the first generation born in the US. However on my mother’s side they have been here a long time and I now know why I am related to so many people. 🙂

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  3. Thanks for posting this interesting blog, L.M. Count me in as a member of the Ancestry Club. I’ve never been much of an American History buff, but after searching through census records, marriage and death certificates, and slave holders’ records, I have a feeling close to reverence regarding those who came before me, those who survived at a time when life was not easy. Happy searching, everyone!

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    • Agreed, Renee. Reverence is the right word. I have always believed that history told as the stories of real people is the best way to engage young people. Memorizing dates and locations in a sanitized, neutral format isn’t worth a damn. Telling stories and bringing people to life in the context of historical times is the key. I would love to chat with you about your findings sometime.


  4. Well done on giving Jonas a place in history. I am sure the family that waited for his return would appreciate your efforts and the motivation behind your quest.
    I live with a Family Tree enthusiast (to put it mildly). Here in Ireland the main records don’t go back much further than the mid nineteenth century as they were all destroyed to make space! But you can find bits and pieces through land lists and the like.
    Anglea, the enthusiast, was able to shed a lot of light on an old family story which I will refer to as The Night They Took Jack. The night in question was in 192O during our War of Independence against the British. Well, granny’s cousin, Jack, was in the movement and one dark night the Brits came for him. The family heard the trucks trundling down the country lane where they lived, but there was no escape. Jack was lifted. The cottage was ransacked, sacks of flour were bayonetted and strewn across the floor. Money was taken and general mayhem ensued. Jack’s mother was inconsolable and my granny was sent for to comfort the old woman. Jack ended up in prison in Dublin and my granny and granddad spent their honeymoon queuing outside the prison gates to visit him. That’s the account handed down. And it turns out to be true.
    Angela found out that the actual night they took Jack was the 4th November 192O, that he was charged along with several other local men, that the charge was holding seditious papers, that he was sentenced to eighteen months hard labour, and that he was denied easements, (ie family members were not allowed to bring in comforts for him).
    Unlike Jonas, I actually knew Jack as an old man. But when I think of the story I can see my grand parents as young people, active in our history.
    Looking at Jonas’ face, I try to picture him, nineteen years old, off to war, probably without any idea about what it was really like. Any idea what happened to his twin?

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    • That’s a fantastic story, Jean. Once I get Sandy’s family all squared away, I’ll be shifting focus to my Irish roots. I look at Jonas’s picture everyday, as you say, picturing this young man proudly serving and then experiencing untold atrocities in that notorious hellhole. It’s hard to imagine this young, dashing boy coming to such an awful end. I haven’t gotten far enough to know about his siblings, but I’ll have that shortly. Thanks for sharing your family story with us.

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    • Update. Jonas’s twin brother James survived the war, and lived until 1920. I suspect the reason this photo and other information about Jonas became clouded is that at various times, different parts of the family took possession of the homestead. Over time, I suppose, the items in the barn were forgotten to some degree.

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  5. If you need any advice on how to search through the Irish records, let me know. I’ll get Angela on to it, she prides herself on ferreting out the info, despite the lack of records. Best of luck with your ongoing detective work and thanks for this most interesting piece.

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