10-10-12: Our Own Six Degrees of Separation

One of my ongoing concerns in doing the work that consumed me with Suite Harmonic: A Civil War Novel of Rediscovery was keeping track of the people who moved in and out of my research. Phone numbers and email addresses went dead. People moved or changed jobs. A number of quite elderly persons I interviewed or exchanged letters with simply died.

By the time I had re-created the stories of the 25th Indiana, the New Harmony homefront, and Suite Harmonic’s Irish past, I had interjected myself into all sorts of worlds, past and present. In addition to making work-friends and to finding people with so many common interests, I also felt a growing responsibility to help people know what I’d learned about John Given’s life and the way its many connections—rich with both history and story—had come together. I took a long time assembling acknowledgments. I also sent off many cards and letters and emails. In one case, I spent several days tracking down a research friend from state to state until finally I found her raising dogs in Michigan. She was still a pal, still interested in the work in cultural anthropology that been so interesting and helpful for me.

I found myself discouraged, though, at how much time and effort it might take to rediscover even a fraction of the people who had been part of the Suite circle. As I moved on with other projects, it meant I let many efforts to stay in touch or re-establish contact languish. Inevitable as it was with time constraints, it still bothered me. Finally, I realized that many of you out there in cyberspace might be willing, even eager, to attempt solving this dilemma by playing the Kevin Bacon game. I looked in my Suite Harmonic acknowledgments with the intention of asking your help and the help of your friends and their friends and their friends to unearth some of the people who’ve not yet learned Suite Harmonic became the book they were curious to read.

So here we go. This is a list of some of the “lost “people who played a role in helping to create Suite Harmonic. If you think about the names highlighted below in bold, maybe we can make some connections and jump over a tall building or two. If it happens, please let me know via the Contact page.

We’ll move around a bit but, for this purpose, John Dougan leads off. When I emailed with him, he was the Shelby County, Tennessee archivist, and Patrick Schroeder was the historian of Appomattox Court House. Deborah Burdick wrote entertaining stories about the New Harmony area. I did not learn his first name, but the son of L. Eugene Smith, who owned the Cut-off Island around 2000, left me with a memorable research story when he introduced me to the Cut-off. John Heuring, descendant of the Reverend Frederick Heuring of the 25th Indiana, gave me a vivid sense of his ancestor, while Jill Kinkade, a former student at Southern Indiana University helped me with notes on the Achilles Fretageot Papers; one of my key sources for New Harmony’s social life during the war.

I made many contacts with amateur military historians. Robert von Lunz used his expertise to assist me with Pennsylvania regiments as did Bill Corl who provided information on Alfred Corl, his great-great-grandfather. On the other side of the continent, Dr. Gene Russell was a tremendously helpful genealogy searcher and local history sleuth in Glenn County, California, while, in Illinois, my father’s boyhood friend, Donald Bateman, whose daughter’s name is Jan, allowed me to copy his great-grandfather’s manuscript from his teaching days at Kildare Place in Dublin; Kristy Armstong White shared her unpublished thesis on Union encampments with me, and I still owe her a book.

The list has many names from Ireland. Colette O’Flaherty of the National Library of Ireland, made special microfilm arrangements for me. Though I don’t have their names, the staffs of the Valuations Office of Ireland, the National Archives of Ireland, and Donegal County Library in Letterkenny were great resources. So, too, were Kathleen Gallagher and the staff of Donegal Ancestry in Ramelton; Valerie Coghlan, Church of Ireland librarian for the College of Education at Rathmines; genealogist Mairead Gregory, who expanded on my searches in Dublin; and Rena Lohan, College Archivist of University College Dublin, who searched in training college records. John Looby, S. J., checked on Clongowes Wood College records; Stephen McCarran provided information on St. Finian’s National School; and Jane Maxwell helped the Manuscript Department of the Old Library in Trinity College. One of my favorite finds was Sylvia McMullen at the Guild Hall in Londonderry, who shared wonderfully useful public cemetery databases. Father John Silke, archivist of the Diocese of Raphoe in County Donegal consented to a very helpful interview, and I gained from James McGroarty’s driver’s knowledge of Drimarone and the generous help of Kathleen Espy on Inver Bay. Later, via the internet, Sinead Devey gave me information on the Glen of Glenties and Godfrey Duffy on the Conyngham Estate lands.

After I began writing Suite Harmonic, to my regret, I lost track of various distant family members or helpful genealogy researchers. They included Mamie Betterton Carter, Chris McShane, Linda Redden, and Dan Kelleher, who had McShane information; KayLeen Munsel, Pat Youngberg, Tom Murphy, who had knowledge of Menomen O’Donnell, and Robert Collins who had possible links to Menomen. Robert and Pat Solon Todd and Merril Bourne gave help on the McAuliffes; Fred Biddy provided the Thrailkill family tree, and Neysa Dennis gave other Thrailkill information; Mary Cummins, an Illinois in-law in my mother’s family helped with the Thrailkills and Bartons. Particularly useful help on Michael McShane arrived via Charles Dawkins and the pension file of Van Buren Jolley; More assistance came from Cynthia Braun on the Rippetos; Rose Correa-Young on the Hurley-Given connection; and the Northern California Rootsweb participants. In addition, Kathleen Moran, clerk of court of Colusa County, California, located Margaret Given Williams’s descendants while Hattie Gillaspie, deep in her old age, shared memories of Andrew Williams’s nephews. Marilyn Holzwarth of the Kansas Historical Society was tremendously helpful in tracing Mary Given Porter’s family west. In recent years, I have been unable to contact Gail Van Syoc, descendant of Margaret Given Williams whose family stayed in California after she and Andrew Williams made their long journey west. Elaine Doty Dooley, a cousin of Charley Given’s descendants was also a great help in finding Mary Given Porter’s descendants in Durango, and I was sorry to lose touch with her.

One link I could never trace out of the 19th century was the descendants of Denis Given and his wife, Martha Linville Given. Their daughters were Emily and (I think) Martha, and the family moved to Canada sometime after Denis and Martha divorced. As genealogists say, that’s a missing link, and also a brick wall. Maybe some of you have the answer to this particular mystery, or to others in this list. And just because I’m curious and may still have a note my father had written about his father, whatever happened to my Colorado cousin, attorney Robert Bradley? We’ll make him the end of the line for now, though I hope some of you have discovered someone you know here who’s no longer so separated.

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