Saturday, May 28, 2011

Memorial Day History

In honor of the members of my family who have died while serving in the United States military:

  • William Wardlaw, born 1771, died August 4, 1812, either of disease or at the Battle of Brownstown, Michigan.  William was my fourth great grand uncle in my paternal grandmother's family.
  • Samuel Kincaid, my fourth great grandfather in my paternal grandmother's family, died May 5, 1813 at the siege of Ft. Meigs, Ohio.
  • Campbell Dudley, born 1837, died July 29, 1864 while serving with the 48th Ohio Infantry when he drowned in the Mississippi River at Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  He was my great grand uncle in my maternal grandmother's family.
The following information is excerpted from The United States Department of Veterans Affairs website, which can be found at

Three years after the Civil War ended, on May 5, 1868, the head of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) established Decoration Day as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the war dead with flowers. Maj. Gen. John A. Logan declared that Decoration Day should be observed on May 30. It is believed that date was chosen because flowers would be in bloom all over the country.

Clarence Dudley decorating the Lynchburg, Ohio
war memorial which honored Civil War dead,
including his uncle, Campbell Dudley.
The first large observance was held that year at Arlington National Cemetery, across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C.

The ceremonies centered around the mourning-draped veranda of the Arlington mansion, once the home of Gen. Robert E. Lee. Various Washington officials, including Gen. and Mrs. Ulysses S. Grant, presided over the ceremonies. After speeches, children from the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Orphan Home and members of the GAR made their way through the cemetery, strewing flowers on both Union and Confederate graves, reciting prayers and singing hymns.

Local springtime tributes to the Civil War dead already had been held in various places. One of the first occurred in Columbus, Miss., April 25, 1866, when a group of women visited a cemetery to decorate the graves of Confederate soldiers who had fallen in battle at Shiloh. Nearby were the graves of Union soldiers, neglected because they were the enemy. Disturbed at the sight of the bare graves, the women placed some of their flowers on those graves, as well.

By the end of the 19th century, Memorial Day ceremonies were being held on May 30 throughout the nation. State legislatures passed proclamations designating the day, and the Army and Navy adopted regulations for proper observance at their facilities.

It was not until after World War I, however, that the day was expanded to honor those who have died in all American wars. In 1971, Memorial Day was declared a national holiday by an act of Congress, though it is still often called Decoration Day. It was then also placed on the last Monday in May, as were some other federal holidays.

Gen. Logan’s order for his posts to decorate graves in 1868 “with the choicest flowers of springtime” urged: “We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. ... Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no neglect, no ravages of time, testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic.”

Friday, May 27, 2011

Reconnecting with the Donaldson Family

My mom never knew her Donaldson aunts and uncles. Her dad, Eddie Earl Donaldson, the son of David Scott Donaldson and Mary Cordelia Lamb, moved from Oklahoma to the Cincinnati, Ohio area as a teenager in around 1915. My mom, who was seven when her dad died, never had the opportunity to know or visit her dad's brothers and sisters. So, it is always exciting to meet (at least online) our distant Donaldson cousins.

Charles Lamoine Donaldson
It seems that there is at least one person in every Donaldson aunt's or uncle's family who is interested in the family history. To date, I have made contact with descendants of Arthur Ray Donaldson (1888 - 1951), Harry Alva Donaldson (1891 - 1961), Lelah Donaldson Hensley Bowen (1893 - 1957), Violet Pearl Donaldson Hensley, and William Everett Donaldson (1903 - 1975). Thus far, I haven't made contact with descendants of Charles Lamoine Donaldson (1886 - 1948), James Donaldson (about 1899 - unknown), or Katie Donaldson Willie (1906 - 1983).

Most recently, I have been trying to compile information on Charles Lamoine Donaldson and his son, Paul Fain Donaldson. I have a letter that Paul Fain Donaldson's grandson wrote to one of my cousins several years ago. The grandson's name is David, but this is all I know about him.

So, consider this my plea for information on the children of David and Mary Donaldson of Indiana, then Missouri, then Oklahoma. I want to share information with you, hear your stories, and see your photographs!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Our Brush With Fame

Although it really doesn’t matter to me that I haven’t found any famous ancestors, I confess that it was kind of excited to learn that George Washington mentioned one of my ancestors in his diary. Of course, he didn’t write about him in a flattering context, but he mentioned him just the same.

Matthew Hills is one of my fifth great-grandfathers on the Donaldson side of the family. Admittedly, I haven’t done a great deal of research on Matthew. He was the father of Rebecca Hillis, who married Ebenezer Donaldson. From the little research I have done to date, Matthew was born around 1742, possibly in Washington County, Pennsylvania. It appears that Matthew lived most, if not all, of his life in Washington County.

In September 1784, George Washington journeyed from his Virigina estate, Mount Vernon, to Washington County to dissolve an ill-advised partnership, consider the potential for water transportation between the Ohio River and the Potomac River, and visit some of his unoccupied bounty land.

In 1784, Matthew lived in a community of Seceders, a group of Scots-Irish Presbyterians in Washington County. When the Seceders arrived in this area over a decade earlier, they cleared the heavy forest and built their homes. Unfortunately for Matthew and many other members of this community, they had settled on the bounty land George Washington was setting out to visit.

To make a long story short, General Washington, despite having thousands and thousands of acres of bounty land, didn’t take kindly to having squatters on what he claimed was his land. For their part, the Seceders didn’t take kindly to General Washington. They disputed his ownership of the land.

Washington wanted to inspect the disputed land. On Sunday September 19, 1784, he recorded in his diary, “Being Sunday, and the People living on my Land, apparently very religious, it was thought best to postpone going among them till tomorrow.” Well, I must say that my admiration for the Father of Our Country evaporated the minute I read that! Incidentally, George wrote “apparently” in italics – I didn’t add them.

On September 20, George Washington was able to inspect the land, recording a description of the land and the improvements the squatters made. Regarding my ancestor’s land, Washington wrote, “Matthew Hillast [Hillis]. Has within my line—abt. 7 Acres of Meadow. 3 besides, Arable—also a small double Barn.”

Despite contesting Washington’s ownership of the land, the settlers tried to negotiate a purchase of the land, but they couldn’t reach an agreement. The squatters refused to budge and Washington sued the squatters to force them to leave his land. Matthew Hillis was not among the squatters that Washington sued. The case went to trial two years later and the verdict was in Washington’s favor.

So, there it is – my family’s brush with fame.

To read more about this little-known incident in American history, check out The Papers of George Washington at and “George Washington's Western Adventure” by Joel Achenbach at