Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Joseph Baker: Part One

When I first looked upon the gravestone a couple years ago in the picture above, I asked myself, "Who were you Joseph Baker?" I've have asked myself that question perhaps on a weekly basis since that day. At the time I didn't know if I was related to him but since he was a Baker and buried not to far from his son John Henry Baker who was my 2nd great grandfather, I took a picture just in case. If is funny how many times taking extra pictures has paid off dividends. In this case, after lots of research and blog post pontifications that can be found here, here, here, here and here, I found out that Joseph Baker was indeed my 3rd great grandfather. Though I have made lots of effort to further that family tree branch, which is tied in a three way tie for the shortest branch in my family tree, I have not made any progress.

Joseph Baker intrigues me in many ways. He is a mystery and continues to elude me at every turn. Despite living during a time when tracking people via census records is a fairly easy task assuming you have the access to them as I do, I can only find him in one of the four federal census records he was alive. Which brings me to the second reason he intrigues me. Joseph died at the age of 35, younger than I am and in a family that has pushed past average life expectancies all the way down my family tree. What happened to him? He fought and survived the Civil War and was a member of the Grand Army of the Republic and yet I haven't been able to find a military record or GAR record for him. He and his family were apparently very nomadic and I have yet to find proof of any of their brief stays in various towns and states. Then upon Joseph's early death, his family becomes the definition of permanent and raises generations almost within a few miles of each other. Finally, every time I begin to think I have him figured out and pinned to a location, I request a record that should exist only to find out it doesn't. The only fact set in stone seems to be included in that picture shown above.

From the census records of Joseph's children and from the one I do have of him, Joseph Baker was born in England in 1847. I don't have record of his arrival to our country, as there is perhaps a thousand Joseph Bakers to choose from that immigrated to our shores between 1847 of the end of the Civil War in 1865 in which Joseph Baker fought in for the Union. Because he would have been younger than 18 when he immigrated, I'm guessing there is a good chance he immigrated with his parents but that is a mystery for a much later day. I only know that he fought in the Civil War from a notation at the cemetery that he had a GAR (Grand Army of the Republic) marker by his grave, at least once upon a time because there wasn't one there a couple years ago. That organization for people who fought in the Civil War for the Union is now defunct and replaced by the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War (SUVCW) but the records are still kept in our state archives. All around the B's were cards full of information about families of the veterans, their parents and useful genealogical information but Joseph Baker simply had a card that stated his name, where he was buried and at the bottom the words, "Index Only." Not sure what that means but for now, my theory is that he transferred from another state and that his records are there.

I don't know what state he served for and tried requesting his military records from the National Archives only to be told they couldn't be found. A later letter stated that the reason they couldn't be found is because there were several Joseph Baker's from different states who all served for the Union and unless I knew what town and state he enlisted from, they couldn't send me the record. A Catch 22 situation. I suspect for reasons obvious in the next post that there is a chance that he could have served the military of Illinois but their records are stored at the local level, unlike Iowa which keeps ours all in one spot, and will take a lot of guessing to figure out if his GAR record is located there somewhere.


Vince said...

But someone must have put the marker, and someone else validated it.
If I were you I would look to others that are interred in the graveyard that had GAR and the status of Officer. There is ever the possibility that his papers are sitting in a State archive.

R. Sherman said...

Always fascinating to read of your efforts tracking down family history. In my copious free time, I'd like to do more of that. I've an uncle who converted to Mormonism who has a lot of stuff, but, for whatever reason, he's been reluctant to share it.


Ed said...

Vince - The notation was on an index card that was filled out the day he was buried and stuck in a filing cabinet. He may never have had an actual marker for all I know. Since Iowa records are all in one place and I have checked that, I can rule out this state. Illinois will be my next stop but GAR records there are stored locally if they exist so it will be more challenging.

R. Sherman - I have the problem of relatives who know very little or untrue things about our family history. I literally had to start with my great grandparents and work backwards to where I've gotten. It's been fun and it is for the most part a cheap hobby.

sage said...

I came here thinking I might get a book review of a book titled "Joseph the Baker" a truly wonderful little book.

Actually, you might try a local Mormon family history center--they do then to have access to lots of records. Interesting research into your family.

Vince said...

Yes, that I had taken for granted. But not every Tom Dick or Harry could fill out those cards in a local area. And even if they were filled in centrally it would be even more important that whoever was sending in the information had credentials. So, if the info' was not direct from Army records then there must be a hierarchy of people that could. Say, an Officer that served with him, now that should provide you with gold. But it really would have to be someone that knew him under that name And saw him at Bull-run or given his age more likely south of you, with a firearm in his hands.
It would not be enough that he said or his family had a tradition that he served the Union.

and have a happy St Patricks day.

Ed said...

Sage - Well if you add up all my pontifications on this family, I would have a decent sized book. I actually live just a couple miles from a Family History Center. I am searching their indexes for pertinent records that they might have but so far, I'm drawing blanks.

Vince - Since Joseph Baker didn't serve in the military in the state where he is buried, the chances of any officer buried in the same cemetery that was his officer is probably astronomical. To find out who his commanding officer was, I need to know where he served and that brings me back to the Catch 22 I wrote about in my post.

Beau said...

Love your history sluething, especially re. your family roots.