Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Case of the Missing Grandfather

Every genealogist runs headlong into one now and then...a brick wall, one so high and so thick that it seems insurmountable. My current brick wall is my great-great-great-great grandfather Purdy.

I'm the kind of genealogist who strives to know as much as possible about my ancestors and their families. Names and dates are important, but I want to know how the people of the past actually lived, who they were as individuals, and the historical context in which they often struggled to survive. For me, details like that turn genealogy into family history.

But then we have old Grandpa Purdy. I can't find hide nor hair of him anywhere, nothing, not even his first name. I know quite a bit about his son, Leander Vandamon Purdy, who was born in Indiana in 1847. Apparently his mysterious father died when Leander was quite young because in the 1850 federal census, Leander's mother, Rachel Thompson Purdy, was already remarried to William Welch (or Welsh or McWelsh – genealogists often have to sort through multiple name spellings; it can get very confusing sometimes). William probably raised Leander like a son, and certainly he would have been the only father Leander would've known, which is probably while the name of Leander's biological father has not been passed down through the generations. Leander even took the last name Welch in most records from his childhood.

Sometime between 1857 and 1860, William, Rachel, and their little family, which now included more children, moved to Texas County, Missouri. William served in the Civil War. I'm still looking for details about his service, but as far as I can tell, he was a member of Company B, 6th Missouri Cavalry, USA. It surprises me that William served for the Union because he was born in Alabama. Leander, who was a teenager during the war would have taken over the role of “man of the house” and cared for his mother and siblings.

By 1865, Leander had turned 18 and must have decided that he wanted a piece of the action. Even though the war was nearly over, Leander joined Murphy's Pulaski and Texas Counties Volunteer Missouri Militia. The militia's task? To round up the Confederate guerrillas who were hiding out in the Ozark hills. The Confederates may have officially lost the war as of April 9, 1865, but the guerrillas weren't ready to give up...not by a long shot. I've always wondered if Leander and his comrades came across traces of such famous guerrillas as the Younger brothers. In any case, their job would have been quite dangerous.

By 1870, things seem to have settled down for Leander and his family. That year's census shows Leander living away from his family, only two farm places over, and working as a farm laborer for physician Francis Wentworth. By the time of his military service, Leander had taken back the Purdy name. He must have at least known who his biological father was. Too bad he didn't pass the information down to me!

Leander married Nancy Ann Killman in October of 1870, and they had eight children, one of which was my great-great grandfather Alfred Purdy. Leander died in 1901 and is buried in McCann Cemetery at Fort Leonard Wood, Pulaski County, Missouri.

I'm sure that Leander's father's story is probably as interesting as that of his son. Perhaps some day I'll know; in the mean time, I'll keep searching and trying to climb over my genealogical brick wall.

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