Family Lore

52 Weeks to Better Genealogy–DAR Challenge UPDATE

The database hosted by the Daughters of the American Revolution has provided some keystone information–that set of facts which helps to confirm the identity of ancestors.  With that information I have gone back to another favorite site,, and reassessed some saved items for a certain Israel Sayles, great-grandfather to Ira Sayles, who was great-grandfather to my father.

The soldiers of the Revolution did not serve in one year tours; in many instances regular army, the privates of the units, were called up for a few weeks or months at a time.  The Genealogy Research System indicated that Israel Sayles had served under at least two different captains, which would indicate at least two different tours of duty.  My Footnote search of their digitized National Archives had yielded several items, Military rolls and roster cards for an Israel Sayles from a Lippet’s Rhode Island Regiment and a Burlingame Rhode Island regiment.  The DAR data lends credibility to my conclusion that this is one and the same Israel Sayles of Glocester, Rhode Island.

So another branch of my family served in the Revolution!

Madness Monday: What Happened to Christopher Sherman Sayles?

Christopher Sherman Sayles was welcomed into the village of Alfred Station, New York sometime during 1862, the year his father, Ira B. Sayles, enlisted in the 130th Regiment New York Volunteer Infantry of the Union Army.  This youngest child of Ira and wife, Serena White Sayles, was named for his paternal grandfather, Christopher Sayles.

Sherman had two brothers, Clifton Duvall (b. 1852) and Merley (b. 1856).  According to the 1870 Federal Census, Sherman  resided with his mother and Merley in Rushford, Allegany County, New York, after Ira migrated to Mecklenburg County, Virginia with Clifton in 1869.  By 1880 Serena had emigrated to Virginia to farm with Clifton and wife, Anna McCullough; and Ira had returned to Andover, New York to teach school.  Sherman is recorded as living with Ira and working as a laborer.  Merle has disappeared from the records.

A. Florette Sayles Strickland wrote in her family history that “(Her father) Clifton Sayles’ brothers, Sherman and Merle, remained unmarried. One of them served in the peace time Army and died while there.  He was buried in the National Cemetery, Arlington, Va. The occupation and burial place of the other brother is unknown to writer.”

The facts of Merle’s life and death remain unknown.  It is clear from the 1900 Federal Census and the document “Headstones Provided for Deceased Union Civil War Veterans 1879-1903” that Sherman was the brother who served in the Army.  The surprising discovery was the fact that he served in the Spanish American War in 1898, as a private in Company C, 3rd Regiment Mo (?) Infantry, was discharged and admitted to the St. Elizabeth’s Government Hospital for the Insane, Washington, D.C., where he was listed as an inmate in the 1900 Federal Census.  C. S. Sayles was single, and could speak English, read and write.  Christopher Sherman Sayles died on 19 November 1903 and was buried in a hospital  cemetery.

It was not uncommon for family members to hide the nature of a loved one’s mental illness, and my grandmother’s failure to include this detail may reflect her father’s desire to forget it.  Someday soon I will request Sherman’s medical records from the National Archives, to follow the family story a bit further, and uncover perhaps the circumstances and nature of his mental illness.


Serena’s Lament

Great-great-grandparents Serena and Ira Sayles were married in April of 1845, in Alfred, New York, but spent much of their lives from 1862 until 1894 separated by the demands of a post-war nation. Throughout their marriage Ira was an amateur geologist, and his last decade was spent traveling up and down the east coast for the United States Geological Survey, based out of Washington, D.C., while Serena remained on the Virginia farm with son Clifton. Ira returned to Serena–to die.  The following passage prompted my poem:

Mr. J. E. Beales states that he was present with Ira Sayles on June 15th, 1894. Saw him die. J.E. Beales and Henry R. Dodson both state that they viewed the remains after death. They both assisted to shroud or prepare his remains for burial, and they both were present at his burial. They assisted to place his remains into the coffin and both assisted to bury same, on the afternoon of same day of his death which was June 15th 1894.

General Affidavit,                                                                             Civil War Widow’s Pension application of Serena Sayles               26 November 1894

Serena’s Lament

I said it.
At least I’ll know where you are after this good bye.

Seems all I did was watch you leave;
What chased you?
What caught you?
Did you feel my gaze lingering on your back,
Hope for your return dangling like a loose thread from your coat?

Off you went. Traipsing over rocks,
Winding up mountains,
Climbing down caves.
Chips and chunks of earth filling your sack,
Specimens retrieved, categorized, classified, analyzed, theorized
Among names that never
Included mine.
The shroud gathers round your empty frame,
Takes you, a specimen,
To the red red iron-fed soil
Of this land.
Now you will be categorized, classified and analyzed
By its souls.

And my eyes will linger on your back no more.

Family Lore

The Chase (City): Part Four

This is the fourth post from a series originally published a year ago on blogspot, dkaysdays.

The next step to receiving a pension required Ira Sayles to submit to an exam by government approved doctors, a Surgeon’s Board. The report of October 5, 1892 indicates that Ira was seen by two of its three members in Washington,DC:

Dr. Hood, President, was absent,

JW. Little, Secretary

CA Davis, Treasurer

From the chart’s history come details that help us in 2009 visualize this elderly man, our ancestor. He was 5’8″, 175 pounds, with a heart rate of 84 and respirations of 20 per minute. His age, curiously, was listed as 65 years. Someone later reviewing the chart had written in 75?

Claimant is somewhat emaciated, pale with flabby muscles. Claims to have suffered from an attack of apoplexy one year ago.which has left him weak with loss of power in right hand. We find no lesion of special sense, no motor or sensory lesion, yet he is tremulous and he says unable to button all his clothing. He is evidently debilitated. to some extent.

Is the subject of right indinch? inguinal hernia, soc of which having passes through external ring is found lying beneath the integuments and is about size of a hen’s egg. It is bodily returnable and easily retrained? by truss. Rate Ten Eighteenths

The heart is irritable and weak and we find a distinct mitral systolic ? but no hypertrophy. No aortic disease. Rate Six Eighteenths.

No other disability

No evidence of vicious habits.

This former Union soldier was, in their opinion, entitled to a 10/18 rating for the disability caused by the Inguinal Hernia, 6/18 for that caused by Disease of the Heart and nothing for anything else.

By the end of 1892 it appears that Ira finally resided in Chase City, Virginia.  I see a man, once independent and adventuresome, a hiker and scientist, an urban dweller, now confined to a chair on a farm in very rural Virginia, tended by people he had rarely visited. He was lucky, some would say, to have had a son take him in.

In his letter of March 1893 to Attorney James Tanner, Clifton urges action on the pension, for he is a ” poor man with a wife and several children to provide for; otherwise I would advise my father to take no further steps in the matter. He is however, most certainly entitled to a pension (under the act of June 1890) and he just as certainly needs it. . .”

I would wager that, far from feeling welcomed, Ira felt beholding and a burden to this relative-stranger. Old age confers that fear on all of us, it seems, no matter what era we find ourselves living the human life.

Family Lore

The Chase (City): Part Three

Part three in a post originally published a year ago on blogspot, dkaysdays.

I imagine R.R. Gurley, face marked with concern, sitting by Ira’s bed as he recuperated from heat prostration in August 1892. What are you going to do? How will you take care of yourself? Have you thought about applying for a soldier’s pension?

To receive a pension per the Act of June 27, 1890 the Soldier’s Application states the soldier must have:
1. An honorable discharge (but the certificate need not be filed unless called for ).

2. A minimum service of ninety days.

3. A permanent physical disability not due to vicious habits. (It need not have originated in the service.)

4.The rates under the act are graded from $6 to $12, proportioned to the degree of inability to earn support, and are not affected by the rank held.

5. A pensioner under prior laws may apply under this one, or a pensioner under this one may apply under other laws, but he cannot draw more than one pension for the same period.

Before permitting his elderly friend to board the train to Chase City, I imagine a concerned Mr. Gurley obtaining the help of S.G. MacMaster and M. Holmes. Accompanied by these colleagues Ira Sayles appeared before a notary public on August 2, 1892, to declare that he is

“the identical Ira Sayles who was enrolled on the 19th day of August 1862, in Co. H of the 130th NY Infantry in the war of the rebellion, and served at least ninety days, and was honorably discharged at Suffolk, Va, on the —-day of March, 1863. That he has never been employed in the military or naval service otherwise than as stated above.That he is now unable to earn a support by manual labor by reason of paralysis and general debility result of old age. That said disabilities are not due to his vicious habits, and are, to the best of his knowledge and belief, permanent. That he has never applied for pension. ”

He agreed to appoint James Tanner of Washington, DC his true and lawful attorney, to prosecute his claim, paying him a fee of $10 in the “event of the allowance of the claim by the commissioner of Pensions.” Ira gave his post-office as Chase City, Virginia, and signed his name. S.G. MacMaster and M. Holmes, both of Washington, D.C. swore to his identity and that they had no interest in the prosecution of the claim.

There. Application made. But this is the government, and this application but the first step in proving that Ira Sayles was a soldier honorably discharged, and too debilitated to support himself, through no fault of vicious habits.
next….What the doctors have to say…..