52 Ancestors,
in 52 Weeks
Week 4:
Witness to History
Family Finds Charter Oak

Witness to History

I wish I had a first-hand account from one of my ancestors detailing a historical event they witnessed. While researching my ancestors, I discovered a few who were possible witnesses to historical events, and I then wondered why or how the story became lost among the family. I generally think of my family as being good storytellers, but not generally good at keeping diaries or writing letters. So why didn’t my ancestors chronicle their experiences of history in the making? In some cases it may be their lack of writing skills, others because they were not personally present. But, I suspect, mostly they did not realize their humble view of events would be of interest.

NOT a Witness to History

There are a few cases among my ancestors where eyewitness accounts were incorrectly attributed to them, or claimed by them, that I have not been able to corroborate through documentation. I wrote about one such case for the week 15 challenge in 2020, “Fire.” [1] I highlighted the assertion that an ancestor, George W. Landon, [2] witnessed the events at the Battle of Baltimore that inspired our national anthem. I discovered the story in a letter written by his grandson in 1909. However, my research of the service records revealed the ancestor was in Maryland at the time, but not near Baltimore. Perhaps he went to Baltimore for some reason and was there when Ft. McHenry was bombarded, but the records do not support the assertion. If he was a witness, I wish he had written it down.

Furloughed, Missed Big Event

Another case involves the Civil War service of an ancestor, William T. Rumple. [3] My research led me to discover his unit was at Appomattox Court House for the surrender of Lee. I wondered how this story had not been handed down in the family. Further research led to the discovery that my ancestor was furloughed due to health issues prior to April 1865. So, to his credit, he never claimed being present for a major historical event that was probably much talked of among his fellow veterans. I wrote about this ancestor for the week 45 challenge in 2021, “Stormy Weather.” [4]

Witness to History, but…

My ancestor David L. Osborne, [5] told many stories about what he witnessed during his Civil War service. Many of those stories have been passed down in my family and I documented several in a post in 2018. [6] But, my ancestor mostly shared stories from the point of view of a teen aged boy, or at least those are the one’s that were re-told. My ancestor was present at the siege of Vicksburg and Jackson, his stories of that time are not about military action, but about being bored and being ordered about by the older men in the unit.

83rd OVI Vicksburg Monument

Missed Opportunity

Many years ago I came across a book from 1893 compiled by a Mr. Cary of the Ohio Society of Sons of the Revolution. [7] The book includes biographical synopsis of Revolutionary veterans who lived in Ohio, one of whom is an ancestor of mine, Richard Hankins. [8] The compiler, Mr. Cary, writes that he personally knew my ancestor and heard him often speak of his service under the command of General Francis Marion. I wish Mr. Cary had written those stories instead of about the family, the house, and the burial. My research has yet to prove this ancestor was in General Marion’s regiment, so those stories would be helpful!

Richard Hankins, AmRev vet

Witness to Tragedy

One eyewitness account that I have discovered by an ancestor, came from my paternal grandmother’s first cousin, John Osborne Rosebaum. [9] In the 1 January 1904 edition of The Indianapolis News, on the front page, is John’s eyewitness account of the Iroquois Theater fire. [10] It rather sounds he would prefer to forget what he witnessed. Even so, I am glad his story was collected and preserved in the newspaper.

Partial article Iroquois Theater


I believe some of my ancestors were witnesses to history being made, and just did not write about it. Does that mean it did not happen? No, only that they did not realize it was history being made, or at least an event of significance worth commemorating. Of course, there is also the possibility that many were not literate enough to write about their experiences. My blog is meant to, in a small way, correct the record and preserve my ancestors stories.


JuneteenthAs I was finishing this post, I realized another missed opportunity to be a witness to history by my great grandfather, David Osborne. I mention David’s Civil War service above, he was in the Ohio 83rd Infantry regiment which was part of the Army’s 13th Corps for most of the war. The 13th served in the western theater, places like Vicksburg, Mobile, and New Orleans. Then, at the end of the war, they were ordered to Galveston, Texas where they arrived on 18 June 1865. The commander of the 13th, General George Granger, issued General Order #3 on the 19 June 1865 which made the people of Texas aware of the abolition of slavery 2.5 years previous! This date is now commemorated as Juneteenth and is typically acknowledged at the date slavery was finally abolished in the United States. My great grandfather was there, in Galveston, when this order was printed up and distributed about the city and beyond to other communities in Texas. But, the story of my great grandfather’s time in Texas is about herding cattle onto steamers bound for distribution to the US Army north and east of Texas. Another case of being a witness to history and not realizing it. I suppose to a teen aged boy the posted orders held no interest, at least not as much as driving a big horned steer onto multi-decked steamers!


  1. Blog post, Family Finds: Fire, 21 Aug 2020
  2. Profile for George W. Landon, ‘Osborn‘ family tree, Ancestry.com; https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/13493206/person/27556014990/facts
  3. Profile for William T Rumple, ‘Osborn‘ family tree, Ancestry.com; https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/13493206/person/5109051012/facts
  4. Blog post, Family Finds: Stormy Weather, 14 Nov 2021
  5. Profile for David L. Osborne, ‘Osborn‘ family tree, Ancestry.com; https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/13493206/person/-60124040/facts
  6. Blog post, Family Finds: Civil War Soldier, 11 Nov 2018
  7. Book, “The Constitution of the Society of Sons of the Revolution and By-laws and Articles of Incorporation of the Ohio Society: Incorporated May 2, 1893, Instituted May 9, 1893.” United States, n.p., 1893, page29, Online: https://www.google.com/books/edition/The_Constitution_of_the_Society_of_Sons/
  8. Profile for Richard Hankins, ‘Osborn‘ family tree, Ancestry.com; https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/13493206/person/1746955700/facts
  9. Profile for John O. Rosebaum, ‘Osborn‘ family tree, Ancestry.com; https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/13493206/person/-60124030/facts
  10. Newspaper, The Indianapolis News, “Waveland Man Walked Over Heaps of Dead” 1 Jan 1904, page 1, col 6, above the fold


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