Chronicling the Dead

I have lately finished the excellent Kate: The Journal of a Confederate Nurse by Scotch-born and Alabama-bred Kate Cummings. I’ve marveled at her religiosity, fearlessness in going into the worst of the hospital scenes, compassion for the wounded, and her self-delusions at the righteousness of the Southern cause and the wickedness of the Northern cause. One of Kate’s most interesting habits is to name every person who died in each hospital during her stay.

To the degree possible, she captured the person’s name, unit (if applicable), and home state. In some cases, she was also charged with writing the person’s family, returning belongings, and apprising others of the deceased’s spiritual state. In other cases, she simply recorded in a single line the last name of someone who had passed–in such instances, she often had not been the caretaker or even known the person. She took great pains to ensure that the name was recorded.

I’m an amateur genealogist. I’ve begun researching Kate’s dead. In many cases, there are almost no records of the people she has mentioned, making her perhaps the last authority. A good example is a Frank Laws from Louisville, Kentucky, whom she served in a hospital with early in the war. Later, Frank was mortally wounded during Sherman’s campaign and his two brothers were captured. I can find no census records of the Frank Laws family in Louisville before the war. The only hint of someone is an FS Laws in the Confederate service records. I believe this is the same Frank Laws.

Accordingly, I’ve started on a project to piece together as many records as possible of Kate’s names and place them in a story or consolidated series of notes. Because Kate was a Southerner working in field hospitals, this work will favor Confederate dead for some time. Readers should note that I do not favor the Confederate cause. Rather, I favor the proper recording of an individual’s life as far as it can be done. My research of Kate’s people has also led me to Union people as well as those who wanted no part. Gradually, I’ll try to piece together as much as possible. My hope is that some of this will be useful to people who try to put together fragments across Family Search, Fold3, Ancestry, BillionGraves, FindaGrave, etc.

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