Monday, November 5, 2012

Finding Peter Boland

There was only a one page letter with sketchy details when my husband began his research into his family history. He's tenacious! From that letter he has written a large volume covering multiple lines and weaving history and local color into the narrative of his family tree. My dearest wish is that he will start his own blog about his personal journey into the past and share the process with other genealogists.

A little over a week ago Peter and I flew to Washington, D.C. for a warm boisterous family reunion. While we were in the area we took the opportunity to drive out to Harpers Ferry, West Virginia and Winchester, Virginia; two sites that played a role in the story of the brothers, Patrick and Peter Boland, during the Civil War.

Autumn Series 01

Harpers Ferry Autumn

Patrick was my husband's great grandfather, an Irish stone cutter from County Galway and resident of New York. When the Civil War broke out, it was on Bolivar Heights, in Harpers Ferry where he and his N.Y. regiment were taken prisoner by the Confederate Army. That event probably saved his life. Eventually he went home to father nine children and the line continued.

Bolivar Heights 02


Bolivar Heights 05

Irish records are a challenge, so finding Patrick's brother, Peter, was an exciting discovery...until his story slowly unfolded. The spare details were stark and unemotional in military records and a widow's correspondence.

I imagine a warm spring afternoon in Harpers Ferry with time off from the monotonous duties and drills of camp life. They were so young...and Peter and his mates were carousing on the shore when someone playfully pushed him into the Shenandoah river. Peter couldn't swim and the current swept him away in spite of attempts to rescue him. He left a grieving widow in dire straights at home in New York. Peter's wife, Maryann, was denied a widow's compensation because his death was not combat related. The term used in the pension file by Peter's commanding officer was engaging in horseplay. Maryann died several years later.

Peter is buried in Winchester National National Cemetery in Winchester, Virginia. The cemetery is relatively small, immaculately maintained and most of the graves are Civil War dead.

Finding Peter Boland 05

Finding Peter Boland 03

The cemetery website provided my husband with a map of the grave location and so together, with his sisters and brother-in-law, we at last found Peter Boland. It is unlikely that Maryann ever saw her husband's final resting place, in fact I think we may have been the first of his family and descendents to visit. As we left on that overcast October afternoon, I turned back to look, one more time, at the yellow roses we left by his stone.

Finding Peter Boland 01

Finding Peter Boland 02


  1. Such a beautiful area and looks like you had fantastic weather! Whats not to like about fall?

    1. Hello Stefan! Closer to your neck of the woods than mine...and the foliage and weather couldn't have been lovelier! Hope you have enjoyed your autumn days...snow on the way in Maine tonight!

  2. Lovely story. Look forward to Peter's blog to emerge. All the flapdoodle about Elizabeth Warren's native past, is starting to energize me to descend into our family's history. Peter Boland's story so very sad. We don't have the "documentation" but one of my husband's relatives supposedly died from ingesting bad home-made root beer!

    Hard to think it will ever snow again here after our blazing summer. Hope Cooper has new winter togs at the ready, cross-bone free perhaps!

    1. home before dark ~ Thank you and I hope that blog will be a reality someday. Peter is a very good writer. He started his research 11 years ago never dreaming he would find so much materiel. if you start on this path, don't hesitate to contact us! As for the sad root beer story...have you thought of checking the town newspaper obit archives? They are often full of information and quite colorful. My father used to make root beer when he was a teenager.

      Cooper is presenting a dilemma with winter togs since his legs are only an inch a quarter long and his undercarriage presents its own challenges. Have tried dozens of designs to no avail...most will be sent south to JCB because her Pippin is long and gangly. For now, Cooper has to run fast while he's outside and dive under his fleece when he comes back in the house!


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