October is Family History Month, making it the perfect time for all things genealogy! One of the great things about learning your own history is that you can discover interesting and surprising stories about your ancestors. Recently, I learned a couple of things about my own family tree.
The first involves my Grandfather Robert. He passed away when I was 7, so my memories of him are not that strong. I do remember, however, the smell of the homemade smoked fish that he always prepared whenever we visited. I knew nothing about his family until I started researching and was shocked to learn that he never knew my great-grandfather. His father, Robert Sr., died three months before my grandfather was born, and he was raised by his stepfather. I have wondered why my late mother never mentioned this.
Another interesting piece of family trivia on my mother’s side was a story regarding my Great-Grandfather Silvio. He arrived from Italy in 1892 at the age of 16 on the ship La Bourgogne, and entered the U.S. through Ellis Island. And it’s a good thing that he didn’t wait a couple of years. As it turned out, La Bourgogne would be involved in a shipwreck in 1898. It sank in a collision with another vessel, and tragically, 549 people were lost. In fact, only 13 percent of the passengers and 48 percent of the crew survived. Thankfully, my great-grandfather had already arrived safely in America.
I also discovered some interesting information on my father’s side of the family. His roots in America go way back to the late 1600s. That’s when one of his ancestors stepped off a boat from Amsterdam. This line of the family, the Van Buskirk line, has a long history of serving in the U.S. military. Starting with the Revolutionary War, through the Civil War, and to my grandfather’s service in WWI. My father also spent some time in the Navy.
The Van Buskirks have a lot of fascinating figures. This includes my Great-Great-Great-Grandfather Captain Isaac Shelby Buskirk (some of the family dropped the Van) who served with the 10th Indiana Cavalry during the Civil War. Sadly, he did not make it home. He passed away in 1864 at 48 years old in Pulaski, Tennessee, from an illness—a common occurrence as more soldiers died from disease than on the battlefield.
It turns out that Captain Isaac Shelby Buskirk was only one of many Isaacs on that side of the family. There was also his cousin Isaac, “Blue Ike,” who had a birthmark, and “Deaf Ike” who was hard of hearing. Another interesting story involves one of “Deaf Ike’s” brothers. His name was David, and because he stood about 6′10″ and weighed 375 pounds, he was nicknamed “Big Dave.” He was reportedly the tallest man in the Union Army at a time when the average soldier was 5′8″. He was discharged due to sciatic rheumatism in 1864 and passed way in 1886 at the age of 60.
These interesting family stories are just a few that I have discovered using the resources here at MCPL. Ancestry Library Edition, MyHeritage Library Edition, Find My Past, and more are available to anybody with an Access Pass (Library card). So, this month, take some time to find some fun facts about your own family history!