Generally speaking, I knew that most of my ancestors on both sides had come to the United States during the great wave of immigration in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They belonged to those tired, poor, and huddled masses of Italians, Germans, and Eastern Europeans looking for a better life in America.
I decided to start my search with the Baumgarten clan. My Dad's father had passed away when my Dad was just a kid, so many Baumgartens have only faint knowledge of the family history. Within a day or so, I discovered that the Baumgartens had come to America's shores prior to the Civil War, and even before the mass influx of Germans in the 1850s. I was floored to learn that part of my family had arrived in the United States so much earlier than I originally thought. And now I had my own personal connection to the period of American history that interests me the most.
I suppose I shouldn't have been so surprised. After all, by 1860, around 1.3 million German immigrants lived in the United States. They populated cities like Pittsburgh, where my family settled, and St. Louis. Around 200 German language newspapers and magazines were published across the United States. (Source: Library of Congress, Chronology: The Germans in America.)
My Great Great Grandfather John Baumgarten was born in Pennsylvania in 1850. His parents were both from Germany. My Grandfather, Francis, and Great Grandfather, Frank, were living with John at the time of the 1920 Census. Going back fifty years, I learned that in 1870, John resided with an "R." Baumgarten and his wife, Elizabeth, in Birmingham, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. "R." turned out to be Reinhard (or Reinhart) Baumgarten, who was born in Pennsylvania in 1839 to Joseph and Bertha, two German immigrants. Reinhard eventually made his way to Ashland, Kentucky, where he died in 1911. The exact relation between Reinhard and John is uncertain, but Reinhard is definitely the family link to Kentucky that I have heard so much about.
|View of Pittsburgh from 1857, when John was only a young boy of about seven. (Courtesy of Wikipedia) Pittsburgh was a center of antebellum industry in the United States and later supplied the Union during the war.|
While looking for Reinhard's service record, I came across a William Baumgarten, who enlisted in Co. K, 102nd Pennsylvania Infantry in Pittsburgh in March 1864. William was born in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania in 1845 to Joseph and Martha Baumgarten. The 102nd Pennsylvania was attached to the Sixth Corps of the Army of the Potomac. William fought at the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor, and Petersburg. He was wounded three times during the Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1864 and was mustered out of service in June 1865.
|"Pittsburgh (Pa.), from Seminary Hill," 1864. (Courtesy of University of Pittsburgh)|
All of these findings got me thinking. So often people speculate as to what their ancestors thought 150 years ago. Absent letters or diaries, or even oral history, our attempt to understand our ancestors' thoughts and feelings is a difficult one. The questions are many, but the answers are few. John Baumgarten grew into a teenager during the Civil War. What did he think about the war at such a young age? How did his immigrant parents view the war? Did they support the Union or were they apathetic about the conflict? What did John, his parents, and Reinhard think about slavery? Why did Reinhard decide not to answer Lincoln's call for 75,000 volunteers like so many of his fellow Pennsylvanians? What did he think about the draft and the draft riots? Why was he seemingly so removed from events in America that he wanted to travel abroad during the last winter of the war? Did my Grandfather Francis ever hear stories about the wartime from his Grandfather John?
These answers are now, and likely forever, lost to history. I can only read about the German-American community during the Civil War and try to understand how the conflict may have affected the Baumgartens of Pittsburgh. Regardless, I now feel deeply connected to the history of 19th century America and the Civil War in a way that I had not before. Even if I don't know everything about my ancestors, they serve as a strong personal link to a world long gone.