Pathway to Hell: A Tragedy of the Civil War

The Battle of Fredericksburg, 13 December 1862. From an early draft of
Pathway to Hell: A Tragedy of the Civil War:

Charlie Robbins [of the 13th Pennsylvania Reserves, the “Fighting Bucktails”] ran harder than he ever had in his life and tried to spring over one of those ditches. It was too wide, and he thumped hard into the ditch. Stunned and bruised, he looked back and saw the enemy swarming toward him. Running was useless now. He hunkered in the ditch and awaited inevitable capture. Others had beaten him to this exposed hiding place and more leaped in. To his amazement, some of them were Rebels he assumed were trying to desert. Charlie braved another glance over the top of the ditch, and saw Angelo [Crapsey] running toward him. “He was completely done out,” Robbins recalled, “and could not run as the rest did to get away from the rebels.” Miraculously, Robbins escaped capture to report Angelo’s “wounding.” Angelo must have been wounded, Charlie assumed. Angelo would never give up no matter how stacked the odds against him.

But he had. The lad who vowed never to compromise threw up his hands and shouted, “I surrender!” A bullet would have been more merciful. At least then Angelo Crapsey would have died gloriously.

Source: Crapsey, Angelo. Photograph. C. 1863. Digital copy from the Faces of the Pennsylvania Reserves website []. Original photograph’s whereabouts unknown. 2008.

Angelo M. CRAPSEY was the stepson of my 4th-great-grandmother, Lura Ann (JACKSON) PECK CRAPSEY. He was raised with Viola Gertrude (PECK) ROBBINS, my 3rd-great-grandmother, and served in Company I of the 42nd Pennsylvania Infantry, later the 13th Pennsylvania Reserves with his childhood friend, Charles H. ROBBINS, who would become my 3rd-great-grandfather. Known as the “Fighting Bucktails” because of their reputation as sharpshooters, the 13th Reserves were often attached to other regiments in some of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War, including Gettysburg, Antietam, and Fredericksburg. Angelo was interred in the infamous Libby Prison, and was released before the end of the war. His incarceration horribly affected him, and for the rest of his short life, he engaged in one suicide attempt after another, finally succeeding on 4 August 1864, at the age of 21.

While researching the the intriguing story of Angelo Crapsey, Dennis W. Brandt read the many letters Angelo wrote during his war days, along with educating himself about the 42nd Pennsylvania Infantry/13th Pennsylvania Reserves and the Pennsylvania communities of Roulette, Potter County and Smethport, McKean County. I am indebted to him for his research on the Robbins, Peck, and Jackson families, which he generously shared with me. He is also the author of From Home Guards to Heroes: The 87th Pennsylvania And Its Civil War Community (2006, University of Missouri Press; the Shades of Blue and Gray Series).

Pathway to Hell: A Tragedy of the Civil War has been recently published by Lehigh University Press and is available for pre-order at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.


Thank You for Serving Our Country

This is a repeated post, with some minor changes, of one I published a year ago. The words may be duplicated, but my gratitude is sincere. I can’t say “thank you” enough to those who gave up so much so I could live not only in freedom, but in comfort.

Today is the 90th anniversary of the original Armistice (Veterans) Day–the “eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” here in the United States. I would like to say “thank you” to the veterans and active duty personnel in my life, who have guaranteed my freedoms and the freedoms of my family and millions of others:

First my family and the family of my husband:

  • *My cousin Chuck, U.S. Army and U.S. Air National Guard, veteran
  • *My cousin Matt, U.S. Air Force, active duty
  • *My cousin Beth’s husband, Bryan, U.S. Army, active duty
  • *My father-in-law, Troy, U.S. Army, veteran
  • *My husband’s Uncle Norm, U.S. Army, veteran
  • *My husband’s Uncle Ray, U.S. Marine Corps, veteran
  • *My husband’s nephew, David, U.S. Air Force, veteran
  • *My husband’s nephew-in-law, Nathan, U.S. Air Force, veteran; and U.S. Air National Guard, active duty
  • *My husband’s step-niece, Laura, U.S. Army, veteran
  • *My husband’s step-nephew-in-law, John, U.S. Army, active duty

Sadly, one name that was on last year’s list of living veterans has since been removed: my grand-uncle Bill, U.S. Army Air Corps and U.S. Air Force, veteran of WWII, Korea, and Vietnam.

My website contains a page with a list of military ancestors (and their brothers and sons) who have served from World War II back to the colonial wars. I also have a page with my husband’s military ancestors and relatives, here. This past spring, I wrote a 43-post series on the Civil War veterans in my family, either direct ancestors of my children, or brothers of direct ancestors.

I live in Spokane, Washington which has a strong military history beginning with Ft. Spokane and Ft. George Wright (U.S. Army posts of the 1800’s), continuing with Geiger Field and the Navy Depot Station in Spokane County and Farragut Naval Base in nearby North Idaho during World War II, and including Fairchild Air Force Base in the present. One cannot help but knowing active duty personnel and/or veterans in this area. I’d like to say “thank you” to the many friends and neighbors we have that are either currently serving or have served our country, including several of my children’s teachers, and many of my colleagues at Spokane Public Schools. Thank you, too, to those military wives I work with, who teach all day, then go home to raise their families alone while their husbands are overseas.

And finally, although certainly not last in my thoughts, are some of my closest genea-blogging colleagues, who bring their military background and perspective to our community and to our research:

If I have forgotten anyone, I sincerely apologize (please send me a note if you notice anyone is missing).

Thank you!

"Voices of War" Series Ends

From time to time, I’ve linked to stories from the “Voices of War” series that my local newspaper, the Spokesman-Review has published both in print and online formats. They recently published an article announcing the end of the series. Originally, the editors had planned to do twelve articles–one a month–and figured they could find just enough material to publish stories for one year. Instead, they discovered there were so many World War II veterans and stories in the Inland Northwest that they could have published one a week for several years. The effort and time that went into interviewing, photographing, and writing up each story prevented them from doing so, however.

The twelve original stories can be found here, along with photographs and audio clips from the interviews. In addition, the reporters remind us that there are many veterans of other wars whose stories we need to capture. They list ideas of how to do good interviews and give online resources, including, to help with that process.

WWII Army Nurse Corps Veteran Tells Her Story

One of the things I enjoy about my local paper is that they have been featuring World War Two veterans over the past couple of years on a regular basis. Today’s paper highlights a U.S. Army Nurse Corps captain who followed Patton onto the beaches of Normandy and through France and Germany. You can read 92-year-old May Alm’s story here.

FamilySearch Update: New Records Added

FamilySearch added over 2 million new images or indexed records this week to its pilot Record Search databases this week. Thanks to all of the wonderful volunteers who help bring these projects to the Web for public access. Patrons can search these databases for free online at or directly at

Project Name: WWII Draft Reg. Cards
Indexed Records:
Digital Images: 1,651,453
Type: Images
Comments: Updated – 1 new state (Ohio)

Project Name: 1930 Mexico Census
Indexed Records: 314,548
Digital Images: 104,849
Type: Index
Comments: Updated – 1 new state (Coahulia)

Project Name: West Virginia Vital Records (Marriages)
Indexed Records: 306,782
Digital Images:
Type: Index
Comments: Updated – 14 new counties

Project Name: Lima, Peru Civil Registration
Indexed Records:
Digital Images: 134,664
Type: Waypt
Comments: Updated – User guidance added

Project Name: 1885 Florida State Census
Indexed Records:
Digital Images: 8,468
Type: Waypt
Comments: New collection

Project Name: 1935 Florida State Census
Indexed Records:
Digital Images: 36,019
Type: Waypt
Comments: New collection

Project Name: 1945 Florida State Census
Indexed Records:
Digital Images: 51,686
Type: Waypt
Comments: New collection

John William "Chet" VALK (1914 – 1944), Recipient of the Purple Heart

Source: John W. Valk Badge of Military Merit; owned by Miriam Robbins Midkiff, [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] Spokane, Washington, 2008.

Today is Purple Heart Day.

The official name of a Purple Heart is the Badge of Military Merit. According to Wikipedia, it “is considered to be the first official military combat badge of the United States Armed Forces. It is the second oldest United States military award in existence, the oldest being the Fidelity Medallion. The Badge of Military Merit was first announced in General George Washington’s general orders to the Continental Army issued on 7 August 1782 at the Headquarters in Newburgh. Designed by Washington in the form of a purple heart, it was intended as a military order for soldiers who displayed unusual gallantry in battle, or extraordinary fidelity and essential service.”

Currently, “the Purple Heart is awarded in the name of the President of the United States to any member of the Armed Forces of the United States who, while serving under competent authority in any capacity with one of the U.S. Armed Services after 5 April 1917, has been wounded or killed, or who has died after being wounded.” [Wikipedia]

Here in the State of Washington, living Purple Heart recipients can obtain specialized license plates with an image of the award decorating the plates. This may be possible in other states as well.

The story of the Purple Heart recipient in my family begins on a cold winter day in the City of Grand Rapids, Kent Co., Michigan on 7 February 1914. Agnes (TUINSTRA) VALK had just given birth to her fourth son and child within four years. What Agnes and her husband, William James VALK, decided to name this son is open to speculation. According to their third son–and my maternal grandfather–William “Bill” VALK, his younger brother was supposed to have been named William Thomas VALK. I think my grandfather was mistaken…why would you have two sons named William? I think my great-grandparents meant to name the boy Thomas William VALK. This makes sense because Thomas was the name of a younger brother of William Sr., who had died young, and was another translation–in addition to James–of the Frisian name Tjamme, William Sr.’s father’s name. Having William as a middle name (as so many of these sons did) was a leftover Dutch tradition, where one’s middle name was a patronym (“Willems”).

Somehow, either “William Thomas” or “Thomas William” didn’t go over, and the parents decided upon John Chester VALK, and nicknamed him “Chet.” Whatever happened, Chet was registered on his offical birth record as “John William VALK”–by the doctor, according to my grandfather–and no one was the wiser until nearly 30 years later.

Chet’s birth was followed by two more sons and a set of twins, one of whom was stillborn. By now, the United States was in the midst of World War I. Soon after, the Spanish Influenza Pandemic hit. I’ve written before about how Agnes was institutionalized after succumbing to the effects of influenza or perhaps encephalitis lethargica. When she died shortly before her 36th birthday, William Sr. was left with six sons and daughter, all under the age of 12. These children were farmed out to relatives and the city orphanage. Chet was one who lived at Blodgett Home for Children during the 1920 Census. After William Sr. married Iva Eva (LAMBRECHT) SCHADLER, a widow with a 10-year-old son, the family was reunited, and eight more children–five of whom survived infancy–were added to the household.

Chet attended Walker Township schools and grew up playing on the streets of what is now west Grand Rapids. In 1937, his 24-year-old brother Bill (my grandfather) married 17-year-old German immigrant Elfriede “Freda” LOMKER in South Bend, Indiana, a “Gretna Green” marriage location. A year an a half later, a son, James Frederick VALK, was born. Besides the obvious age difference between the couple, the marriage appeared to be doomed from the start. One morning, Bill left a dollar bill on the table with a note, and simply walked out. Freda and little Jimmy moved into her parents’ home. This was Efriede’s version, according to the 1941 court records of their divorce. According to my grandmother (Bill’s second wife), Elfriede “ran off with Chet” (before the divorce? soon after?). However, I must remember that my grandmother heard Bill’s version, and he may have been justifying his actions. Those who know the whole truth are long gone.

Source: Valk, James Frederick and Elfriede (Lomker). Photograph. C. 1941. Original in the possession of Robert Upton [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] Queen Creek, Arizona. 2008.

Whatever happened, Chet and Elfriede did fall in love and marry. She called him “Johnny” and he called her “Freda.” Chet looked upon little Jimmy as his own, and was obviously devoted to both his own family and his in-laws. He had served in the regular U.S. Army from 1936 through 1939 and was recalled in February 1941. It was during his enlistment that the discovery was made that his legal name, according to his birth record, was John William VALK. According to my grandfather, Chet served with the 101st Airborne, but I am not sure as to the accuracy of that statement.

Source: Valk, John William “Johnny” (Fort Benning, Georgia) to “Dear Margaret” [possibly Margaret Lomker]. Letter. Undated. Privately held by Robert Upton [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] Queen Creek, Arizona. 2008.
(click on any thumbnail to enlarge)

From Fort Benning, Georgia, in this undated letter, Chet writes to a friend, or perhaps his sister-in-law, Margaret:

Dear Margaret,

I received your card and letter both this morning and was glad to hear from you. After reading the card I thought I’d better not wait so long this time. That sure was a good thrashing you gave me. I had it coming I guess.

It is still hotter than blazes down here and not much breeze. The little breeze we do get sure feels good. We are all feeling fine inspite [sic] of the weather.

Freda has gone back up to Rockford [Michigan, near Grand Rapids] to dispose of some [of] the things we are not taking with us. We have all ready [sic] sold the house and got our down payment back out of it. She expects to be gone only a week then she’s driving down in the car with Jimmy.

Gee, I really miss that kid something awful. I wonder if he’ll still remember me after those long months. Bet he’ll like our new house as there will be plenty of open space to play in.

Just before Freda left we went out to look how they were coming on the house and they hadn’t hardly did anything to it except installing the plumbing and electrical fixtures. I can hardly wait to move in.

I think you should give Freda a calling down. I’ve been trying to get her to write for ages but she doesn’t seem to find time. It’s touch that Cliff is gone and wish him the best of everything wherever he goes and a hasty arrival back home. I think of you two a lot and sure miss seeing you every so often. Maybe after this war is over we’ll be able to pay you a visit. Freda has already told me she’d like to move to Califonria, and you know Freda when she wants something. Well Margie I guess I’ll close as there really isn’t much news any way. So goodbye for now. We’ll try to be more prompt hereafter.


Source: Valk, John William “Johnny” (unknown location in Europe) to “Dear Folks” [Fred and Anna (Kirchdyke) Lomker]. Letter. 9 December 1944. Privately held by Robert Upton [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] Queen Creek, Arizona. 2008.

(click on any thumbnail to enlarge)

Chet was sent overseas to serve. On Saturday, 9 December 1944, he wrote from Europe to Freda’s parents, Fred LOMKER, Sr. and Anna KIRCHDYKE, who were probably living in Grand Rapids:

Saturday, Dec. 9th.

Dear Folks,

Just a few lines to say hell-o. I know you’ll be surprised to hear from me as I haven’t written before. I have been thinking of you though, often. How are all of you, anyway. I’m fine and hope this letter find you all in the best of health. I hear from Freda quite often but she seldom mentions you. Just finished writing Freda a few moments ago. I’d like it very much if she’d go home. I’m afraid she’s working too hard. She says she [is] going home any day now. Just hope she makes it there before Christmas. It would be nice if she were home for Christmas. I sure would like to be there too. this is really a bad mess over here and I for one will be glad when it’s over with.

[Censored] It was impossible [censored] Christmas, over here for [censored] anything. Hoping she gets home for Christmas [censored] this [censored] doesn’t [illegible] if you can always [censored].

I received a letter from Margaret awhile back and it sure was nice hearing from her. I hear from home often too and naturally they generally write a few lines about you all. So I do hear about you occasionally. Dad Valk mentioned pa in his last letter saying you was over a short while ago.

The weather over here has been miserable but through it all we manage somehow. We have every thing we need, plenty of blankets, clothes, east, cigarettes and so forth. That’s why I never ask Freda to send me anything. About the only thing I miss more than anything is my beer. Of course, I miss Freda and Jimmy the most.

Well, folks, I still have a few more letters to write besides this one so will close for now. Hoping you all the best. Give my regards to Fred [Jr.] and the kids. Wishing you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Yours Truly,

Johnny never saw the New Year, 1945. He was reported missing in Luxembourg on December 31st, and it was later determined he was killed in action on that date, another cold winter day like the one on which he had been born. At birth, he was welcomed by his loving parents and three older brothers. At death, he was surrounded by his Band of Brothers, some of whom may have joined him in crossing over.

Many years later, my grandfather later told me that he had heard his brother had been killed near Foy, Belgium, during the Battle of the Bulge, and that he may have been parachuting into the area at the time. His obituary was published nearly three months later in the Grand Rapids Press.

Source: Walsh, Roland, Brigadier General, USA, Commanding (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) to “Mrs. Elfriede Valk” [Elfriede (Lomker) Valk]. Letter. Undated. Privately held by Robert Upton [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] Queen Creek, Arizona. 2008.

Let us remember on Purple Heart Day the sacrifices that our military men and women have made to preserve our freedoms.

Freda later moved to Louisiana and became the second female certified public accountant in that state. She married another war veteran, and had two more children, but according to her son, she was very sad about many things in her life. I suspect Chet’s death affected her greatly. In addition, little Jimmy had to be institutionalized because he was–or became–disabled. He lived in the state institution at Kalamazoo, Michigan, and died at the age of 19. This must have been very grievous to bear. At that time in society, there was no physical, financial, medical or emotional support for families with disabled children, leaving them little choice but the anguish of basically abandoning them to the mercy of the state. Freda herself passed away in 1983 after a battle with melanoma.

It is through the great generosity of Freda’s children that the Badge of Military Merit awarded to John William “Chet” VALK, as well as copies of his letters and the above photograph, have been returned to and shared with the descendants of the Valk family. We are exceedingly grateful.

Freebies and Special Offers

I sent out the following letter to my former Online Genealogy Class students, and thought I’d share these great freebies and special offers with my blog readers as well:

“I’m sorry I’m a little late with this news, but these offers apply through the end of the month, not just Memorial Day weekend. First of all

To commemorate the agreement on the eve of Memorial Day, is making its entire U.S. Military Collection — the largest online collection of American military records — available for free to the public. From May 20 through May 31, people can log on to to view more than 100 million names and 700 titles and databases of military records, the majority of which come from NARA, from all 50 U.S. states.

Ancestry is also offering a free download in .pdf format of the 79-page book Military Collections at by Esther Yu Sumner. Not only does it discuss the various collections found on the website, but it gives a short, detailed history of each war or conflict in chronological order. Even if you don’t have an Ancestry subscription, this book is well worth reading. Click here to download.

“Also, Footnote has a deal:

Lindon, UT May 22, 2008 – In commemoration of Memorial Day, today announced their entire collection of military photos will be made permanently free on the site. The collection features over 80,000 photos from WWII and Vietnam making it the largest collection of its kind on the web.

Through their partnership with the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), has digitized and indexed the photos, which include images of downed aircraft, aerial photos of bombings, fighter groups and combat photos. What makes the photos unique are the short captions included with the photos, which provide interesting details about the events and people featured. To view these photos click here.

The announcement follows closely behind’s recent release of an interactive version of the Vietnam War Memorial. The online memorial is one of the largest images on the web and features a full-size photo of the memorial in Washington, DC. Visitors to the interactive memorial can search for names of fallen veterans, connect with other people, and create tributes by adding their own photos and stories to the site. To view the Vietnam War Memorial, go to

“Footnote has also added–or is starting to add–the following databases to its subscription area:

“City Directories for: Boston, Chicago, New York City, Philadelphia, and Washington DC. They have also added the 1860 Federal Census. “So what?” you say. “A lot of subscription websites have the 1860 Federal Census.” This is different. This one is interactive. In other words, let’s say you find your 3rd-great-grandfather on the 1860 census. You can leave an annotation on his record, and maybe another descendant of his will come along and find it when they search for his name. Voila! You’ve connected with another cousin and can exchange research! This is in the subscription area, only.

“Also, I saw some news that they are going to start adding the Civil War Pension Files (they already have the index cards online). You know, those records that cost $75 a piece to order from the National Archives? Isn’t this exciting?

“Don’t have a subscription to Footnote, yet? You can 1) go to your local Family History Center and use their free subscription, or 2) Footnote is offering a 20% discount to their annual subscription through affiliates (like myself) only. To take advantage of this offer, click on this link.


FamilySearchLabs (the LDS Church) has added a number of images and indexes to its Record search area. You no longer have to go through the (free) registration process to access this information, and can start immediately with your search. Please be aware that this is a Lab (Beta) site, so some databases are incomplete (they’re still adding to them), some may be inaccessible temporarily, and some may not have complete images (I noticed this with the Michigan birth and death records…some have only the first page of a two-page record set. I e-mailed them and they replied saying they are still working on getting the second pages to load up). Here are the current databases they offer:


* 1850 U.S. Federal Census (population schedule), Mortality Schedule, and Slave Schedule
* 1855 Massachusetts State Census
* 1855 Wisconsin State Census
* 1860 U.S. Federal Census (population schedule)
* 1865 Massachusetts State Census
* 1870 Federal Census (population schedule)
* 1875 Wisconsin State Census
* 1880 U.S. Federal Census
* 1885 Wisconsin State Census
* 1895 Argentina National Census
* 1895 Wisconsin State Census
* 1900 U.S. Federal Census (population schedule)
* 1905 Wisconsin State Census
* 1930 Mexico National Census

Court Records:

* Maryland, Cecil County Probate Estate Files, 1851 – 1940
* England, Cheshire, Register of Electors 1842 – 1900
* Freedman Bank Records, 1865 – 1874

Land and Property:

* Vermont Land Records, Early to 1900


* New York Passenger Arrival Lists (Ellis Island), 1892 – 1924


* Civil War Pension Index Cards
* United States, WWII Draft Registration Cards, 1942

Vital Records:

* Cheshire, Church of England Burial Records, 1538 – 1907
* Cheshire, Church of England Christening Records, 1538 – 1907
* Cheshire, Church of England Marriage Records, 1538 – 1907
* Czech Republic, Litomerice Regional Archive Church Books, 1552 – 1905
* England, Diocese of Durham Bishops’ Transcripts, c. 1700 – 1900
* France, Coutances Catholic Diocese, 1802 – 1907
* Freedman’s Bureau, Virginia Marriages, c. 1815 – 1866
* Georgia Deaths, 1914 – 1947
* Germany Baptisms, 1700 – 1900
* Germany, Brandenburg and Posen, Civil Transcripts of Parish Registers, 1800 – 1875
* Germany Marriages, 1700 – 1900
* Illinois, Diocese of Belleville, Catholic Parish Records, 1729 – 1756
* Mexico Baptisms, 1700 – 1900
* Mexico Marriages, 1700 – 1900
* Michigan Births, 1867 – 1902
* Michigan Deaths, 1867 – 1897
* Michigan Marriages, 1867 – 1925
* Norway Baptisms, 1700 – 1900
* Norway Burials, 1700 – 1900
* Norway Marriages, 1700 – 1900
* Ohio Deaths, 1908 – 1953
* Ontario (Canada) Deaths, 1869 – 1947
* Pennsylvania, Philadelphia City Death Certificates, 1803 – 1915
* Spain, Albacete Diocese, Catholic Parish Records, 1550 – 1930
* Texas Death Index, 1964 – 1998
* Texas Deaths, 1890 – 1976
* United States Social Security Death Index (records start about 1965)
* Utah Death Certificates, 1904 – 1956
* Utah, Salt Lake County Death Records, 1908 – 1949
* Virginia, Fluvanna County Colbert Funeral Home Records, 1929 – 1976
* Washington (State) Death Certificates, 1907 – 1960
* West Virginia Births, 1853 – 1930
* West Virginia Deaths, 1853 – 1970
* West Virginia Marriages, 1853 – 1970″