Stories to Tell: Owning a Piece of the Past

By Sunny Jane Morton Premium

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Seward Osborne has spent 50 years researching his family tree and the wars in which his ancestors served. A veteran himself, Osborne has visited nearly every major eastern US battlefield and authored six books about the Civil War. And recently, he discovered an artifact that revealed his own family’s history. This anecdote from our Stories to Tell collection discusses how.

The Lexington Artillery Roll Book, 1852 is a small book, but it has big meaning for Osborne. “The whole thing is less than a quarter-inch thick, but it’s loaded with handwritten facts. It’s an absolute treasure,” he says. “Very few people have ever heard of this outfit. But I grew up only 10 miles from where this regiment was in Lexington, New York.”

In the May/June issue's Stories to Tell column, Seward Osborne shares how he discovered his ancestor in a published history of the Civil War.

The names in the book are like old friends to Osborne. He’s researched a local Civil War unit that included many of them. What he didn’t know was that his own great-great-grandfather (William Schermerhorn) and great-great-grand-uncle (Porter J. Schermerhorn) served with the Lexington Artillery, too.


This excerpt from Seward's newly found Civil War book includes information about his ancestor.

Osborne joined Just A Joy, which connects original documents and artifacts with potential descendants of the people mentioned. Osborne included the Schermerhorn surname in his member profile, and he received a notification when the artillery roll book (with the Schermerhorn surname tagged) appeared on the site.

“I couldn’t believe what I was seeing!” he says. “I called [site owner Joy Shivar] immediately. We negotiated and struck a deal. Now I have it, and it’s one of the most precious artifacts I own.” Osborne loves that it reveals details about the servicemen’s uniforms, such as the cost of their coats and their hat sizes.

Osborne says he hopes to find photos that William Schermerhorn may have taken of the unit. But for now he’s happy with just the little book. “For that book to have survived that long—and to find me—is just amazing.”



If you’d like more interesting genealogy success stories, check out the Stories to Tell column in each issue of Family Tree Magazine. In it, Contributing Editor Sunny Jane Morton shares researchers’ greatest finds, plus how their research has impacted them. For instance, she discusses how one woman keeps finding her ancestor in unexpected places.

The May/June 2019 issue of Family Tree Magazine features underused genealogy websites, tips for making research logs, a Jewish genealogy guide and more.

A version of this article appeared in the May/June 2019 issue of Family Tree Magazine. In this issue, you’ll also find tips for using the best underused genealogy websites, plus a guide for creating a family health history.