Kinsearching November 2, 2008




Marleta Childs
P. O. Box 6825
LUBBOCK, TX 79493-6825

     Since genealogy and history are intertwined, the study of one family or individual can illustrate what life may have been like for other people in the same or similar circumstances during a particular era. This idea is especially true for significant events that affected a large portion of a country's population and had far-reaching effects. An excellent new work showing the intricate relationship between genealogy and history is WORTHY OF RECORD: THE CIVIL WAR AND RECONSTRUCTION DIARIES OF COLUMBUS LAFAYETTE TURNER, skillfully edited by Kenrick N. Simpson.

     Simpson's interesting preface sets up the historical context of Turner's diaries. The editor continues with fascinating facts in his introduction, which provides information on the genealogy of the Turner family whose progenitor, Adam Turner, arrived in Maryland from England in 1728. Two generations of the Turners married into the Dent family of Maryland. (Interestingly, Ulysses S. Grant's wife was Julia Dent, whose lineage can also be traced back to Maryland.) After the American Revolution, the Turners and Dents moved to Rowan County, North Carolina. Counted among their descendants is Columbus Lafayette "Lum" Turner, the well-educated author of Civil War and legislative diaries.

     Born in Iredell County in 1842 to Wilfred and Dorcas (Tomlinson) Turner, Lum was twice captured by Union forces and confined in two Federal prisons: Fort Delaware and Johnson's Island. Unlike many other wartime chronicles written by Civil War soldiers, Turner's diary rarely depicts combat. Instead, he describes concerns common to all prisoners of war, such as food and clothing, rodents and insects, and health and medical care. He mentions, for instance, the medicinal use of ginger--a supplement found in health food stores in the twenty-first century. A literate man, he laments the lack of paper to write on and books to read. In his Civil War diary, he also records in great detail his daily activities as a prisoner, the physical layouts of the prisons, and efforts to escape.

     After the Civil War ended and he returned to civilian life, Turner took his pen in hand to maintain a diary after his election to represent Iredell County in the General Assembly for 1872-1874. Although his account covers only a brief period in early 1874, it furnishes his detailed recording of daily experiences as a legislator in Raleigh as Reconstruction was coming to a close and North Carolinians were seeking to define the direction of their state government. Among the subjects he discusses are government finances, efforts to impeach Superior Court judge Samuel W. Watts, the work of the state geologist, and mismanagement of the Insane Asylum of North Carolina and the North Carolina Institution for the Deaf, Dumb, and Blind.

     Data about Turner's later years surface in Simpson's informative afterword, which follows the diarist's business activities (particularly with cotton mills), travels, marriages, and family life, until his death in 1918. Since he remained close to many kinfolks, additional information about some of his relatives also appears in the material.

     The preface, introduction, and afterword are all well-researched and well-written. Since the introduction supplies information about Turner's ancestry and siblings in narrative form, a basic family tree or chart would make it more convenient for genealogists to review relationships at a glance. Engrossing to read themselves, the extensive annotated endnotes provide supplemental information on people and places mentioned in the diaries and in the appendices. For example, the endnotes provide details about two men killed in action, Franklin H. "Hal" Weaver of Iredell County and George Washington Weaver of Guilford County. The more than fifty photographs, illustrations, and maps highlight points in the text; genealogical researchers will especially appreciate the pictures of Turner's kin. Six appendices offer additional data on Turner's wartime and legislative actions.

     WORTHY OF RECORD: THE CIVIL WAR AND RECONSTRUCTION DIARIES OF COLUMBUS LAFAYETTE TURNER combines data regarding the Turner family in the North Carolina counties of Iredell and Catawba in the nineteenth century with first-hand accounts of life in Union prisoner-of-war camps during the Civil War and of experiences of North Carolina state legislators as they struggled with the war's aftermath. Presenting a microcosm of a specific family's background and of Civil War and Reconstruction life for an individual family member, the volume furnishes insight into how conditions may have been similar for other people in the same area. A fascinating book, WORTHY OF RECORD will be a welcomed addition to both public and private library collections.

     Wrapped in an attractive cover, the 228-page hardback has an extensive bibliography and a thorough index of names and places. Prices, which include shipping and tax, are $34.69 for individuals or $32.02 for libraries. The volume may be ordered online at or by writing to the Historical Publications Section (N), Office of Archives and History, 4622 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, North Carolina 27699-4622. For credit card orders, call 919-733-7442, extension 0.

     Two articles in the October 2008 (Vol. 39, No. 7) issue of the Smithsonian magazine may be of particular interest to genealogists. On pages 48-56, Jeff Wheelwright's "The Secret of San Luis Valley" focuses on the discovery of a cancer gene inherited in Hispanic families in Colorado. Despite some criticism, the results strengthen the Crypto-Jews theory. (For more data about "secret Jews," see Kinsearching column dated March 5, 2006.)

    Richard Rubin's "The Last Doughboy" appears on pages 72-74. It pertains to 107-year-old Frank Woodruff BUCKLES, the final surviving American veteran of World War I. Lying about his age, he joined the army in 1914 and served until he was mustered out in 1920.

Kinsearching Home Page