Family tree branches out to Civil War

Published 9:17 am Thursday, March 11, 2010

I’ve always had a strong interest in my family’s genealogy from the time I was young.

Perhaps it was because I was surrounded with a lot of family who enjoyed telling old stories of late relatives and “the way it was back then.”

Knowing where your ancestors came from is a huge part of who you are. Being able to see the documents that tell of their contribution to this country as well as traces their stories opens your eyes and makes you appreciate the struggles and hardships all people share through out history.

My mother’s side, really the only side of my family I know about, was made up of laborers and farmers…not much blue blood runs through your veins when you have immigrant ancestors who could barely speak English and had funny surnames.

From an early age I can remember reading my grandmother’s carefully detailed notes on her family along with her husband’s (my grandfather) family line. At one point during her life, Grams took the time to research both lines and what she left was knowledge our family could refer to from time to time.

It’s those notes that I am using now to trace my grandfather’s mother’s lineage.

To say Great-Grandma Pearl had a hard life would be an understatement. The hardships she suffered began early when her mother died when she was nine. After that Pearl’s father, Alvah, “farmed” his children out to local farmers where they were used as labor in return for a place to live. Pearl never saw her family again and her older sister was the only one she kept in contact with.

My mom said Pearl didn’t like to talk much about her childhood or her family. Much of the knowledge she had about them died along with her.

So began our search for Pearl’s family. Both my mom and I have always been interested in tracking them down. And while mom has done some local digging into the past, I’ve turned to the Internet for some of my own.

And so far, I’ve turned up a few points of interest, including my family’s connection to the Civil War.

That’s right, one of my relatives was a solider for the Union, one of those “northern aggressors.”

His name was Levi H. Dunbar (Alvah’s father) and he enlisted on August 15, 1862 and was assigned with the New York 9th Heavy Artillery Company. The “9th” was involved in many battles, including the Siege of Petersburg, Va. and was there for the surrender of General Robert E. Lee and his Army. In all, there were 461 losses with in the 9th. However, Levi was not one of those.

Along with his enlistment information, I found out Levi was a corporal and at some point was captured by the Confederates as he was listed as a prisoner of war. Still he survived to be discharged July 6, 1865 with his regiment.

While my research has led me thus far, I’m now even more interested in find out more about Pearl’s family and Levi’s service in the Civil War.

Amanda VanDerBroek is a Staff Writer for the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald. For comments and column suggestions email: or call (252) 332-7209.