Chronologizing and Chronicling Your Ancestors: A Case Study of John Rem

I read an article that NGS tweeted several weeks ago in which the author, Aaron Goodwin, discussed this idea of exploring a particular ancestor by documenting their life events year by year. As a side note, I was surprised to discover that the word “chronologize” is apparently a legitimate one to describe this valuable research tool. I’m going to go with my inner linguist and go with “chronicle” instead, which is, to me, easier on the ears and tongue. The author shared that the benefits of such a strategy include identifying gaps in their lives that need more research and documentation as well as differentiating them from other individuals with similar names and backgrounds. I’ve chronicled some of my people’s lives in this way informally, but I love the idea of being intentional about outlining my ancestors’ whereabouts and activities year by year. I recently wrote about my ancestor, John Rem, and I’d like to continue studying his life by featuring him in this week’s post.

timeline template
https://venngage.com/blog/timeline-template/

1846. John reported on military documents that he was born July 27, 1846. My Rem cousins and I found a transcription of a Bible record owned by the Nobles Family that lists John among the 13 children of his mother, Ann. His birthdate is listed as July 24, 1846 (Nobles Family Bible).

1846-1864. Based on John’s responses on military forms, it can be deduced that John and his family worked for Jesse Nobles as slaves (Pension File).

1864. On August 29, 1864, John enlisted as an 18 y/o private in the Rear Rank of Company K Regiment 37 United States Colored Troops (USCT) Infantry in New Bern, North Carolina. In terms of his physical description at the time, he was reported as 5’6” and dark complexioned, with dark hair and eyes. His reported occupation at the time was rafting logs (Pension File).

1865.

  • John mustered out and was honorably discharged from the USCT on September 12, 1865 (Pension File).
  • On November 04, 1865, John Rhem (colored) married Harriet Morris (colored). The bondsman was Bryant Wiggins (colored), and the witness was James C. Morrison. (retrieved from Ancestry.com’s North Carolina, Marriage Records, 1741-2011 [database on-line]).

1866. Reportedly, in August 1866, left his wife Harriet Morris before later heading to Texas Pension File).

1867. On February 09, 1867, John signed a one-year contract in which he pledged to work for Natt Holman in Fayette County, Texas for $125. He also signed a contract with William H. Russell, son of his future wife’s slave owner, to work under the same terms in nearby Alleyton, Colorado County, Texas (United States Freedmen’s Bureau Records, retrieved from http://www.familysearch.org).

1868. John “Rem” marries Elvira “Ellin” Davis. They secured a marriage license on May 02, 1868 and were married by African-American Minister of the Gospel, Spencer Grant (Texas County Marriage Records 1837-1965, retrieved from http://www.familysearch.org).

1870. On December 07, 1870, John Rem lived with his wife Elvira and her daughter Mary (reported to be about 4 years old). He lived next door to Natt Holman, on of the men who drew up a contract to bring hired freedman from North Carolina to work his farm in Fayette County. He lived several houses from his father-in-law, Alex Davis, and his family (1870 United States Census, retrieved from http://www.ancestry.com).

1871.

  • The 1871 Fayette County Tax Rolls document that John “Rem” owned 2 horses valued at $40 and 1 cow valued at $10 and other livestock valued at $24. He paid a total of $18.25 on his property valued at $74 (1871 Texas County Tax Rolls, retrieved from http://www.familysearch.org).
  • Annie Rem was born reportedly on July 29, 1871 (Pension File).

1873. This reportedly was the last time John Rem had heard news of his first wife, Harriet Morris.  He had received a letter from his brother Ruben Rem of Fred Johnson’s Mill in Pitt County, North Carolina, stating that Harriet was alive and had a child but that it was not John Rem’s child (Pension File).

1875. Orange Rem was reported to have been born around 1875 (1880 United States Census, retrieved from http://www.ancestry.com).

1878.

  • John Rem had 12 hogs valued at $24 and miscellaneous property valued at $3. His total taxes was $2.58 (1878 Texas County Tax Rolls, retrieved from http://www.familysearch.org).
  • Manda Rem was was reported to have been born around 1878 (1880 United States Census, retrieved from http://www.ancestry.com).

1879. Fayette County Tax Rolls document that John “Rem” had 1 horse valued at $15, 9 hogs valued at $18. Miscellaneous property was valued at $32, and his total tax was $2.86 (1879 Texas County Tax Rolls, retrieved from http://www.familysearch.org).

1880.

  • On June 08, 1880, census enumerators recorded that John led a household of his wife, 4 children, a sister, a granddaughter, and 2 boarders.
  • George Rem was was reported to have been born around 1880 (1880 United States Census, retrieved from http://www.ancestry.com).

1881. Sadie Rem was born around July 1881 (The 1900 Census cites her birth information as July 1878, but this is not likely since she was not enumerated with her parents in the 1880 Census. Her death record says her date of birth is May 30, 1880, which is also unlikely since George was an infant at the time of the 1880 Census).

1882. Tobe Rem was reported to have been born around August 1882 (1900 United States Census, retrieved from http://www.ancestry.com).

1884. Louis Rem was reported to have been born around June 1884 (1900 United States Census, retrieved from http://www.ancestry.com).

1886.

  • John owned a “carriage, buggy, or wagon” valued at $25 and 2 horses and mules valued at $50. His miscellaneous property was valued at just $5, yielding a total tax of $2.33 (1886 Texas County Tax Rolls, retrieved from http://www.familysearch.org).
  • Grant Rem was reported to have been born around December 1886 (1900 United States Census, retrieved from http://www.ancestry.com).

1887. J. Rhem owned a “carriage, buggy, or wagon” valued at $20, 2 horses and mules valued at $75, and miscellaneous property valued at $5. His total tax assessment was $2.45 (1887 Texas County Tax Rolls, retrieved from http://www.familysearch.org).

1888. John Rem owned a “carriage, buggy, or wagon” valued at $25; 2 horse and mule at $50; 3 cows valued at $15, and $10 worth of miscellaneous property. $2.27 total tax (1888 Texas County Tax Rolls, retrieved from http://www.familysearch.org).

1890. In 1890, John Rem was the only African-American in the Pecan civil division of Fayette County, Texas who had fought in the Civil War. In a special schedule enumerating Union veterans and widows of Union veterans of the Civil War, he reported having been a Private in NC Infantry Company K from 1864-1865 (Special Schedules of the Eleventh Census (1890) Enumerating Union Veterans and Widows of Union Veterans of the Civil War, retrieved from http://www.ancestry.com).

1891. On May 05 1891, John Rem filed an invalid application for pension due to syphilis and enlargement of spleen and liver; this was the first of 2-4 rejected claims from this time until 1902.  Prior to this date on April 29, 1891, George Davis (one of the freedmen accompanying him from North Carolina to Texas in 1867) and W. Herndon, both of Weimar, affirmed their acquaintance with John Rem (27 years and 8-9 years, respectively) and confirmed his identity as such (Pension File).

1892. On Oct 29 1892, John Rem completed a General affidavit stating that:  he had served in the Company K 37 2  in both North Carolina and Virginia under a Captain Houston; he was one of the first men to be discharged in 1865; and he had lost his discharge papers (Pension File).

1893. J. Rem owned a “carriage, buggy, or wagon” valued at $25; 2 horses/mules valued at $50; 2 cows valued at $10, and $5 worth of miscellaneous property, yielding a total tax of $2.44 (1893 Texas County Tax Rolls, retrieved from http://www.familysearch.org).

1894.

  • John Rhem still owned his carriage and 2 horses/mules and $5 worth of miscellaneous property. However, he acquired 2 more cows for a total of 4 valued at $60. His total tax that year was $2.45 (1894 Texas County Tax Rolls, retrieved from http://www.familysearch.org).
  • On June 20, 1894, John Rem reported in an Declaration for Invalid Pension that: he had enlisted in the Union army first as a member of the heavy artillery unit and then was transferred to Company K; he incurred syphilis during his service with the latter unit. He lived in Weimar at this time, possibly reflecting a later claim by Elvira Rem that they were separated only during the period he “made a crop” in Weimar (Pension File).

1895. Interestingly, John didn’t report owning any property this year, but he, like others, paid a minimum tax of $1.75 (1895 Texas County Tax Rolls, retrieved from http://www.familysearch.org).

1897.

  • On May 27 1897, John Rem made a Declaration for Invalid Pension in which he stated that he was “totally unable to earn support by manual labor by reason of enlargement of spleen which causes pain and often I have to get the physicians to use a catheter to pass urine” (Pension File).

1898.

  • On Mar 26 1898, John Rem completed and signed a form issued by the Department of the Interior. He reported that: he was married to Elvira Rem with several children – Annie Rem b. July 9, 1871, Orange Rem b. March 20, 1875, Amanda Rem b. May 25, 1877, Sadie Rem b. May 31, 1880, Tobe Rem b. August 9, 1882, Louis Rem b. June 1, 1884, and Grant Rem b. December 15, 1886 (Pension File).
  • The Bureau of Pensions did not find the name “John Rem” in their files, but they did find the variant “John Ream”. On June 05, 1898, Littleton T. King of Fairfield, Hyde County, North Carolina, a fellow member of “Co K 37 USCT”, declared that John Rem, also known as John Ream, when he “enlisted as private in Co K 37 USCT..was active and viger [sic] and appeared to be free from bodily disease.” On July 04, 1898, Edmon John and Phillis Atkinson of Winnabow Plantation in Brunswick County, North Carolina, also fellow members of “Co K 37” signed a General Affidavit declaring that John Rem and John Ream “are one and the same person [and] was called by both names in the service” (Pension File).

1899. Harry Rem was reported to have been born around July 1899 (1900 United States Census, retrieved from http://www.ancestry.com).

1900.

  • On February 24, 1900, Dr. T.C. Cook certified that he had provided medical advisement to John Rem and his family since 1868 and that John had “laboured under chronic inflammation of the liver and spleen, which [had] proven to be intractable to medical treatment…and disabling him from performing the manual labor of an able bodied man.” Dr. Cook described John as “a good, sober, and exemplary man and a respectable citizen.” (Pension File)
  • On June 07, 1900, John Rem (transcribed by Ancestry as “Yohn Remus” ) is enumerated with his wife Elvira and several of his children in Holman, Fayette County, Texas. In this census record, Elvira reports that 17 of her 18 children were living at the time, but, based on all other reports, I believe seven living children should have been indicated instead (1900 United States Census, retrieved from http://www.ancestry.com).
  • On June 10-18, 1900, John Rem made a Declaration for Invalid Pension (Pension File).

1901. On Sep 16 1901, John Rem applied for invalid pension for enlargement of liver but was rejected (Pension File).

1902.

  • On June 18, 1902, John completed a form issued by the Department of the Interior Bureau of Pensions requesting information about his military enlistment. He reported that he was born in Pitt County, North Carolina where he was most recently enslaved prior to enlistment by “young Richard Nobles.” Probably escaping to Union lines in New Bern, Craven County, North Carolina, John, operating under the name “John T. Baptist,” began “rafting logs on Brice’s Creek for the government” under the authority of one “Captain Harrington”. At the time he filled out this form, John lived in Holman, Fayette County, Texas. He reported his height as 5’6″ and skin color as dark; he also noted having three scars – one on his cheek just under his left eye, one on his “right side”, and one near his groin (Pension File).
  • On November 15, 1902, John Rem applied for invalid pension and was approved for $6 per month due to rheumatism and an enlarged liver. He reported that he had originally enlisted in the 14th Heavy Artillery and transferred later to 37th Regiment (Pension File).

1903.

  • On October 15, 1903, John signed an affidavit stating that “the reason [he could] not furnish medical evidence as to [his] condition since November 4th, 1902 is [he is] now and [has] been ever since Nov. 4th 1902, too poor to pay a physician to treat me, as [he could] not give security for same.” His neighbors, 34 year-old William Dickey, and 61 year-old Natt Holman (possibly the same employer for whom he contracted to work in 1867) swore that they had witnessed the decline in his physical health since 1902 (Pension File).
  • On December 22, 1903, John filed a declaration alleging an “increase of pensioner causes” (Pension File).

1904.

  • On April 12, 1904, John Rem (then living in LaGrange, Fayette County, Texas), as part of his Declaration for Invalid Pension, stated that he originally enlisted in the 14th Heavy Artillery Unit August 11 or 12 1864 and was transferred to the Co K, Reg 37 unit in late October or early November of 1864 (Pension File).
  • On May 09, 1904, John filed a declaration alleging increase and enlargemnet of the spleen (Pension File).
  • On June 08, 1904, John was examined by Dr. T.W. Moore, who agreed that John was unable to perform manual labor due to rheumatism in both legs that had “existed more or less for eight years” as well as other conditions (Pension File).
  • On June 17, 1904, he filed a declaration for an “increase and slight dropsical condition of entire body” (Pension File).

1905. On April 28, 1905, John presented a claim to increase his pension to $12 (Pension File).

1906 On November 07, 1906, John Rem was pensioned at $12 per month under the Act of June 27, 1890, approved for rheumatism, albuminaria, and general physical decrepitude (Pension File).

1910. On April 30, 1910, John (age 63) and Elvira (age 60) Rem lived on LaGrange and Weimar Road in Justice Precinct 7 of Fayette County, Texas. His twice-married daughter, Sadie (mistakenly written as “Katy” Hill), also lived with him, along with his grandchildren Rosa (age 12) and Linan(?, age 10) Goodwin (presumably Sadie’s children). John and Elvira reported that they had been married for about 42 years and to each other only; Elvira reported that she had borne 17 children, 8 of whom were still alive at this time (1910 United States Census, retrieved from http://www.ancestry.com).

1912. John Rem completed and signed a deposition on March 12, 1912 before James E. Madden, a special examiner of the Bureau of Pensions. He reported details about his service, including details previously provided and reported elsewhere on this timeline. He also reported that he had no prior or subsequent service or service in the Confederacy. He stated that he was in no battles but did spend some time in a hospital near Elizabeth, Virginia on the James River. His Captain’s name was Houston, and his 1st Sergeant was named Sam Kensey; he did not remember the name of the lieutenant. Of his comrades, he remembered the names Edmond John, Littleton T. King, and Hannibal Barnes. He also reported that he had married Harriet Morris by “the Bureau” (referring to the Freedmen’s Bureau) in November 1865 (Pension File).

1912. On June 20 1912, John Rem completed and signed a Declaration for Pension under Certificate No. 1070278. He was awarded $14 per month to commence on June 26th and $16 per month to commence on July 27th (Pension File).

1913 – On March 21, 1913, John was approved to begin receiving $14 per month (Pension File)

1915. John Rem was mailed a form from the Department of the Interior Bureau of Pensions. Between January 02 and April 08, 1915, he reported that: he was born in Pitt County, NC on July 27, 1846, that he was a member of the “37 Regiment Colored Light Infantry Company K”; that his post office at the time of his enlistment was New Bern, Cravin [sic] County, NC; and that he married his first wife Harriet Morris in New Bern, Cravin County, NC. John also reported that seven children were then living and that 11 others had died before they were named and whose dates of birth and death he did not know (He did remember that one was named Edmond John Rem). John filled out this document in his own handwriting and spelled his surname “Rim”. Incidentally, he reported his son Tobe Rem’s date of birth two days later than his previous report (Pension File).

1916. John was to begin receiving $20 per month beginning on July 27, 1916 (Pension File).

1920. John Rem died on December 18, 1920 due to kidney problems and heart disease (Texas Death Records)

In conclusion, this process of chronicling John Rem’s life proved to be an arduous task. It took longer than I expected, and I was taken aback by how much pain John seemed to have endured as a result of his syphilitic condition. He was severely limited by his disabilities, and he had to go through great lengths to prove it to the Bureau of Pensions! There were many affidavits to sift through, but they were, apparently, necessary to prove his identity, to confirm his military service, to support his medical claims, and to demonstrate that he was a good person who was not plagued by “vicious habits”. Witness testimonies also proved that John Rem had been a stable presence in Fayette County from the time he arrived in Texas to the time he died, even though I didn’t have specific records for each year of his life.

In terms of genealogical benefit, this method of chronicling yielded a rich overview of John Rem’s life. Although there were 22 years of his 74 year life (about 30%) that I was unable to track with specific records, I was able to find different kinds of information about his life from a variety of genealogical resources, most prominent of which was John’s pension file. Moreover, I was able to differentiate him from other Rem’s in the area, including a John Rem who lived in Austin, Texas, but had property in Colorado County in 1881. I can see how chronicling (or chronologizing) could be a helpful tool in researching people for whom there is little information available. Not only will researchers be able to develop a more visual representation of an individual’s life, but they also may be able to formulate more informed hypotheses about gaps of knowledge in a person’s documented life. Do you plan to try chronicling? If and when you do, let me know how it goes.

Published by GenealogyGriot

Tameka Miller is a genealogist, psychologist, and full-time homemaker and homeschool educator. She has been a genealogy researcher and family historian for over 20 years.

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