Saturday, 23 August 2014

Military Monday: Smedley Brothers in the Civil War

You come across some amazing stories when you start to delve into  your family history and such was the life of John Kinsey Smedley - a naval engineer in the American Civil War, later inventor and traveller who wrote an account of his journey into the Yo-semite Valley in 1874.  

John Kinsey Smedley was born 10 July 1839 in Willistown, Pennsylvania   the fourth child of Jeffrey Smedley (1811-1861) and Catherine Denny (1803-1877)); with siblings  Lydia, Amy, Isaac, Abiah T., Catherine Ann, Anna Mary, Jeffrey and Charles.  He was a fifth generation American of English Quaker  heritage.  

In September 1862 at the age of 23, John  enlisted in the Union Navy,  and  participated in blockade duties and attacks on the Confederate forts in Charleston Harbor including  Fort Sumter.

He served  aboard vessels  Nantucket, Wabash, Mohican and Tullahoma.

The family is fortunate to have details of his service, written down by John's daughter Hattie and signed by him. 

A transcription by John's great granddaughter Gail  reads;
"Enlisted Sept. 1, 1862 in U.S. Navy at Philadelphia, PA.  Appointed 3rd Assist. Engineer, U.S. Navy Nov. 17, 1862.  Ordered to report onboard U.S. Monitor “Nantucket” at Boston, Feb. 14, 1863, Donald McNeal Fairfax, commanding.  Was in engagements Fort Sumter, S.C. Apr. 7, 1863 – James Island batteries July 8 and 10/63 on Stono River, and Morris Island, S.C. – Fort Wagner July 10, 16, and 18, 1863 – Fort Sumter July 20 – Fort Moultrie July 21, 1863 – Cummings Point batteries Aug. 10 and 12/63 – Fort Wagner Aug. 15 and 16/63."
USS Nantucket
 "Appointed 2nd Assist. Eng. Mar. 23, 1864.  Detached from Monitor Nantucket July 20, 1864 and ordered to Steam Frigate “Wabash”, Capt. John de Camp, by Rear Admiral John A. Dahlgren, commanding South Atlantic Blockading Squadron".
USS Wabash

 "Reported July 21, 1864 to W.K. Grozier, Executive Officer – Cruised off Cape de Verde Islands for three months.   

Detached from the Wabash and ordered to the U.S. Man-of-War “Mohican”, Oct. 30, 1864 by Rear Adml. David D. Porter, Com. N.A.B. Squadron.  Reported Oct. 31, 1864 to Daniel Ammen, com".

"Was in engagements at Fort Fisher, N.C. Dec. 24 and 25, 1864, also Jan. 13-14-15, 1865, ending with the capture of the Fort.  Steamed to Fort McAllister, Georgia and had a skirmish with scouting party in timber (?) etc.

 Detached from “Mohican” Apr. 26, 1865 at Boston – ordered to special duty on board U.S.S. “Tullahoma” at New York, May 19, 1865, by Thorton A. Jenkins, Chief of Staff.  

Ordered to temporary duty Aug. 6, 1865 on board U.S. Monitor “Nantucket” on trip to Philadelphia.  Detached Feb. 20, 1866 from special duty on U.S.S. Tullahoma and ordered to Navy Yard, N.Y. in connection with Boiler Experimental duty.  Reported Feb. 21, 1866 – J.W. King, Chief Engineer.

          Resigned March 13, 1866.

                                                   (signed – J. Kinsey Smedley)"

John Kinsey Smedley resigned from the Union Navy on 13 March 1866, and the family  still holds,  among the family treasures, his naval sword, sheath, and belt, shown in this photograph below.

After the war John headed west - to Utah and California - but that is for another posting! 

He died 22nd  July 1905 at Alamedia. Caifornia, buried in San Francisco National Cemetery,  with  the form for internment describing him as "2nd Assistant Engineer US Navy".  

Elder brother Isaac Smedley  was born 1 March 1838 at Chester, Pennsylvania and named after his paternal grandfather.  

The USA Civil War Draft Registration Records  on  show that 23 year old Isaac enlisted in    the 97th Pennsylvania  Volunteer  Infantry.  He rose to the rank of 2nd  Liut. but was honorably discharged on a surgeon's certificate at Seabrook island, South Carolina.  

He sadly died, unmarried,  of consumption om 12 February  1867 at the young age of 28. He was buried in Willistown Friends Cemetery, Chester, Delaware Co.  under the title " Lieut. Isaac Smedley" 

So  both  brothers were recognized  on their deaths for the service they gave in time of war. 


  • Family notes and photographs, with special thanks to Gail - John Kinsey Smedley's great granddaughter.
  • US Civil War Draft Registration Records 1863-1865
  • Officers of the Continental & US Navy & marine Corps 1795-1900. 
  • US Navy Pension Records
  • US Veterans Grave-sites
  • California Death Index 
  • US National Cemetery Interment Control Form  

Military Monday is one of many daily blog prompts from Geneabloggers 
that encourage writers to record aspects of their family history. 

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Sepia Saturday: National Dress on Show

Sepia Saturday give bloggers an opportunity to share their family history and memories through photographs.

This week's theme brought back memories of my childhood of sharing my mother's love for music and costume,  and of more recent happy holiday times in Austria and Poland.

As a child, traditional European national costumes always appealed to me.  I  remember watching on TV the dancers at the Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod in Wales (that's never televised now!)  and went onto collect costume dolls until they became nothing but dust gatherers.  (right) 

My piano music
Being taken to see the ballet "Coppelia" at the Opera House in Blackpool, had me captivated by the folk dances of the mazurka and czardas.  I longed  to wear a dirndl skirt with lots of braiding, a bolero fastened with criss cross laces over a white blouse, a fancyapron  and best of all a headdress with ribbons streaming down.  

The nearest I came to this was the full skirt  my dressmaker mother made me with  rows of different coloured ric-rac above the hem,  which I wore around the house  with one of my mother's pinnies and a cardboard headdress with the long flowing ribbons.  Unfortunately no photograph exists of me in this outfit. 

 Below is the Corpus Christi procession  in St. Gilgen, near Salzburg.


Shop displays  of national dress in Salzburg and surrounding towns:

 Musicians playing in the main square in Krakow, Poland.

 pipers at Floors Castle in the Scottish Borders.

Copyright © 2014 · Susan Donaldson.  All Rights Reserved

Click HERE to see how other Sepia Saturday bloggers are viewing this week's prompt. 

Sunday, 17 August 2014

A Blog Makeover Challenge

Go for a makeover!  Who can resist that prospect!

Alex Daw of Family Tree Frog has invited bloggers to join her in a different challenge - to look at each other's blogs, give feedback and make suggestions.

I had been thinking recently: 
  • Does my blog look rather tired, jaded,  and,  dare I admit it,  boring?"  
  • Does it need a facelift?   
My 4th blog anniversary is next week, so this is just the time to go for a refreshing makeover!

I should add that I am not particularly IT savvy as regards procedures and terminology, so it was an achievement to have got where I have with it! 

I have been trying out different colour themes, but have ended up with virtually the same as before, as I do like the clean look of blue.  Some time ago, I followed advice and moved my blog favourites and blog awards to a tab - and feel this has worked well.  in de-cluttering the side bar.

 I do like a suggestion from Sharon to Wendy to set up a Search widget and must look into this.

 So do give me your thoughts.  I look forward to hearing from fellow bloggers.  Susan.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Sepia Saturday - Letters Home From the Front

Sepia Saturday give bloggers an opportunity to share their family history and memories through photographs.

Stories of  my family's military service have featured before on my blog.  But I am pleased in this special commemorative year to make a further tribute to them through their moving letters, telegrams and cards home from the front

Dad with my mother (right) and my aunt (left)
I came across this telegram whilst sorting through papers following the deaths of my father and mother, John and Kathleen Weston nee Danson.   I love the design and the message, with the frank on the reverse showing it was sent on December 31st 1941.  

My father was then serving in the Codes and Cipher Branch of the Ministry of Defence in Whitehall, London and had witnessed the Battle of Britain over London earlier in the autumn of 1941.

Very movingly I also discovered a series of letters, still in their envelopes,  exchanged between my parents during 1944-45 when my father  was in France and Germany. Dad by this time was attached to the US forces under General Bradley.


In  a typed letter home, Dad asked "I hope you have managed to have Baby's photograph taken".

This is the photograph!


The telegram below was sent by my Uncle Charles to my father on 24th September 1945 following Charles release from a Japanese prisoner of war camp.   

Charles and my father John Weston were close as brothers and had nicknames for one another - "Ace" and Mel".   Unfortunately I failed to ask my father about the origin of these names and neither my cousin nor I have been able to find out any thin.  Were Ace and Mel popular radio characters for instance?  I would love to know, if anyone has any ideas.  

When he was back home in Leicester, Charles wrote a long letter to my father in November 1945 with details and thoughts on his experience as a POW.   It starts "Dear Mel" and is signed "Keep batting!" - Ace". 




Postcards from Flanders, sent by my grandfather William Danson to his family back home, are the most prized items in my collection of family memorabilia.   They are made more poignant by the penciled messages from William to his wife Alice and children Edith, Kathleen, Harry and baby Billy. 

Grandad was a taciturn labourer, He never spoke about the war and would never have put into words the sentiments expressed  in the cards he sent to his wife Alice and his messages were rather prosaic. 


Dear Alice, received your letter allright.  I have landed back at the Butt and am in the pink.  I have had a letter from Jennie and am glad you have word of Tom.  You loving husband, Billy xxx.  [7 February 1918]

The two Brussels scenes  below were sent to William's daughters, Edith and Kathleen (my mother) around Christmas 1918, when presumably he was waiting to be demobbed.



 ?8th December 1918 - Dear Kathleen, I am in the pink and hope mother and family are the same.  Will send a few more cards in a day or so.  From her Dad XXXXXX


24th December 1918 - Dear Edith, Just a card to let you know that I am in the best of health.  I am staying not from the ?? that is on the card.  From her Dad XXXXXX

"I had to assist the wounded at a dressing station and stuck to it for about 40 hours. It's blooming hard work being a stretcher bearer in the field."  
These were the words of my great uncle George Danson, written three weeks before he was killed on the Somme in a letter to his brother Frank the nearest in age of his seven brothers.  

 "At present we are abut 8 miles behind the firing line. I had to assist the wounded at a dressing station and stuck to it for about 40 hours. It's blooming hard work being a stretcher bearer in the field. On Friday I was in a big bombardment and will say it was like a continual thunder and lightening going off. As I write there are blooming big guns going off abut 50 yards away every few minutes. Don't I wish that all of us could get home. Wouldn't that be great, lad, there's a good time coming and I hope we shall all be there to join in."

"The good time" was not to be, for three weeks later, and a week after his 22nd birthday,  George was killed on 16th September 1916 at the Battle of the Somme, and buried in the Guards Cemetery, Les Boeufs, near Albert. 

Click HERE to find more other blogger tales of letters home

Copyright © 2014 · Susan Donaldson.  All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Wedding Wednesday - A 1913 Wedding with a Sad End

Looking through old newspapers gives us such a picture of another age,  and here is a poignant tale of a wedding in 1913 - with a sad ending.  

In the "Berwckshire News" of 4th March 1913,  I  came across a full page account of a society wedding, complete with portraits of the bride and groom  and great detail given on the guests,  the costumes worn, and the lavish  gifts.

The bride wore "a Princess robe of ivory velvet, with falling sleeves of applique, with pearl tassled ends.   The square decolletage being embroidered with pearls and Rhinestones.  The skirt drapery was caught up at one side showing an underskirt of lace. The train entirely of Brussels lace was lined with ivory chiffon.  The bridesmaids wore frocks of daffodil yellow satin, with soft ruffles of chiffon and sashes of blue to match blue suede shoes worn with shite silk stockings.  The costumes were comnpleted by white mob caps  tied with blue ribbons and they carried posies of daffodils."

The list of presents  painted a portrait of the age, ranging  from an opulent platinum and diamond watch,and crystal cigarette case set with rubies, to the slightly more mundane - a pair of cartridge pepper pots, an ivory tusk corkscrew (now very  environmentally incorrect!),  a fitted motor valise,  an  Irish bog oak carved inkstand, a  dark green Russian leather blotter. a mounted antelope  horn cigarette lighter, purple silk cushions embroidered in gold, a maeve parasol, a silver egg stand and  silver filigree  fan.  Of a more utilitarian nature were an umbrella, set of waistcoat buttons. a biscuit warmer, set of thimble, paste shoe buckles,  and a dog's biscuit tin. 

Like many newly married couples, the bride and groom ended up with numerous blotters, inkstands, photo frames, cut glass bowls, and butter dishes with knives.

The marriage had been delayed a few weeks, because the groom had suffered appendicitis. 

Perhaps this could be regarded as a portent.  For given the date of 1913,   further research gave this happy occasion a  poignancy in marking the end of an era.  Within three years the groom had been killed in Flanders, leaving a young widow and child.  

[Wedding Wednesday is one of many daily prompts from Geneabloggers to encourage bloggers to record family history] 

Monday, 4 August 2014

Black Sheep Sunday: A Public Apology?

You can pick out such fascinating titbits when reading old newspapers  and I came across this entry recently.  

Hawick Advertiser, 25 January 1868:


"I,  Mary Turnbull or Chisholm do hereby declare that I have falsely accused Margaret Thornburn or Wilson, wife of Archibald Wilson of improper conduct, and I do hereby apologies for the same.
Mary Turnbull, Ladylaw Place, Hawick
21st January 1868.”

The mind starts whirling as to what the accusation was!    We shall never know.    


Lookiong down on the mill town of Hawick

 The 1861 census for Hawick identifies an Archibald and Margaret Wilson aged 38 and 40 - no children listed.  Archibald's occupation was given as "wool puller"  in a town that was the centre of the Borders's textile industry.  

A Mary Turnbull married a James Chisholm in Hawick in 1856 - both popular surnames  in the Scottish Borders, so impossible to say if this was the perpetrator.  

Otherwise I have been unable to trace any further background on this story.  It does occur to me - how many ordinary people would be able to read the newspaper in 1868, so how "public" would be the apology. 

[Black Sheep Sunday is one of many daily prompts from to encourage bloggers to write about their family history]