As a historian and genealogist, one of the first things you learn is to be very wary of family histories. Police use the slogan “Trust but verify,” which is a good motto to apply to family history stories. Trust the story but before retelling the story search for independent sources to verify claims made in the story. The more verified items in the story, the better.

As a young boy, when he was first or second grade, my father, James C. Wade, was told a story by his grandfather. Dad was born in 1924 and his grandpa, Henry Marion Wade, was 71 years old when dad was born. When Henry told the story to Dad, he was in his late 70s.

The story essentially went as follows: In a battle with the Sioux Indians, Henry saw “Sitting Bull” astride his horse on the top of a nearby hill. Henry licked his fingers and then wet the front sight of this Henry Repeating Rifle—a cheaper version of a Winchester. The purpose of wetting the front sight is not known. Grandpa Henry took careful aim and pulled the trigger. “Sitting Bull” fell off his horse and rolled down the hill dead.

There are a number of problems with that story. First, there is no evidence that Henry was ever in the Army. Second, the Sioux nation never was involved in battles in central Kansas or southeastern Iowa. Third, and most important, “Sitting Bull” died in 1890 on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation when he resisted being arrested by the Indian Agency police.
Unfortunately for my father, he went to school and bragged about his grandfather shooting “Sitting Bull.” His teacher pointed out the flaws in Henry’s story but Dad adamantly insisted this story was true because Grandpa Henry had told him. The teacher called dad’s mom, Maudie Debus Wade, and discussed how dad insisted the story was true.

When Dad got home, Grandma Wade sat him and great-grandpa Henry down and had a talk. Henry eventually admitted the story was untrue. Trusted but untrue.

At my 50th class reunion, cousins Cheryl and Linda Bristol both mentioned that they had been told they were related to Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of the “Little House on the Prairies” books. They believed the story but had not verified the information. I did the research and verified that they are related to Laura Ingalls Wilder. They now can say that they are related to her instead of they “might be related.” Trusted and verified.

The only conversation I had with my Grandpa, George Moses Hoyt, about his father, Warner Thomas Hoyt, was that Warner was shot during the Civil War. Grandpa Hoyt said, “Pop was shot in the hand while riding a caisson at Appomattox.” He then explained that Warner had recognized a friend and waved to him when he got hit.

Great-grandpa Warner died when Grandpa Hoyt was only six, so I had serious doubts about this story. I did not believe that there was any way for me to verify it.

Fortunately, the State of New York legislature ordered the township clerks to document the service of the men from their township who served in the Civil War. Warner’s listing showed his birth date which gave me the month and day he was born. I only knew the year. It gave me his mother’s first name, which I didn’t have. It had his enlistment date and location and listed the battles in which the unit participated. The unit was the 125th Infantry Regiment. There was also an indication that he was transferred. It then said, “Shot in the right hand by Minnie ball in the Second Battle of Ream’s Station on August 25, 1864, permanently disabled.” It showed he was discharged in June 1865.

This confirmed he was shot in the hand. Unfortunately, it indicated a transfer but did not indicate what unit. A caisson is a cannon’s ammunition wagon, which would indicate the unit was artillery. Through other sources it appears that he may have been transferred to the 1st New York Light Artillery but this was only a maybe.

Reviewing the Second Battle of Ream’s Station revealed that the battle was fought along the Appomattox River which flows southeastward from Appomattox, Virginia to Ream’s Station and then on the ocean. This story was mostly confirmed but not entirely. Trusted and mostly verified.

When doing historical or genealogical research, seek multiple sources for as many facts as possible.

Copies of the Almont Historical Society’s various books can be purchased by contacting Jim Wade at 810-796-3355 or or stopping by the museum on Saturdays from 1-4 p.m.