What does Memorial Day and family travel have to with each other? Well, let me tell you. Memorial Day is a day that we remember those who died in the American armed forces. The federal holiday started after the American Civil War, when Union veterans would decorate the graves of their fallen comrades. Originally called Decoration Day, it soon spread to include all fallen soldiers across the American military branches. The history buff that I am, my own family history has always been extremely intriguing to me and thanks to some research I’ll share with you how Memorial Day inspired family travel.
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Andersonville, Georgia. A historic site in the southwest of the state, admittedly has not been on the top of my travel bucket list. A memorial to American prisoners of war, Andersonville is the only park in the National Park System of its kind. According to Congress legislation, Andersonville is “to provide an understanding of the overall prisoner of war story of the Civil War, to interpret the role of prisoner of war camps in history, to commemorate the sacrifice of Americans who lost their lives in such camps, and to preserve the monuments located within the site.”
Discovering Family History:
I’ve always been told stories of various family members’ services to our country. I’ve had family in every branch of the military and have heard many of their personal stories. My Grandpa Grouch, who served in the Air Force teased me about the existence of tiny Aliens that crawl in kids’ ears. Yes, traumatizing, yet fascinating. I’ve heard about my Uncle Mike and Uncle Wendell’s close calls in Vietnam. My dad has told me his grandpa’s (my great grandpa Weir) stories from the Spanish American War. My dad as a child would touch the squishy part of his grandpa’s chest where a missing rib should be, a battle wound that became entertainment for grandchildren for years to come. The tales of amazing men go on and on in my family, but these men had not died in battle. The men I know and loved, lived to be veterans, but there has been a new discovery about my family that has inspired a new adventure.
Ties to the Civil War:
I have always been told I had a grandpa that served in the Civil War. I heard he died as a prisoner of war, but didn’t have his name or the name of the prison. These were gaps in my personal history that I have been hungry for years to discover. Well, now I have! Thanks to a friend of my dad, his hobby is to research ancestry and he started to see what he could find out about my dad’s side. Within a day, I had the information I have wanted to know all my life. I learned that it was my Great-Great-Great Grandpa who fought in the Civil War for the Union. He was about 37 years old when he joined the 13th Pennsylvania Cavalry also known as the Irish Dragoons. Sadly, he was wounded in battle and taken as a prisoner of war where he died of Scorbutus (scurvy) in 1864.
I finally had a name and the name of the prison. His name was William and he died at Andersonville. I learned that my Great-Great Grandpa (Sam) was only 13 years old when his father died in the war. Interestingly, William’s best friend, also a Union soldier, ended up marrying his widow, my Great-Great-Great Grandma Elizabeth.
I now have names, places, stories, and history – my history. This discovery has made the stories more painful and more real. In light of this new information, Memorial Day has a new meaning for me. Memorializing a fallen soldier I have never met, yet feel strongly connected. A soldier that fell during the war that is responsible for creating the holiday we celebrate today.
Family Travel Inspired:
I have a location as well as where his tombstone rest, and now I know where I want to visit next Memorial Day. Most likely I have a gentleman named Dorence Atwater to thank for this, because it was he who recorded a register of those who died at Andersonville. Before getting moved to action, he secretly copied the register of 13,000 names, which may be the reason I was able to find my Great-Great-Great Grandpa today.
This summer, I will be taking my family to Andersonville, Georgia as part of our #HotMamaDoesAmerica epic family road trip. We will actually get to visit the grave of my fallen Great-Great-Great Grandpa William, a Union Soldier in the Civil War. Wow. Even saying that is a trip! I want us to take a photo by the gravestone that bares my surname; the name I have given to my daughter as a first name. I have been to many old graveyards and read the names of old tombstones, but never have I had a connection like this. What a moment it will be for my family; for my dad!
For the kids:
I don’t go anywhere without my babies in tow and I know that a prisoner of war memorial may sound too somber of a destination for little ones, but let me spin it. I feel that is it important to expose our kids to the happenings of our world. With fear comes hate, with knowledge comes understanding.
Plus, Andersonville offers plenty of activities for kids to lighten up the day. There is the Junior Ranger program for kids 8 and over, where upon completion of activities, they receive an official Andersonville Junior Ranger badge and Key to Freedom patch. There is also the Travel Clara Barton activity, scouting activities and trading cards.
That’s A Wrap!
You don’t have to have a direct family connection to learn about war and those who have fallen. In fact, I encourage all of you to do something meaningful this Memorial Day. Watch a film or documentary. Visit a Memorial park. Do a little research, you never know what you might find hiding your own family history. One family name is how Memorial Day inspired family travel to Andersonville, Georgia. What will it inspire you to do?
Memorial Day is not about backyard barbecues and getting turned-up. It is about remembering those who fought and died for their country, for their families, for you.
Do you have stories of fallen soldiers in your family? Please share.
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