Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Hidden in Plain Sight

Indexes and transcriptions don't tell the complete story of what's contained in a document. 

The actual document scan often includes interesting details that put a different light on an ancestor's life--hidden in plain sight, available only by looking at the image!

Draft registration reveals unusual occupation

In researching Charles Train Caldwell (1877-1929), my husband's 2c2r, I took a look at the scan of his WWI draft registration card. I can't remember ever seeing one typed before, which caught my eye.

What also caught my eye was the occupation: "prisoner."

Plus this man's signature, which looks as though he can barely write. All of these small clues helped me get a better sense of his life--and motivated me to dig deeper for more information.

Charles had married in 1901 and was the father of two sons. By 1910, he and his wife had divorced. When and why he wound up in prison by the time he was registered for military service in 1918, I don't yet know.

Civil war registration reveals physical condition

Charles's father was Sanford Caldwell (1843-1922). His US Civil War militia registration is on the last line of the above excerpt from an Indiana ledger book.

He's 19 years old, a farmer by occupation, and in the remarks column is a notation about his health: "diseased lungs, ex."

In other words, Sanford was exempt from service because of some sort of problem with his lungs. 

This detail was hidden in plain sight, visible only if I looked at the document rather than simply accepting the basic facts from the transcription.

Sanford's lung problem didn't prevent him from farming, marrying, having children, and living until the age of 79, by the way.

Always look at the original document if the image is available! 


  1. Yes, details are often overlooked in genealogy research, which will often lead to more clues! EVERYTHING is a clue in genealogy! Not only do you miss vital clues in indexes, but they may be transcribed incorrectly as well. Looks like you have some interesting information to dig further into! :)

  2. These are two great examples of the value of original documents. In digitzing documents, sometimes the original is discarded or incorrectly "keyed in". The reality is obscured forever.