You obtain an unexpected new treasure trove chock full of genealogical goodies, as I did last year when, at long last, I thought to look for a Union service record for my grandmother’s uncle Pat Ryan and discovered he and his widow Delilah Rinehart Ryan had filed pension applications for his Civil War service. You obtain a new genealogical treasure trove, and you have an entirely new genealogical problem on your hands. You’ve suddenly gone from knowing too little about one of your family members of the past to that dreaded internet scourge, TMI.
How to assimilate all this new information? How to communicate it in any coherent way to others? A military service record alone can usually be managed fairly well in one’s genealogical notes: he/she enlisted on this date, did service from this date to that date, was discharged (or killed), etc. This kind of information is neatly packaged, with a few added notes about what can be learned of the military engagements or duties of the unit in which your family member served.
With pension files, it’s often quite different. The wealth of information they frequently contain can be downright bewildering. (This posting is, by the way, an appeal to you tonce again o consider the possibility that people you’re researching in your family tree may have left such records behind; in your leave-no-stone-unturned approach to genealogical research, you overlook military pension files to your great loss).
In the case of Pat and Delilah Ryan’s combined pension file, there are so many names in the file long familiar to me, and such thick interconnections between those names, that I have difficulty explaining to anyone else what all this new material means. It’s as if I’m inside the material, seeing connections that will not be so evident to others who did not grow up hearing the names of the people with whom I’m interacting as I read these historical documents — and it’s difficult for that reason to present the material to anyone who doesn’t share my longstanding associations with these folks in my family tree, and who don’t see the connections between them that are obvious to me.
One second preliminary proviso before I start reporting to you some more information about the Civil War pension files of Pat Ryan and his widow Delilah: since I obtained these files only last year, I have not had a chance to do really systematic research about some of the new people and new information I encounter in these files. Like many family historians today, I have relied primarily on the internet, on sites like Ancestry, FamilySearch, Rootsweb, and Google, to try to follow initial leads opened to me by these pension files.
Some of the information I’m about to offer to you from the pension files, augmented by preliminary internet searches, needs further verification — and I will tell you that forthrightly as I report. Some of it requires traditional genealogical research that goes beyond internet searching, e.g., taking a marriage record indexed in a statewide collection of county marriage records at a site like Ancestry or FamilySearch, and hunting down (and reading) the original record in the county marriage book in which it’s recorded. I have not yet done as much of that research as I need to do with some of the new names I’ve discovered as part of a wider circle of people connected to my Ryan family from the 1860s through the 1890s. I will do it when I am next at a genealogical resource center where I have wider access to microfilmed and digitized copies of the records I need to consult.
And now on to one of the most surprising discoveries I made when I obtained these two Civil War pension files: as I reported to you in my last posting, my family had long known that Pat Ryan was married to Delilah, daughter of Conrad Rinehart and Sarah Harriet Evins. What we had not known, in the past several generations, at least, is that, before he married Delilah, he married a Spann widow, Rosanna Spann, whose husband John H. Spann served with Pat in the 3rd Arkansas Cavalry (Union Army) during the Civil War. My family had known, and I had verified by documentation, that Pat Ryan and his wife Delilah adopted an orphan named Allen Spann, who appears in Pat and Lilah’s household on the 1880 census with his name given as Rufus Ryan, aged five.
Allen Spann’s World War I draft registration card, which he filed 12 September 1918 at Little Rock, gives his full name as Rufus Allen Spann, and states that he was born 14 February 1874. Allen Spann and wife Mary Ellen Waldo Spann are buried at the Orion Baptist cemetery in Grant County, Arkansas, where Patrick and Delilah Rinehart Ryan are buried. Their joint tombstone also gives Allen’s name as Rufus Allen Spann, as does his obituary in the 7 May 1952 edition of the Arkansas Gazette [Little Rock], which is transcribed on his Find a Grave memorial page maintained by Orion Historian, who has uploaded a photo of the tombstone to the page. The memorial page links to the pages of Patrick Ryan and Delilah Rinehart Ryan as Allen Spann’s parents.
As I noted in my last posting (see the link above), after both Pat Ryan and wife Delilah had died, R.A. Spann petitioned for guardianship of another orphan Pat and Lilah had raised, Richard Murdock. His petition was filed in Grant County on 19 Oct. 1896. My family knew from family stories, and I had verified these stories with documentation, that there was a Spann connection to Pat Ryan’s family, in that Pat Ryan and his wife Delilah had adopted an orphan named Allen Spann. What none of our family stories about Pat Ryan remembered, however, was that he had married a widow Rosanna Spann prior to marrying Delilah Rinehart, and that Rosanna’s husband John H. Spann had been a comrade of Pat’s in the 3rd Arkansas Cavalry during the Civil War.
John H. Spann married Rosanna Hill in Itawamba County, Mississippi, on 4 January 1855. Rosanna appears on the 1850 census in Itawamba County in the household of her brother Asa Hill. The census gives her age as thirteen, suggesting she was born about 1837, and gives her place of birth as North Carolina. The census does not state that Rosanah (as it spells her name) is Asa’s sister, but as I noted in my previous posting, the 29 January 1894 testimony of Asa’s widow Elizabeth Hill in the combined pension files of Pat and Delilah Ryan states that Rosanna was a sister of Elizabeth’s deceased husband Asa Hill.
John H. Spann is in the household of his widowed mother Mary M. Spann in Itawamba County in 1850. The next family on this census is that of William Ingle and wife Levina, whom I’ll discuss in a subsequent posting. In this household is Levina’s daughter by her previous husband William Hodges, Levina Elizabeth Hodges. This is the Elizabeth Hill who appears in Pat and Delilah Ryan’s pension file stating that Rosanna, wife of Patrick Ryan, had previously married a Spann and was Elizabeth’s sister-in-law. Elizabeth’s mother Levina was Levina Spann, a sister to John H. Spann who married Rosanna Hill, the sister of Asa Hill, who married Levina Elizabeth Hodges. I’ll provide more information about these intricate interconnections in a subsequent posting.
A number of family trees at Ancestry and other online sites report that John H. Spann died in Pulaski County, Arkansas, in August 1865. This is one of those pieces of information I’ve found online that I have not yet verified, as I try to fill in information about the people I’ve encountered in Pat and Delilah Ryan’s Civil War pension files. No online tree I’ve found offering this date and place of death for John H. Spann cites a documentary source, and I haven’t been able to turn up a documentary source via online searches.
John was alive on 30 May 1864 when he filed a statement at Camp Murphy in Little Rock that’s found in the Union Provost Marshals’ File of Papers Relating to Individual Citizens. The statement declares that a horse of his was then in possession of Captain Hand and Major Bennett of 11th Arkansas Cavalry, but that John retained ownership of the horse (see the image at the head of this posting). Witnessing this statement was John B(enjamin) Hill, a brother of John’s wife Rosanna Hill, who married John’s sister Mary Ann Spann.
This document is fascinating in that it appears to link John H. Spann to Pat Ryan in yet another way: as I stated in a previous posting, Pat’s military papers for his service in Co. K, 3rd Arkansas Cavalry, indicate that his specific function in this particular unit was to serve as its wagoner or teamster. In fact, several cards in his service packet state that Pat Ryan brought to his service in this military unit a horse and other equipment connected to the horse, which may well have included a wagon, since he’s listed as the wagoner of his unit.
One more fact I need to mention as I set the stage for further discussion of the new (to me, at least) connections between the Ryan family of the Orion community in Grant County, Arkansas, in the nineteenth century and the Spann family of the same community: a brother of John H. Spann, James Jasper Spann, enlisted in Co. K of the 3rd Arkansas Cavalry on the same day that Pat Ryan enlisted: both James J. Spann and Patrick Ryan enlisted in Little Rock on 8 November 1864. The 1850 federal census record I cited previously, showing John H. Spann living in the household of his mother Mary M. Spann in Itawamba County, Mississippi, also shows John’s brother James in the household.
There’s more to come about the intricate Spann-Ryan connections that are increasingly evident to me as I mine the material I find in Pat and Delilah Ryan’s combined Civil War pension files — more about the roots of this Spann family in Hardin County, Tennessee, from which the Batchelor family that also married into the Ryan family came to Arkansas; more about the roots of the Rinehart family in Tishomingo County, Mississippi, which is contiguous to Itawamba, the county to which the Spanns moved from Hardin County, Tennessee; more about the once curious, now understandable, fact that Patrick Ryan and wife Delilah were living next door to Hezekiah M. Spann in Pulaski County, Arkansas, in 1870, etc.
For now, I’d like to close with a brief footnote about the pluses and minuses of using the internet to search for genealogical information. For many of us who began our family history work in the dark ages of typed or handwritten letters to county clerks (with the obligatory S.A.S.E. always enclosed), of poring over dusty volumes in dark libraries, and of visits to far-flung courthouses, the most obvious advantage of online research is that so much is now available at our fingertips. That’s especially advantageous for family historians such as me who do not live in areas in which good genealogical research centers with rich record repositories are nearby.
But there’s a flip side to all of this “easily available” information: much of it is junk genealogy. Much of it is, as I’ve stated in this posting, “information” that’s not in any way documented, so that its source — if there is, indeed, any bona fide source for it — is difficult or impossible to ascertain.
This has always been the case with printed and published genealogies, of course. The difference the internet makes is that junk genealogy can be disseminated widely and instantly in a way that printed/published genealogies in the past were not so quickly and widely disseminated. This causes bizarre misinformation to replicate at the touch of a computer button, and combating all that bizarre misinformation is an increasingly arduous, if not impossible, task.
I’m all for judicious use of the internet to do the kind of research I’ve done in the past year on the Spann family, after I learned more of this family’s connection to my Ryan family. By “judicious,” I mean research that is not uncritical, research that looks for documentation of information offered online, research that notes gaps in online genealogies and seeks to fill those in with real, traditional genealogical work that goes to the sources. By “judicious,” I also mean that when you don’t have documentation of a piece of information you’re sharing online, it behooves you to say that out loud — as I’ve done above when I discuss the possibility that John H. Spann died in 1865.
As many other genealogists do, I find it helpful to keep a must-follow-up file in which I note pieces of “information” like that piece of information, and tell myself that the next time I’m visiting a genealogical research center that may well have the documentation I’m seeking, I intend to follow up and search for that record. Or I may do further research to discover where I need to write for documents or files that might have the piece of information I’m seeking — or whom I need to email to find it.
It’s an ongoing search, isn’t it, no matter which ancestor we’re researching at any given time?
This is the fourth posting in a nine-part series about this topic. The previous posting in this series is here, and the next posting in the series is here. That posting will end with a link taking you to the next in the series, if you’re interested in following this series to the end.
 John H. Spann’s Civil War service record is in NARA M399, RG 94, Compiled service records of volunteer Union soldiers who served in organizations from the State of Arkansas. John H. Spann enlisted at Pine Bluff on 22 November 1863, aged 29. John’s listing in this set of documents does not list the unit in which he served in the 3rd Arkansas Cavalry.
 1880 federal census, Simpson twp., Grant Co., AR (ED 100, p. 232, fam./dwel. 39).
 NARA M1509, World War I Selective Service System Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918, Pulaski Co., Arkansas, 1686.
 Rufus Allen Spann, Find a Grave memorial page, Orion Baptist cemetery, Grant Co., Arkansas, # 95963332.
 Grant Co., Arkansas, Probate Bk. B, p. 124. On 20 October 1896, Pat and Delilah Ryan’s brother-in-law George R. Batchelor, husband of Pat’s sister Catherine Ryan Batchelor, relinquished guardianship of D.R. Murdock, for which he had given bond with James Baxley, and prayed that R.A. Spann be made guardian (ibid., pp. 132-3). On 18 October 1897, R.A. Spann filed an annual settlement of D.R. Murdock’s guardianship (ibid., p. 158).
 See “Mississippi Marriages, 1800-1911″ at FamilySearch, citing FHL microfilm 901,649. This transcription of the marriage record shows Rosanna’s name as Rosanah Hill and transcribes John H. Spann’s name John H. Spance.
 1850 federal census, Itawamba Co., Mississippi, district 6 (p. 361B, dwelling 807, family 815, 25 October).
 1850 federal census, Itawamba Co., Mississippi, district 6 (p. 355A, dwelling 714, family 621, 10 October).
 Ibid., p. 355B, 715/722, 19 October.
 NARA, M345, RG 109, Union Provost Marshals’ File of Papers Relating to Individual Civilians, 1861–1867, Arkansas file 726.
 Patrick Ryan Civil War service record, NARA M399: Compiled Service Records of Volunteer Union Soldiers Who Served in Organizations from the State of Arkansas; RG 94: Compiled service records of volunteer Union soldiers who served in organizations from the State of Arkansas.
 James J. Spann Civil War service record, ibid.