True Tales: Lineage

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At the age of 54, Thomas Gibson slipped quietly away from this world on May 6, 1899. The end came at Boston City Hospital, and after a life of pain and sorrow, the hurting stopped. The details of Gibson’s life are very hazy, and yet today there are still people who care for this man and are tracing the moments he spent in what may well have been an extraordinary life. To a young man from Washington, D.C., discovering the roots and story of Thomas Gibson is a task that he relishes. In fact, this young man is also named Thomas Gibson, and although they were born more than a century apart, there is something in the bloodline that is irrefutably rooted in service to our nation.

Gibson’s pension records include over 100 documents.

Gibson’s pension records include over 100 documents.

There was a time when tracing a genealogy was a tedious task left to family members who started with a slip of paper, a bible perhaps or even the memory from a great-grandfather. Trips to local communities, cemeteries, libraries and archives were the order of the day. It would take weeks and months to receive a birth certificate, and parish records could be spotty at best. Tracing one’s lineage took time, money, and considerable effort. What is undeniable is the sense that we trace our ancestry because we are curious about who we are and where we came from.

Each year, thousands of people visit the Canton Historical Society either in person or virtually. Over 100 people a week visit the website and the nonprofit receives dozens of requests for genealogical research from all over the world. The tools that are used to answer many questions have been developed over the past decades and grow stronger with the advent of technology and sophisticated search engines. There are, of course, the bound volumes of births, deaths and marriages that help find relatives who lived in Canton and Stoughton from the beginnings of the community up through the early 1800s. Then there are the cemetery burial records for Canton Corner that have been painstakingly developed, complete with photographs and plot locations for thousands of the departed souls.

And just within the past month, through the generosity of donors, the society has upgraded the technology within the building to allow for access to the catalog of the collection of more than 6,000 photographs and 4,000 artifacts. Soon, researchers from around the globe will be able to peek inside the society and glimpse the work that has taken more than a century to collect and catalog. All to answer the question: who are we?

For Thomas Gibson, a 33-year-old former Marine captain who now lives in Washington, it was important that he chase down a story that left tantalizing details about a distant relative that served in the Civil War. All Gibson knew was that he may have been buried in Canton. That was pretty much all he had to go on. Gibson, a former artillery officer, is a tenacious and well-respected professional with a passion for history. He’s also smart! With degrees from the University of Virginia, Georgetown and Cornell, this is a young man with a future. And yet he also has his eyes on the past.

Gibson decided to take up the work begun by his father (also Thomas) and seek out the lore surrounding a Civil War veteran in his lineage. As a boy, Gibson had visited his grandparents in Canton and knew that the answers may still be here. A few weeks ago, Gibson sent an email to the Historical Society seeking answers.

The email read, “My father believes he is buried in Canton or the nearby area and has visited his supposed grave (do not know cemetery at this time). While the headstone cannot be read, there is a marking that says, “Revere Post.” The Revere Post of the G.A.R. is located in Canton. Unfortunately, I cannot find any family information on this man (birth date, death date, marriage, etc.). The G.A.R. website says that this post (Post 94) has superb resources through you. That is all I have.”

Gibson explained that his grandmother had used the resources of the society years ago to trace descendants on her side, the Hartwell family, back to the Mayflower. The Gibsons are now part of the General Society of Mayflower Descendants. Gibson now had his eye on joining the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War. Our research would help.

And so, the chase was on. Did Thomas Gibson have Canton connections, and if he was in the Civil War, what do we know about his service? So many questions to answer, and to the distress of our wives, Jim Roache and I took up the challenge.

Thomas Gibson served aboard the USS Sabine during the Civil War.

Thomas Gibson served aboard the USS Sabine during the Civil War.

The task took days to trace the story behind Thomas Gibson, our Civil War veteran. There were a few twists and turns and along the way the man began to emerge from the pages of history. We started with Fold3, a military database that has cataloged the records, stories, photographs, and personal documents of every major conflict in which Americans have fought and served. The database is a critical element on the path to discovery when it comes to all things military.

In this case, after hours of searching, a U.S. Civil War pension record yielded a treasure trove of over 100 pages that dated to the late 1800s and into the early part of the 20th century. Quickly we learned that Gibson was indeed a Civil War veteran, and so much more came to light. Gibson was a mariner from England who came to the United States sometimes after 1861. Arriving in New York, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy on October 20, 1864. It was a short term of service, and Gibson served aboard the U.S.S. Sabine, the Wilderness and the Ohio. Serving only 11 months, it is likely he was honorably discharged as a result of an injury or severe pain. The pension records include a notation that he had a general disability and was unable to perform manual labor. Gibson suffered from a variety of ailments, including kidney stones, kidney infections, shortness of breath, and heart disease. While in the Navy he suffered a fractured jaw, and that may well have led to the end of his service.

The pension records led to several interesting discoveries — not the least of which is the fact that Thomas Gibson was married three times in his life, and each time he married a woman by the name of Catherine. At age 22, Gibson married Catherine Reed from New Brunswick, Canada. This was her second marriage and she died in 1874 of pleurisy and emphysema. Then, in 1879 Gibson married Catherine Delaney, a second marriage for them both. Delaney died in 1880 of pneumonia. Finally, in October 1881, Gibson married Catherine Reynolds, whose first husband had died in an accidental drowning in Boston Harbor in 1877.

The third marriage to Catherine Reynolds happened in Boston, and three children were born. Thomas was born in 1887, George was born in 1888, and Charles was born in 1890. Gibson continued to live in Boston while his wife moved to Canton to her own house to be close to her sister, who had a home in Ponkapoag. Gibson ran a boarding house on Commercial Street in Boston that catered to sailors. The obituary that ran in the Canton Journal painted a beautiful scene in which “the body reposed in a black broadcloth covered casket over which was draped a large American flag. At the conclusion of the impressive exercises the body was borne to St. Mary’s Catholic cemetery at Canton Corner where the burial took place.”

The three boys grew up here, and after Gibson died, his widow applied for a pension. One year later in 1900, she too died and the rearing of the youngsters fell to their aunt Mary Bradshaw, who raised them as her own. The children each received monthly stipends from the Civil War Pension Board. There are still some descendants here today. Many people in Canton remember Bob Gibson, the Canton High School all-star baseball player, teacher and coach — a direct descendant of our Civil War veteran. And in Washington, D.C., Thomas Gibson, armed with this research, has just been told he has been admitted to the prestigious Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War. And the lineage continues.

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