Friday, September 3, 2021

Fatal Family Ties--S.C. Perkins

DEBORAH CROMBIE: How many fictional murders (or real life murders, in fact) do NOT have some sort of family tie lurking in the background of the story? Think about it! We love reading about families (we all have them!) and how they can go wrong. And who knows more about families than a genealogist? Here's my friend and fellow Texan Stephanie Perkins to share the inspiration for her latest mystery featuring genealogist Lucy Lancaster.


 

The Civil War-Era Mystery Behind My Cozy Mystery

 S.C.Perkins

I first had the idea for Fatal Family Ties back in 2013, when I read an article in Smithsonian Magazine about the two oldest-living Civil War veterans. It was, in fact, an excerpt from a non-fiction book about the last remaining veterans of the war between the states. In this tale of two soldiers, one fought for the North, one for the South. It was an interesting piece that became truly fascinating for me at the very end with two sentences that threw a punch at the reader:

One of them indeed was a soldier, but one, according to the best evidence, was a fake. One of them had been living a great big lie. 


As it was an excerpt, the piece never stated—or even truly hinted at—whether it had been the Union soldier or the Confederate soldier who had pulled the wool over everyone’s eyes. Which one had been falsely feted, praised, and made into an icon of sorts for being the last survivor of a heinous and pointless war. I finished the article wondering which man had lied, and that wondering turned into the plot for a mystery.

Back in 2013, I was already having ideas about creating a cozy mystery series that involved history in some way. Making my protagonist, Lucy, a genealogist would come not long thereafter, thank goodness. And I knew I wanted to make this article the basis of a genealogical mystery for Lucy to solve. I would get my chance six years later, with the third book in my Ancestry Detective series.

 At first, I planned to more closely follow the idea from the article. Essentially, Lucy would be contracted to discover which of the two men was lying by doing deep research into their military service records. After all, proving the Civil War service records of a soldier isn’t as easy or straightforward as you’d think. While around the turn of the twentieth century, the War Department faithfully recreated the records they had into what’s known as compiled military service records (CMSRs), they could only work with what they had to start with. Record keeping had been shoddy in the Civil War, and records were often lost or destroyed.


As such, there’s very few instances where a descendant can say for certain that their ancestor fought in a particular Civil War battle. A genealogist—amateur or professional—must find multiple sources that give their claims credible proof. And even then, sometimes it still can’t be considered conclusive.

Regardless, I loved the idea of Lucy having to flex her skills as a genealogist to prove which soldier had been truthful about his service. Except there was an issue. Even fictitiously, I had to choose either a Union man or Confederate man as the real former soldier, and the other as the liar.

As a Southerner myself with deep Northern roots—and with ancestors who fought on both sides during the Civil War—I confess I didn’t especially care to make that choice. So, I considered making both soldiers in question as having fought on the same side. (Either side; I would flip a coin.) Or I could have Lucy prove they were both honest men, or quite the opposite. It could have gone in several different ways, all of which were fun to think about and flesh out a bit.  

Trying all these different plot directions eventually solved my original conundrum for me. As it turned out, the two-soldiers idea got in the way of the overall mystery. It also affected a sub-plot I’d had in my mind since day one, in that I wanted the descendant of one of the soldiers to hire Lucy, and she would be Lucy’s former co-worker. (One that hadn’t been overly nice to Lucy when they’d worked together, either.) I wanted to see Lucy in a secondary place of adversity and see how she fared while she worked out the truth about her former co-worker’s ancestor—and solved a murder, naturally.

Thus, my book became about one former Civil War soldier, not two. And the main reason I made him a Confederate soldier was simply because my books are set in Texas, and the descendants of the soldier had stayed and branched out in Texas. While there were men in Texas who fought for the Union—and I did consider this as an option—it was a rarity that would have made Lucy’s researching easier in a way instead of harder. And what would be the fun of making things easier for my plucky genealogist, right?

Even so, I still had to decide. Was my Civil War-era character lying about being a soldier in the war, or was he telling the truth? I’ll confess I didn’t truly know for a long time. I knew which way I hoped it would go, but in the end, I just kept writing and let the story work itself out. And I hope you’ll be happy with where it goes!

 As for the two men from the Smithsonian Magazine piece? Sure, the book would have told me which man fought in the Civil War and which one didn’t, but there’s also a part of me that doesn’t really want to know now. I kind of like thinking of it simply as the mystery I first read in 2013 that gave me a great premise for Fatal Family Ties in 2021. And to this particular mystery, I got to write the ending that satisfied me most.  

 

S.C. Perkins's Fatal Family Ties is the captivating third mystery in the Ancestry Detective series, in which Texas genealogist Lucy Lancaster deals with murders in both the past and present.

Lucy is just about to tuck into a plate of tacos at her favorite Austin joint, Big Flaco’s, when she gets an unexpected visit from her former―and least-favorite―co-worker. Camilla Braithwaite hasn’t gotten much friendlier since the last time Lucy saw her, but that doesn't stop her from asking a favor. In her hand is a newspaper feature on an ancestor, a civil war corporal―and a liar, according to the article. Charles Braithwaite is depicted as a phony and a deserter, and Camilla wants Lucy’s help clearing his name.

Lucy would prefer to spend her free time with her new beau, special agent Ben Turner, but takes the case, making no promises that Camilla will like the outcome of her investigation. Camilla leads Lucy to the Texas History Museum, where their first clue is a triptych painting, passed down in the Braithwaite family for generations, one panel of which has disappeared. But before Lucy can get much further, a member of the Braithwaite family is murdered in his own bed, and another panel of the painting found missing.

There are no shortage of suspects among the Braithwaite clan―including Camilla herself. This case will take Lucy to Houston and back again as she works to find the truth, and catch an elusive killer.

 



S.C. Perkins is a fifth-generation Texan who grew up hearing fascinating stories of her ancestry and eating lots of great Tex-Mex. Her first book, Murder Once Removed, was the winner of the 2017 Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery competition, and an Agatha Award Nominee. She resides in Houston and, when she’s not writing, she’s likely outside in the sun or on the beach. 

DEBS: This is such a fascinating story! It makes me wish I knew if anyone in my family had fought in the Civil War, on either side.  REDS and readers, do you have Civil War veterans in your family   

#giveaway! STEPHANIE WILL GIVE A COPY OF FATAL FAMILY TIES TO A COMMENTER!  

And RED ALERT: the winner of Maddie Day's NO GRATER CRIME is Pat D. Email your snail mail address to Edith at edithmaxwell dot com.

The winner of Alyssa's MURDER AT WAKEHURST is Judi. Email your snail mail address to alyssamaxwellauthor at gmail dot com.

74 comments:

  1. This is so fascinating, Stephanie . . . I have no idea if anyone in our family fought in the Civil War [there were no battles fought in New Jersey but more than eighty thousand soldiers from the state created some fifty-two regiments and fought in the war], but it certainly would be fun to find out!
    Your book sounds fascinating and I’m looking forward to finding out just what Lucy discovers . . . .

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    1. Hi, Joan! I agree it's so fun to find out! And you might end up with a Civil War ancestor from a state where you never knew you had ancestors. I have one from Louisiana from my dad's side and we have no ties to the state otherwise. I find it all so fascinating, too! And thank you so much about my book -- I hope you'll enjoy the read!

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  2. A great-great grandfather (maybe another great or two in there) was a doctor on the union side during the Civil War.

    Thanks for sharing the background on your new mystery. And congrats!

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    1. Hi, Mark! That's really cool. Though maybe not so much for your ancestor. I bet he saw some truly horrific things, and many an issue that he couldn't treat for lack of supplies and antibiotics, etc. No doubt he had some stories! p.s. If you're in your 30s, he's likely your 4x great-grandfather. If 40s, 3x great-grandfather. But you never know! It all depends on when everyone had kids. :) Thanks for commenting!

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  3. S.C. Perkins, welcome to Jungle Reds! I began my genealogical journey half my lifetime ago. And I made some surprising discoveries like where some of my ancestors came from.

    Regarding the Civil War, all I know is there are ancestors' names in Civil War records like dates. No idea if they were wounded. I know my 3x great grandfather died in 1867 in Jefferson ? county, Indiana, leaving behind a widow and children.

    There may have been an ancestor who was involved in the Underground Railroad. His family's house and church were involved in the UR and helped slaves escape to freedom before the Civil War.

    Congratulations on your new novel.

    Diana

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    1. Hi, Diana! That would be so interesting to find out if your ancestor really was involved in the Underground Railroad! Regarding your other CW ancestors, have you found any of their compiled military service record (CMSR) abstracts on Fold3[dot]com or similar? Some don't have CMSRs due to all the shoddy record-keeping, of course, and that's so frustrating. One of mine doesn't have anything and I'd love to know more of what happened to him. I'd love to know what happened to ALL of my 16 3x great-grandfathers! That's what being fascinated genealogy does to you, right? I have a feeling you understand this completely!

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  4. My great-great grandfather served in the U.S. Colored Troop during the Civil War

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    1. There's a whole load of history in that sentence! Have you been following the news about the new Buffalo Soldier statue they're installing at West Point? So much important history gets ignored or romanticized away unless people stand up and remind the world what happened.

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    2. Fascinating, Dru. Do you know much more about him?

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    3. Dru, I wonder if he served with the man who owned a farm near ours in Kentucky? Our friends have bought several old farms that abut one another, and include several family cemeteries. They had genealogical research done and found descendants of the farmer of one of the farms who also served in the U.S. Colored Troop. Our friends invited them to a Memorial Day ceremony after the cemetery was cleaned up.

      It was fascinating. Six family members came in three separate groups, none of the groups being aware of the others' existence. One of the woman, a very proper and elegant retired teacher, had lots of research, including photos of old clippings about the farmer. He was a handsome man, and one of the family members of today resembled him remarkably strongly. And all of the members, especially the women, were professionals, some with their own businesses, with advanced degrees.

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    4. Hi, Dru! Wow! That's fascinating! A very brave man, no doubt. Do you know anything more about him?

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    5. Yes, He was medically discharge because he got shot in the leg. I found his grave in upstate NY.
      Karen, he was in the 8th Reg

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    6. Gigi, no, I haven't heard about that. I will google for more info.

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    7. Dru, how wonderful that you found his grave. More stories like his need to be told.

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    8. Gigi -- somehow I missed the news about the Buffalo Soldier statue at West Point! Thanks for alerting me to it. Such fascinating history there. And glad there's a statue in their honor!

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  5. I have no idea if anyone in my family fought in the civil war. I am quite sure someone did as we were in NC. I love the history and look forward to reading this one!

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    1. Thank you so much! Yep, if your family came from NC, you've likely got a Civil War ancestor. Depending on your age -- and if both sides of your family were in America during the 1860s -- you have somewhere between 8 and 32 male ancestors who would have been of the right age to fight in the war. So the likelihood you have a CW ancestor is pretty high!

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  6. What a fascinating story, Stephanie - and good job making it your own!

    I can't find any direct-line Maxwells who served in the Civil War - they were busy being doctors in Indiana.

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    1. Edith, I wonder if your ancestors in Indiana met my ancestors who lived in Indiana? They lived in Madison, Jefferson County and Clay township, Hamilton County.

      Diana

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    2. Hi, Edith, and thank you so much! No doubt those doctors were very needed, Civil War or not, so I'm glad they were there, taking care to ensure future generations!

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  7. Such a great premise! And you explained so clearly the way a mystery writer thinks and makes choices. thanks for visiting!

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    1. Hi and thank you so much! I absolutely love the process and all the twist and turns we writers go through to make a book!

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  8. This is so fascinating. In addition to your book, I now want to track down the original and find out who was the fraud. The Civil War has always fascinated and horrified me in equal part. I had no ancestor on either side as mine all arrived after the war.

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    1. Here's the link again, Kait. (I did put a shortcut to it in the post.)
      https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/the-last-civil-war-veterans-who-lived-to-be-over-100-or-did-they-180947577/

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    2. Hi, Kait! Thank you so much! I meet so many people with Civil War ancestors that it's almost as interesting to meet one whose family wasn't here! And I'm sure there's times you're glad of that, especially when it comes to the truly horrifying aspects of the war. The South's reasons for going to war being a big one. p.s. If you find out which man lied about his service, don't tell me, OK? Even thought there's a part of me that really, really wants to know! :)

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  9. I had Civil War combatants on both sides of my family. The ones from Illinois fought for the Union. Family legend has it that one great-great grandfather from Missouri fought for the Confederates in the Battle of Pea Ridge, Arkansas, and was killed in combat. However, my grandfather told me his father told him that he ran into that great-great grandfather (his father) years later, living in Arkansas with a whole new wife and family. Apparently he not only deserted his regiment, he deserted his wife and children back in Missouri!

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    1. Whoa, Gigi, that sounds like the plot for another genealogy mystery!

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    2. This is such a great story. It must have been hard to find deserters in those days.

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    3. Hi, Gigi! I agree with all the others -- this is one amazing story that could be a plot of any mystery! I've heard quite a few stories about ancestors having multiple families -- I think it may have happened a lot more than anyone would want it to -- but your family's story sounds particularly interesting. Don't you just wonder what both sides were thinking? Especially his family and children in Missouri? Wow -- my writer's mind is already buzzing with ideas!

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  10. I love how the story unfolded in the way it wanted to - and how you let it. I admit, I kinda want to find that Smithsonian Magazine article now although I also see why you wouldn't do so.

    As far as I know, I don't have any Civil War veterans in my family.

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    1. Here's the link, Liz. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/the-last-civil-war-veterans-who-lived-to-be-over-100-or-did-they-180947577/

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    2. Hi, Liz! Thank you so much! There's a part of me that really wants to know which soldier was the fraud, too! Maybe one day I'll look and find out for sure.

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  11. Hi Stephanie, welcome back to JRW and congratulations on the third book in your series which is now sitting on the top of my TBR shelf. Thanks for giving us all a glimpse into the mystery writer thought process! It is fascinating to see where you found the idea for a story and how you figured out how to use it.

    I love this series and recommend it to all the "cozy" lovers here. Lucy is a smart, resourceful protagonist with a remarkable vocation. I always begin with book 1 because you meet the recurring characters and see their relationships develop. Special Agent Ben Turner, Lucy's new beau is another character you'll enjoy getting to know. (Stephanie, I have your book already;-))

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    1. Hi, Judy! Oh, thank you thank you! You have no idea how much your comments mean to me. I'm truly honored you would recommend my books -- and that you like Ben! I love writing Lucy's and Ben's relationship, especially the banter! Thank you so much again! xo

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  12. More books! And I love genealogy, so like Judy, I'll be starting with book 1. I like how you let the story determine where it would go and didn't force a preconceived plot onto it, Stephanie.

    Yes to ancestors on both sides of the conflict during the Civil War. Some fought for the Confederacy because they were promised they could stay in the mountains and defend their homes. Instead, they were poorly trained and sent into battle--with two of them ending up in a prisoner of war camp in Chicago, where the younger died. Two others, ordered to serve the confederacy, sent in 'sick notes' and deserted. Then there are the widows' pension accounts--lots of stories can be told from genealogical records!

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    1. Hi, Flora! Thank you so much! I very much hope you'll enjoy the books! And I love that you know so much about your CW ancestors. Those POW camps were awful from all I read. And the widows' pension files are incredibly interesting--and often sad. So many struggled; I was always glad when I came across a widow who got her husband's pension!

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  13. Fascinating, Stephanie! I can't wait to read this one, but the way the story unfolded for you is just so interesting. At least one of my ancestors fought in the Civil War but your essay here made me think - what did I really know and how true was it? Was it simply family lore? Looking at the ancestry site I think I found enough proof that my 2x great grandfather truly was a soldier, wounded at Gettysburg, then taken prisoner at Peach tree Creek and wound up in Andersonville prison where he was reunited with one of his brothers. Both survived. What astounds me more than anything is how young they were. For some reason, in my mind, ancestors are always old. Wrong of me, I know, so I will work on that.

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    1. Hi, Judi! Thank you so much! And you have some great information about your ancestors! It astounds me to know what soldiers from both sides went through. I'm glad your ancestor made it home after Andersonville! Surviving was no small feat, from what I understand. And that two brothers survived is an even bigger feat! I wonder what stories they could have told.

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  14. Our family has only vague tales of an ancestor or two, probably apocryphal, but it fascinates me to hear of people whose family stories go so far back. It's amusing, too, when old stories are clung to, regardless of whether there is any proof of their veracity.

    If there are any Civil War soldiers in our heritage I have no knowledge of it.

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    1. Hi, Karen! I'm fascinated, too, by how stories are clung to -- but I love it all the same. We have so many stories like that in my family, and I admit I get a kick out of hearing them each time!

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  15. I love this kind of story. It makes me want to read your book and the nonfiction book. History and mysteries are my favorite genres so when combined, it's wonderful.

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    1. Hi, Kathy! Thank you so much! History and mysteries are my favorites as well. I can't get enough of them! I very much hope you'll enjoy my books if you read them!

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  16. Hi, everyone! Stephanie (S.C.) here! I’m so happy to be on Jungle Reds again today! I’m loving all your comments! I’ll be replying to all of them slowly but surely!

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  17. I really enjoyed your first two books, Stephanie! I'll find the Houston action interesting in the latest-I'm here in the Heights. I have no doubt we had civil war veterans who fought on opposite sides. Various families were scattered from Mississippi up to Pennsylvania and in between. One member from Virginia moved to Texas eventually and participated when the republic was formed. He was a friend of Andrew Jackson and was adamantly opposed to secession. The war was tragic and too many men got pulled into it based on where they happened to live. Now I have to check out that Smithsonian article. It makes me think of Vietnam war "heroes" who never served there.

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    1. Hi, Pat! Thank you so much! I'm thrilled you enjoyed the first two! I love the Heights; it's such a cool part of Houston. I thought about having Lucy visit there when I brought her to Houston in book 3, but it didn't work out this time. Maybe another time as there's some interesting history in that area. I, too, have at least one ancestor who was adamantly opposed to secession. He was a staunch abolitionist, too, and lived in Mississippi. You didn't see that too often! I'm proud to say he's my ancestor.

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  18. Love this story! I'm a big fan of history as well, so bringing a genealogy theme into a mystery sounds very interesting.
    No Civil War ancestors that I know of, but many that fought in WW2 and later wars. My town had quite a lot (especially for the small size) of boys who were in Vietnam.

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    1. Hi, Alicia! Thank you very much! It always breaks my heart when I hear of small towns having (and often losing) so many boys to a war. I hope many in your town came home from Vietnam!

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  19. It's Stephanie's birthday today, so best wishes from all of us at Jungle Red!

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    1. Happy Birthday, Stephanie!

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    2. Thank you so much, Debs, and all the fabulous Jungle Red ladies! I loved being here on my birthday!

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  20. Yes, with the 27th infantry regiment from Wisconsin. I have always been curious how he travelled back to Wisconsin since the were mustered out in Brazos, TX at the end of the war.

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    1. Oh, me too! I always wonder about how people traveled before the modern age. It must have been so difficult!

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  21. Sounds like an interesting plot. I have several ancestors who fought in the War Between the States and wish I knew more about them other than the dates they served.

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    1. Hi, Dawn! Thank you! And I hear you -- I only have details about a few of my Civil War ancestors, but I'd love to know more.

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  22. This book/series sounds fascinating. My great aunt on my Dad's side researched his side of the family and had it printed for each member of the family. This is before the current genealogy craze. I don't know much about my Mom's side of the family. Looking forward to starting this series.

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    1. Hi, Dianne! Thank you so much! My great-grandfather did the same for us in making a genealogy book for the family. The genealogy bug goes way back in my family! I'm glad you have that from your great aunt!

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  23. This whole series sounds great--I'm off to find the first one! Congratulations and happy birthday. I think most of my family arrived in the US too late for the Civil War, although not by much. I've been wondering how the new DNA testing kits have impacted genealogical research--it seems to me there would be plenty of room for some unexpected surprises.

    -Melanie

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    1. Hi, Melanie! Thank you so much! I really hope you'll enjoy MURDER ONCE REMOVED! And thanks for the birthday wishes, too! I'm fascinated by the use of DNA in genealogy. It definitely has its good points and bad ones as well. I think it's always going to be a bit polarizing as far as privacy goes. But when it helps to discover interesting information that doesn't hurt anyone, I love it! I'll be interested to see how it continues on, too. Thanks again!

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  24. It sounds great! I know I have relatives who fought in the Civil War. I'd love to find out more about them.

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    1. Hi, Brenda! Thanks so much! If you're new to researching, I suggest going to Fold3[dot]com to start. They have the compiled military service records online and, if your ancestors have a file, the information is usually really interesting. Especially if there's a muster card that tells you their height, eye color, birth place, etc. And some give fascinating insight into what they went through in the war as well. Good luck if you go hunting for them!

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  25. I have two time great grandfather who fought for Union in unit from upstate New York. Captured at Gettysburg but freed from Libby prison in prisoner exchange. We have letters he and his wife wrote and the New Testament he carried.

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  26. Thank you for the chance! I would love to read your book!

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  27. Wow, your book sounds very intriguing and I love your book cover! I love reading books that are from the Civil Era! You know when I was in HS History was not my favorite subject, but I have come to really love it Thanks to authors like you that write History fiction books, you all make it so much more interesting and I have even learned alot of things. Thank you so much for the chance. Have a Great weekend and stay safe. aliciabhaney(at)sbcglobal(dot)net

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  28. Stephanie, I cant wait to read your series! I grew up with family Geneology in the form of the Amzi Allen book. Our family history from the Great Migration to the present. My great-great-great- grandfather Amzi started the book in 1877 (BIG huge tome). But the story I always found fascinating was about Amzi's favorite son (I think) Mark Anthony, my 2nd great. He fought with the NY 53rd and was captured at the Battle of Cedar Creek and died in Libbey prison just before the end of the war. His brother went to Richmond after the war to try and find Mark Anthony's grave and bring him home to the family plot in Massachusetts where there is a gravestone for him. Because of the confusion of the ending of a war, which have just witnessed, they were unable to find him. I like to believe he is in the grave of unknowns at Richmond National Cemetary. I've sometimes wondered if we could do some DNA testing to find him...I love history!

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  29. Coming from Tennessee, I have ancestors on both sides. My mother was from West Tennessee and some were Confederate. My father was from East Tennessee and the were all Union.

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