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An article in The Wall Street Journal on May 10, 2014, by Michael M. Phillips, titled “Still Paying for the Civil War: Veterans’ Benefits Live On Long After Bullets Stop,” fascinated both my husband and me. My husband, because he has read many volumes of military history about the Civil War. Me, because I like to think about the stories behind the history.

Mr. Phillips’ article reported on Irene Triplett, an 84-year-old woman living in North Carolina. She is the only person still receiving a pension because she is the child of a Civil War veteran. She was born in 1930, when her father, Mose Triplett, was 84 (the age his daughter is now). Mose was born in 1848 and was a private during the Civil War. Interestingly, Mose served in first the Confederate forces and later fought for the Union.

The point of the Wall Street Journal article was that the commitments we make to our veterans last for decades beyond the end of the conflict—more than a century in this case.

General Joseph Hooker, image from Wikipedia

General Joseph Hooker, image from Wikipedia

My point in this post is that, if we go by the measurement of the Triplett family, we are only one generation removed from the Civil War, even if it ended 149 years ago this year. History, though it can seem ancient, is sometimes very short indeed.

I then got to thinking about where my family was during the Civil War. The only branch of my family that I know was even in the United States in the 1860s was the Hooker branch, my mother’s father’s family. There might have been some Smith and Jones ancestors around also, but Smiths and Joneses are too numerous to track easily.

I’ve written before about the Hookers’ trek to Oregon in 1848. They were my first ancestors to head west.

My mother always claimed to be related to any famous Hooker she heard of—including Thomas Hooker, the founder of Connecticut, and General Joseph Hooker, a general during the Civil War, known as “Fighting Joe”.

Yet I had read someplace that General “Fighting Joe” Hooker had no children. So after I read the Wall Street Journal article, I started researching whether there was any connection between my branch of Hookers and the general. It turns out he was a very distant cousin.

General Hooker’s great-grandfather, also named Joseph Hooker, was the first of our mutual family line to be born in the United States (before it even was the United States). He was born in Massachusetts in 1694. This Joseph Hooker had four children. One of his sons was also named Joseph Hooker—that Joseph, born in 1733, was General Hooker’s grandfather.

General Hooker’s grandfather had an older brother, named John Hooker, born in 1722, who was my great-great-great-great-great-grandfather (that’s five greats before the grandfather). John Hooker’s grandson, Permenus Petronius Hooker, born in 1824, was my ancestor who traveled to Oregon in 1848. I think this means Permenus was the general’s second cousin.

So I have to go back eight generations to find a common ancestor with General Hooker. He was something like my second cousin, fifth removed, or some such relationship that is more complicated than I care to parse.

And I can’t verify that I had any direct ancestor who served in the Civil War. Fighting Joe may be as close as I can get.

What is your family’s relationship to historical events? What stories do you know about their participation in these events?