April 24 • 06:55 AM

Finding your roots, part 2

December 06, 2017
None of us has any say in when we were born, where we were born, to whom we were born, whether we're male or female, our race, etc. But once we're here, it's fascinating to discover our ancestry. Sometimes there are some surprises.

In last week's column I shared with you some of my roots as a Liblong. As I was growing up, however, I had very little knowledge of my mother's family. Her father, my grandfather, Percy A. Carpenter, died in 1935 when she was only 16 so I never knew him. His wife, Gertrude, my grandmother, lived in Pontiac so I didn't see her that often and when I did she never shared—nor did I ask about —anything about her family.

I admit, at the time I never gave it a second thought but now wish I had pressed mother and grandmother to let me know of my maternal roots. Reconstructing it now is much more difficult.

My mother's maiden name was Lois Lee Carpenter and she was an only child. As I said, her dad was named Percy Adelbert Carpenter who was born on September 20, 1894 in Lapeer, Michigan.

Over the years he was a farmer, cook and baker. He owned a bakery shop in Capac for a while. I thought living over a bakery would be great but my mom said after a while she couldn't stand the aroma drifting upstairs.

On November 14, 1913, 19 year-old Percy married 17 year-old Gertrude B. Lee in Lapeer. My mom, their only child, was born in Capac on February 18, 1919.

That's about all I knew until I wrote a book about the Civil War in 2011. During a book signing in Lapeer I was visited by two of my mother's cousins, Joan Carpenter Grinnell and Marilyn Carpenter Brown. They brought me several envelopes full of research on the Carpenter family. Their father, Schley Carpenter, was my mother's uncle, my grandfather Percy's brother.

My great-grandfather was Adelbert Carpenter who married Isadore Dennis in Lapeer on January 1, 1885. Together they had 9 children. In addition to my grandfather, Percy, there were John, Elaine, Oliver, Schley, Edith, Myrtle as well as Theodore Roosevelt Carpenter and William Howard Taft Carpenter, named after Republican Presidents. Adelbert died in 1913.

Here's the part of the story that I really found astounding, however. Adelbert's father, my great-great grandfather, Joseph W. Carpenter, was in the Union Army during the Civil War! I didn't know one of my ancestors was in the war. I'd never heard anyone mention him. I could have put him in my book.

Joseph was the son of James and Alma Carpenter of England (that's as far as I have traced back). He was born in Livingston County, New York in 1823, made his way to Michigan and married Sarah Miller on May 26, 1844. They had seven children, six before the war and one after. He was an illiterate farmer and cook.

Apparently, he had a problem knowing what was his and what wasn't as he and an accomplice were convicted of robbery on January 12, 1860 and sentenced to two years hard labor in the State Prison at Jackson.

After being discharged from prison, Joseph, 5' 10" tall with blue eyes and brown hair, enlisted in the Union Army on February 21, 1862 in Grand Rapids. He was in Company K of the 1st United States Sharpshooters, a very elite group under the command of Hiram Berdan.

This unit brought together the very best marksmen from various states and provided them with the best rifles available. No man was accepted "who could not, at 200 yards, put ten consecutive shots in a target, the average distance not to exceed five inches from the center of the bullseye." That is excellent shooting even by today's standards.

The unit saw action at the Penisular Campaign, Second Bull Run, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, the Wilderness, Spotsylvania Courthouse, Cold Harbor and Petersburg.

It's difficult to tell for sure from his service record at the National Archives but he may have been one of the unit's cooks.

By all accounts he was a good soldier until just shortly before being discharged. He was court-martialed for providing a forged pass, for $100, to two men who were trying to desert. He was sentenced to three months hard labor and fined $60 but released early.

When he was discharged from the army not long after, he returned to farming in Lapeer County and in the wintertime, he cooked for men in lumber camps.

Sadly, Joseph died of congestive heart failure on September 13, 1874.

So I now know the rest of the story about the Carpenter side of the family. It's all part of history.

I hope you will be able to trace your family's history and share it with future generations. Don't let your part of history be lost.

Email Rick at

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04 - 24 - 19
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