After an 8 month+ wait, I recently received the copy of my third great-grandfather father, Jesse Archer’s, Civil War pension file. As I was gawking at all 268 pages of it, I learned so much about my grandfather that I never knew before. I learned about how he became very ill while at camp in Tennesse and suffered joint pain, lumbago, and malnourishment from severe, chronic diarrhea. He went from 120 pounds down to 86 pounds in a matter of months between two applications. In the middle of his repeated requests for a pension increase, among all the new knowledge I was learning, was a further hidden gem just waiting for me to find – the signature of his daughter, my second great-grandmother, Esther Archer Stewart, as a witness on one of his applications.

Signature of Esther Archer Stewart from her father's Civil War pension file.

If you’ve read this blog for a while, you might know that my second great-grandparents, William Stewart and Esther Archer, were part of a murder-suicide in 1914. While her death at the hands of her husband was truly tragic, I’ve also been disappointed with the fact that she had been so elusive aside from a few scant records. Esther’s sons were extremely young and put into the children’s home system. At the time of her death, Esther’s parents and an older sister had already passed away. Following her death, her only brother Asbury, a single man, was not allowed to adopt the boys and he took off to work in Detroit. It doesn’t seem likely that a man on the move was going to hang onto photo albums or memorabilia. As such, there are no photos, letters or anything really that let me know who she was as a person. She was literally just a name on a census and death certificate with a horrific tale of how she died – until now.

I will not josh you here – I nearly gasped and held my breathe looking at her signature on page 28. I don’t know how to explain it but suddenly, she was “there” with me and she became so real. She held a pen in her hand and touched that paper on 8 March 1904. On that day, she was well past the honeymoon phase of her 1902 wedding as she would be assaulted in August by her husband. The accompanying article said it was the third such altercation between them which was perhaps a prelude to her death at his hands a decade later. She was also the young mother of a year-old baby girl, Frances. She couldn’t have known that her “darling baby” would pass away tragically just a short five months later on 19 September 1904.

On 8 March 1904 though, Esther was in Caldwell in Noble County, Ohio, signing her name alongside that of her cousin, Taylor Wickham, on her father’s application in the office of the Justice of the Peace. She couldn’t have fathomed that one hundred fifteen years later, her second great-granddaughter would be on the verge of tears and in utter awe of the connection to something as simple as her signature.

A Pension Full of Surprises
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