Bonnie Medford Found It in the National Archives!
When we began to research my husband’s maternal grandmother, Emma Jelf, the only information we had for her was the fact that she grew up in an orphanage and a Civil War story Emma told about her father, Isaac Jelf. Due to the fact that Emma was an orphan, we thought that it was important to trace and document her family. During the next three years, while researching other lines, we continued to search for additional information about Emma, but got nowhere.
While attending a workshop on how to search Military Records at the National Archives in Laguna Niguel, California, the presenter helped me locate a Civil War pension file, for Isaac. This was just before the rates for pension files increased, and I call this my “$10 Gold Mine”. The file was twenty-four pages of family information and documentation, some of it in Isaac’s own words. In addition to his military records and details of his illness, the file contained the date and place of marriage for Isaac and Martha Elizabeth Philips. A statement was given by Martha’s mother, Margery Philips, confirming their marriage. Martha’s father, William Philips was mentioned. There was a statement from Isaac documenting the names and birth dates of his four children. Isaac’s date of death was included, as well as Martha’s. They died less than three weeks apart. We requested a copy of their marriage record from the county clerk, which gave the names of their parents. We now knew that Isaac’s parents were William Jelf and Isabella VanWye.
Several pages documented the placement of Emma and her older sisters Margery Isabella and Ella and younger brother Clyde in the Soldiers’ and Sailors‘ Children’s Home in Normal, McLean County, Illinois. We were able to obtain a copy of the admission record to the children’s home, which gave us additional information, including the date they were admitted and when they left the home.
Using the information found in the Civil War file we were able to trace Emma’s family back six generations to the early 1700’s. We may have eventually traced the family without the file, but it gave us a solid foundation to build on.
by Bonnie Medford