MOLINE – Bill Jones, of Sparta, Wis., discovered a new branch in his family tree a year ago, when he came to the Quad-Cities for his great-aunt's funeral and found a war chest with clues tying his great-great-grandfather, Joseph Parrott, to a family with the surname Himioben.
In the chest was a March 22, 1944, clipping from The Daily Dispatch, which included excerpts from letters Mr. Parrott wrote during his days as a Union soldier in the Civil War and indicated that the letters had been passed along to the Himioben family.
Mr. Jones said the letters were surprisingly well-written and gave him a firsthand account of his forefather's experience fighting battles while serving with the 3rd Regiment Iowa Volunteer Infantry Company F.
One letter, written June 18, 1863, from the battlefield near Vicksburg, Miss., read:
"Dear Father: Now I will give you the news. We are camped a little closer to the rebel lines, so close we cannot move again without charging their works. That I do not think will be done. I think they intend to starve the rebels out. A deserter came in yesterday and said they had but two weeks rations to go on."
The tone of the excerpts ranged from triumphant to bittersweet. In one letter, he pleads with his younger brother to reconsider his decision to enlist.
Another excerpt read:"We are getting the rebels tighter every day. They cannot show a head without being shot at. Yesterday I fired 120 rounds. It makes a big muscle on a fellow's shoulder, but it is black and blue today."
Perhaps the most fascinating story in the series of letters recounts how the soldier's life was spared when a Confederate round struck his haversack, piercing three plugs of chewing tobacco before stopping in the last of four that had been sent to him by his father.
"He didn't even know he was shot," until he took a bite from the tobacco and his teeth hit the misshapen bullet, said Mr. Jones, who began making phone calls and searching online for the surname Himioben, hoping to find anyone with information on the surviving letters.
He finally connected with Sherrie Himioben Gray, of Moline, a cousin he wasn't aware he had.
She told him their ancestor's personal history had not been lost to time. After several months of conversations on Facebook, the two arranged to meet in LeClaire so Mr. Jones could read the letters in their entirety.
He said he didn't get as much information from the letters as he hoped during their visit last Friday. His cousin only had two letters, and they were a little difficult to make out. Still, Mr. Jones copied them and now has new leads in his quest for more information on his heritage.
He still has a lot of unanswered questions and plans to visit Ms. Himioben Gray's father, Jack Himioben, in hopes of finding the rest of the letters and tracking down his great-great-grandfather's fife.
"I want to dig all the way down, finding where he lived, down to the address," Mr. Jones said.
With Mr. Jones on the trip to LeClaire was his mother Sandra Jo Lammers, of Apple Valley, Minn., formerly of Moline, whose curiosity was piqued by the prospect of learning more family history."I want to know more about his (Mr. Parrott's) parents," she said.
She wonders what other details the remaining letters will reveal, and whether they hold any significant political or social commentary for that period. "It's a whole different lifetime," she said.
Mr. Jones has been tracing his family history on a serious level for five years. As he approaches his 50th birthday, he said history has become something of increasing importance and he hopes eventually to chart his family tree in great detail.
"As you get older, you want to know more about where your roots are."