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October 2006

Uncovering the Mystery of the Life of Private Matthias/Mathias Davis of the 7th Regiment of Indiana Volunteers, Co. D of the Civil War and his Wife Jane Van Kirk or How Did Letters from the Civil War get in my Mother-in-Laws Desk Drawer?

By Bev Petersen, South Bend, Indiana.

One day in 1996, I asked my mother-in-law if she had any other materials of genealogical interest tucked away anywhere. She was 80 now and in relatively good health, we had some extra time that day so I asked. She led me to a 60's style student desk in the basement and we opened a deep drawer to find a lot of greeting cards and letters, mostly dating from the '70's when my husband was at Purdue attending college. Of course, since I love any old artifact, I looked through the pile, pulling out items that would go with me back home. I found several small envelopes that clearly were old - old stamp - old sepia tone pen writing. I asked her what these were and she did not know. I opened up the envelopes to find letters written by a man, Matthias Davis to his wife Jane dated 1861. I gasped! I asked her what are these doing here? What are they? Who are they from? She said that she did not know and her only explanation was "I always told you there were ghosts in this house".

Hmmm...well, I am a little more logical than that, so I guess this mystery was going to have to be solved by me and me alone as she was not going to be of any help. She did, however, indicate that she thought they bought their home on N. Ironwood, South Bend, Indiana from a man with the last name of Davis. Perhaps the letters were tucked in a wall somewhere? Her husband and she had done some reconstruction on the house but it had been many years earlier and the other family had also done a lot of work. It used to be a barn and the roof was lowered making it more appealing to live in.

It is important to mention that my mother-in-law's maiden name was Franklin, her name being Violet Lenore Franklin, who married a Petersen. I started doing genealogy on her family name because they were supposed to have been descended from a brother of THE Benjamin Franklin, yet over 20 years later, I still can see no connection and my research has gotten no further than what others in the family had already done. Obviously there is a problem there. The surname Davis is in my database of thousands of names but yet I can see no logical connection to these letters - none at all - they are just too distant.

My mother-in-law, Vi, was a teacher and guidance counselor at a local middle school, an artist who enjoyed oil painting and was quite a social butterfly around South Bend - she was NOT interested in collecting this kind of stuff and she would never buy it as I might have. The letters were left there because they were part of her family collection of stuff (she was a bit of a pack rat) or they were indeed left by the "ghosts" for a curious genealogist to find.

Anyway, I began transcribing the letters as best I could. Then, I started the research and it is important to remember that it required trips to the Allen County Public Library at Ft. Wayne, IN because the collection of necessary census records were not to be found locally or on the internet as the internet had barely started. Research was slow and frustrating and as a result, the project was put aside often to continue with personal genealogy research. Occasionally I would look at my notebook of stuff and try again, but put it away again. At that time, I could not find any parents for Matthias and just recently I found out that he was orphaned.

Thanks to the internet, research has gotten easier every day and a recent posting from Butler University at Indianapolis, Indiana led me to another batch of original letters written by Mathias Davis. The letters were also written during his enlistment in the war. Restrictions by the donor will prevent me from posting them on this web site but hopefully someday these restrictions will be lifted and they can be shared with others.

Matthias joins the 7th Regiment of Indiana Volunteers, Co. D on Sep 1861 at Milford, Indiana.

I welcome anyone interested in this family to contact me especially if you have more of the Matthias Davis letters. It is my belief that perhaps many of the letters have been saved by various family members. It would be wonderful to put this all together.

Transcribed Letters - please click here

Legal Documents - please click here

Family Obituaries and misc. - please click here

E-mail information received

Bender Inn - aka The Bloody Benders
(was James Trisler murdered there?)

Family charts

Contact Nancy for Van Kirk familiy ties
Contact Sharon for Van Kirk family ites
Contact Bev for Davis family information