In a recent visit to New York, my girlfriend and I were riding a bus in lower eastside Manhattan back to our hotel. We met two elderly women that voluntarily discussed the history of New York with us. Without constraint, they seemed to be in a dueling match for our attention. It was without a doubt the best 30 minutes I had ever spent on a bus ride. We were in attendance of a Joe Frazier/Muhammad Ali–esque moment characterized by two passionate and knowledgeable women talking about their beloved city.
It was a whimsical time with these two elderly women. My friend and I made subtle glances to each other enjoying the ladies trying to out do the other on their vast knowledge of New York. We benefited immensely from the experience. At one point we passed a university that one of the women excitably said, “thats Cooper Union!” I immediately gazed at the building in uninformed wonderment.
Cooper Union was established in 1859 by Peter Cooper. Mr. Cooper made sure if you were a student at his college, you attended free. He went one step further and opened it to women and people of color. He was a stong opponent of slavery and also had a great love for native American Indians. In fact , Cooper Union University played a pivotal role in Abraham Lincoln’s quest to become president. The Great Hall in the basement of Cooper Union was where President Lincoln laid down the ground work for his view against slavery. It was also the place where Senator Stephen Douglas spoke that states should have the right to govern themselves in respect to slavery.
As we all ponder the studies of this time period we all learned as students in school about many unnamed young men who volunteered 150 years ago for the civil war. Most people today don’t know personally of a family member that fought in that war unless you have studied your roots. In my genealogy research, one of my biggest breakthroughs came when I found a great great uncle of my father in laws that fought in this war.
This gentleman was First SGT Cornelius Vandorsten who was in Company E of the 120th Ohio Volunteer infantry. Cornelius lost his life in Louisiana killed in action on August 10, 1864. This army was one of many volunteer armies that President Lincoln called for to bring about the end of the war.
It was through finding and saving SGT Vandorsten’s legacy that I was empowered. It was then I was able to unleash my resources to find my connections in our family. You see Cornelius was the link between finding his brother our great , great grandfather and then their father. We were lost in our study of family and had not had a breakthrough if we had never found SGT Vandorsten. The records of the civil war made it possible. It was through his volunteerism and his loss of life, we found many other family members.
All of this goes to say how important volunteerism is on many levels. The genesis of my blog began with two women sharing their stories freely about New York, then to finding out about free education in New York at an amazing university. This then led to discovering our ancestor Cornlius Vandorsten who fought freely in the civil war. The story does not end their because when we found our civil war veteran, we found many other family members from his time period. May we never forget how to give freely of ourselves as so many before us have done so that we can live the life we lead today.
Here are the links that document our ancestory SGT Cornelius. Why don’t you go now to read about him and discover a part of history that has come alive for me:
then the following link is more documentation of saving SGT Vandorsten’s legacy where he is buried at:
This ends my third installment. May we all remember our fallen heros – our soldiers who gave the ultimate sacrifice….
I also want to give special recognition to my friend and expert genealogist , Janice Smarr, who has helped me with a majority of my research. She has taught me so much and I consider a privilege to call her my friend.