Case Studies

Experiences and Case Studies

Branching Out to Find Three Soldiers, Three Wars, All Family

Case Study by Paul A. Schmidt

Identifying ancestral links to the Civil War, War of 1812, and the Revolutionary War

When Heidi Hall won our first-ever Branch Out Contest, she had already been working on a broad and well-sourced family tree. She had many lines and mysteries to choose from to have our team at AncestryProGenealogists add to her research.

Ultimately, Heidi asked us to center our research on the ancestry of her great grandmother, Martha Huff Summers.

Although Heidi had traced the Huff family for several generations beyond Martha, she wasn’t sure that she had made the correct connections. Martha Huff presumably was the daughter of George Huff, granddaughter of Nicholas Huff, and great-granddaughter of Richard Huff. Heidi thought that Richard fought in the Revolutionary War, so her second goal was to learn about Richard’s participation.

Goal #1: Proving the Huff lineage

We began our research by making sure that what Heidi had discovered was proven. She had done a great job gathering census records for the Summers and Huff families, as well as death records for George Huff and his wife, Eliza. The census records Heidi found proved to be for her family and solidified the relationship between Martha and her parents, as did the copy of Martha’s death record we obtained online.

George Huff’s death record showed that he was born in New York State in 1831, the son of Nicholas Huff and “Sally Guiles.” We found George living with his parents, “Nickalus” and Margaret Huff, in the 1850 U.S. census in Chili, Monroe County, New York. We knew we had the correct family from the information we later found in George’s pension file.


1850 U.S. Census for Nickalus Huff household in Chili, New York

The relationship between Nicholas Huff and his presumed father, Richard, is not as solid as we would like, as we were not able to find a definitive document proving that relation during the time we had to research this family. Nicholas Huff’s proximity to Richard Huff in the 1810 census indicated a likely relationship, and Richard had a twin brother, Nicholas, for whom his son was no doubt named. Once again, Nicholas’s pension file proved helpful in creating this circumstantial relationship. Nicholas married in Ovid, Seneca County, New York, in 1808, and that was how we knew that he was the man living near Richard Huff in the 1810 census.

Goal #2: Did Nicholas Participate in the Revolutionary War?

As we proved out and added to the research for Heidi’s Huff lines, we discovered not just one, but three American soldiers along the way.

George Huff was born about 1830, and was therefore of a good age to possibly have fought in the Civil War. A search of an index to pension files on showed that a man named George G. Huff served with a Michigan Cavalry unit. Several census record had recorded that George’s middle initial was “G” and we were able to find him and his family in Michigan in the 1860 and 1870 censuses, proving that he was in that state.


When George’s pension file arrived from the National Archives and Records Administration in Washington, D.C., we found a vast amount of interesting and sad data about his travails as a soldier and his life immediately after the war. He had been taken prisoner and was incarcerated for a time in the infamous Andersonville Prison in Georgia, where more than one in three prisoners died, mostly from disease. When George Huff was released, he was so ill (weighing only 70 pounds) that he was unable to make the trip back to Michigan, staying with his family in New York State until he was strong enough to travel.

Heidi also had identified an index entry for Nicholas Huff, George’s father, showing that he had served during the War of 1812, so we verified the entry and then ordered his pension file. In the file we learned that Nicholas served for only 17 days with a New York militia. He was present when the British troops burned Buffalo, New York, on 30 December 1813, however, and had to flee for his life.

Finally, we identified and ordered the pension file for Richard Huff, who served for about three years during the Revolutionary War. We learned in the pension file that he was born in Hillsborough, Somerset County, New Jersey in 1754, according to a family bible kept by Richard’s father. Richard served during the Battle of Monmouth, New Jersey, made famous by the legend of Molly Pitcher, who took her husband’s place in battle after he fell. Richard served under numerous commanders and one affidavit in his pension file listed 24 separate places he had served during the war. Luckily, he appears to have come out of this conflict unscathed.

Next Steps

Heidi still has plenty of family history puzzles to solve.  After our team proved Heidi’s work was sound, and found three American soldiers in her tree, Juliana Smith made several suggestions for next steps that Heidi might take to firm up the relationship between Nicholas and Richard Huff. In the meantime, Heidi has three incredible pension files that tell her more about the stories of the soldiers in her family tree.

Research Manager on Project:

Paul A. Schmidt

Project Hours:

30 Hours

Paul became interested in genealogy when he started asking questions of relatives and made a trip to the New York Public Library to see what he could find. In one afternoon, he discovered Mayflower ancestry, and he has been hooked for the 40 years since.

Paul received a B.A. in history from the University of Bridgeport in 1972 and attended graduate school at the University of Maryland, working towards a double major (history and library science). He worked as an archivist at the National Archives in Washington, D.C., for 11 years, mostly in the Office of Presidential Libraries. He worked with the Nixon Presidential Materials Project and helped process the “secret” White House tapes. His areas of research expertise include Germany, France, Austria, Switzerland, Hungary, Denmark, Poland, immigration, and 19th and 20th century cases.


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