William Leroy Swan

July 31, 1994

William Leroy Swan was the father of Sidney Swan, the grandfather of Rufus Franklin Swan, the great grandfather of Samuel David Swann and our great-great grandfather. He was born on July 19, 1819 in Pendleton District, South Carolina. He died at the age of 66 years, on September 12th, 1885 and was laid to rest at Valley Springs Cemetery in Cullman County, Alabama. The following is a brief synopsis of what we have learned about William and his family during our research into the Swan(n) family history. I have attempted to list only the facts as Nona and I have found them, however, much of this information is sketchy at best, and some interpretation must be made to place it in context for the reader. First, however, I would like to relate what I believe is an amazing story of how little effort it sometimes takes to discover an incredible amount of information. Insight into the Swan family history which was previously unknown to us and to our parents, or that which has simply been forgotten with time can be recovered in an instant.

In August of 1993 we stopped in to visit with Mom and Dad while on the last leg home from our vacation through the Great Smoky Mountains. At this time, we had just begun to do some very preliminary genealogy work and had no significant information about our ancestors on Dad's side of the family. I began to question Mom and Dad about our great grandfather Sidney Swan, and Mom told me that one of the relatives had said that he was buried in the Valley Springs Cemetery. Although Dad insisted that this was not very likely (because he would have known about it), he was very willing to do a little exploring to satisfy my curiosity. We called someone to get a rough idea of where the cemetery was located, loaded up in the van and headed down the road towards Smith Lake and Valley Springs Cemetery.

When we arrived at the cemetery, which incidentally happened to be only minutes from the house, it was rainy and cool. Here we found a small church, a cemetery and an old tin roof home sitting off to one side of the entrance drive. After looking around a bit and not having much luck, I decided to go up to the house and knock on the door in hopes of finding someone with cemetery burial records. I found much more. A woman came to the door and I explained who I was and what I was looking for. Her name was Grace Anderson and she lived there with an aunt and a sister. About seventy five years of age, she had lived in the area her entire life and in that house for many years. When I mentioned that I was looking for information about Sidney Swan, she said to me "You must be talking about Uncle Sid!" I was absolutely floored, to say the least. As incredible as it may seem, I had gone there just hoping to pick up some small piece of information and I ended up talking to someone who had actually known my great grandfather Sidney Swan. The following recollections concerning the Swan(n) family are recorded as she related them to me on that day.

Grace's father was raised as a child by a sister of Sidney Swan's who they knew as Aunt Amelia. Aunt Amelia was married to a man with the last name of Day. Consequently, Grace had somewhat grown up around the Swan family and had fairly clear recollections of Sidney and others in the family. As a matter of fact, when talking with Dad, she related that she had known Dad's sister Norma and could remember playing together as children. Also, a friend of hers named C.E. (Chloe) Knight and her mother had kept handwritten records of those buried in the cemetery for many, many years. While we were there, she called Chloe Knight and confirmed that Sid Swan was buried there with his wife Saran Ann, although their graves were not marked. She then told me that not only was Sidney buried there, but Sidney's father, Lee Swan and his wife Tisha were buried there as well. I was stunned and excited, and I simply couldn't believe that I had located my great-great grandfather buried less than fifteen minutes away from Mom and Dad's house.

Grace told me that according to cemetery records "old man" Lee Swan and Tisha Elms were buried beside Sidney and Sarah Swan. William L. Swan was thought to be a Confederate soldier during the Civil War and had a military style grave marker. Later, when the rain had subsided we went out to the cemetery and had a first hand look at the graves of my great-great Grandparents, William L. and Letitia Swan. I didn't know it at the time but later research would yield many facts which helped to tie together loose ends and substantiate many of the things that Grace Anderson told me that day. Grace believed that William L. Swan had donated all of the land that the church and cemetery were located on, and that the original church was no longer standing but had been rebuilt to its present state. The entrance road leading to the church was also different from the way it had been when she was a child, which may explain why the cemetery and house were vaguely familiar to Dad but it didn't quite look right to him.

In addition to what Grace Anderson remembered, Chloe Knight and her cemetery records turned out to be a wealth of information. Unable to meet with her then, we visited with her when we came back to Alabama during Christmas of 1993. At this time, she was kind enough to lend me her records long enough to make a copy of the pages that I was interested in. These records indicate that Sarah Ann Swan's maiden name was Box and that she died and was buried in 1922. Chloe also confirmed something that Grace had mentioned to me. After Sarah died, Sidney although in his seventies, remarried to a woman named Alice Speegle. Chloe confided that, Alice had married Sidney only to take advantage of a mortgage of his farm to pay the debt on her property. This of course, is an unconfirmed memory but fascinating none the less. The records kept by Mrs. Knight and her mother before her were certainly a labor of love. Grace told me that they spent many hours walking the cemetery, recording information and caring for the graves. In fact, for many years the grave of an infant girl who "died along the road" and was buried there, went unmarked. Grace Anderson, her sister and aunt recently had a marker made to place on the grave in memory of the little girl.

These cemetery records also show that Sidney Swan had two infants buried there, that Grant Swan (most likely Sidney's brother) had an infant child buried there, that Lee Swan's daughter is buried there, that John and Amelia (Permela) Day are buried there, and that Elijah Swan and Frances Scott Swan are buried there. Other Swan names found in the cemetery rolls include Evergreen Swan, infant of Jim Swan, Tom Swan and wife Lula Dearing, Monro Swan, infant of George Swan, and Mary Ester Swan Stricklin and infant. At this time, there is no known connection with these Swan's with the possible exception of Tom Swan, who could be Elijah and Frances Swan's son. Needless to say, for every single piece of information which is found in these records, many more questions arise which beg to be answered. I believe that there is much more to be found here by doing further research in this area, however, it is difficult to do without making several trips to local sources such as the county courthouse or public library.

I have often heard that the best information in a genealogy study comes from first hand accounts. I now have a great appreciation for this old adage. It is apparent to me, that had these ladies not been so diligent in their efforts to maintain a log of burials at Valley Springs Cemetery, we likely may have never found Sidney Swan or William L. Swan's final resting place. I am deeply appreciative to them for this. Now that you have a little insight into the information obtained through first person accounts, I would like to chronicle the historical data recorded in the public record concerning the William L. Swan family. The following data is what I have been able to uncover to date simply by visiting the public libraries in Vero Beach and Orlando, and I am convinced that there is a world of facts remaining to be discovered. I have inserted parenthetical references in several places which I hope will clarify irregularities in names taken from these public records.

From the United States Federal and Alabama State Population Census:

The first occurrence of William in official records is found in the 1850 Federal Population Census taken in the State of Alabama. On December 6th, 1850 he was listed as Leroy Swan and resided in the 17th Subdivision of Blount County, Alabama with his wife Lutician (Letitia) and his children Wm (William), Rachael and Elijah. Interestingly, in those days, the first born son was typically named after either the grandfather or the father, which appears to be the case here. Approximately 30 years of age, Leroy was a farmer living in North Alabama in the area of present day Blount and Cullman Counties. The ages of the children indicate that Letitia and Leroy were probably married sometime around 1840, although I have found no official record of this. Listed just before Leroy in this census was Edward Swan, age 45 and most likely a brother to William. Living in the household with Edward are his wife Hannah, and children John, Edward, Jacob, Martha, George, Nancy and Jeremiah (?).

One thing to keep in mind here is that the census taker recorded the head of household and the names and sexes of the people found in a particular house or farm on the day that he arrived on the scene. One must assume that these names are of children belonging to the head of household and his wife. In some cases, this may not be true. For instance, if children of relatives were visiting in the household at the time of the census, they could be easily mistaken as children actually living in the household. One conclusion which may be drawn from the above census data is that John Swan, if really a son of Edward, would have been his first born son. It is possible that he was named after his grandfather, which may provide a clue for further research beyond our great-great-grandfather William. In other words, the father of William and Edward may have been named John.

The 1860 Federal Population Census for Alabama finds Leroy (William) and his family still living in Blount County, Alabama with the census collection point listed as Summit Post Office. Living in the Swan household at this time are Luticius (Letitia), sons William C., Elijah A., Fielding (Sidney) and Marion, daughter Parmeliu (Permela), and Mary Elms. Leroy is listed as a farmer who owns real estate valued at $1300 and personal property valued at $150. William C., age 15 is listed as a farm laborer and Letitia is listed as being born in Tennessee and unable to read or write. Mary Elms, age 61, born in North Carolina, is listed in the census records as being blind and is presumably living with them due to her disability. Based on the cemetery records from Valley Springs, I am assuming that Mary is Letitia's mother.

Collected at Houston Post Office, Alabama, the 1870 Federal Census shows William L. Swan and his family living in Township 10, Range 4 East of Winston County. It is interesting to note that in 1877, Cullman County, Alabama was formed from parts of Blount, Winston and Walker Counties. A map of Alabama counties in 1870 indicates that at that time, Winston County extended into parts of present day Cullman County, Alabama. Since we don't have exact town names or locations, it is quite possible that he did not move around from county to county as the census might indicate, but stayed within a fairly small area centered around Cullman, Alabama.

Listed in the family at this time are wife Letty (Letitia), daughters Permela, Lyddia A., and Van H. Also listed is son Grant, a new addition to the family since the last census. It appears that William, Elijah and Sidney have grown old enough to leave home and are out of the house by this time. Marion, who was only an infant in 1860 does not appear in the 1870 index and in fact, never appears in the records again. This is just another example of the many unanswered questions I have generated during my research. Census records, although fascinating, are known to be extremely unreliable as a source of absolute fact. However, if the information is treated with caution, many interesting things can be learned. In fact, in the very next census entry on the same page, we find Elijah Swan living with his wife Fannie and their son Thomas. Since the census takers generally traveled from farm to farm in an area, we can infer that Elijah was living nearby. I would guess that he was given a portion of his father's land to settle and began raising a family here.

In addition to the 1880 Federal Population Census itself, I found William in the index for this census which is recorded in a book at the public library in Cullman. Having these two versions of the same information provides an interesting comparison. At this time, according to the census, William was living in Township 11, Range 4 West (Beat 5, Trimble) with his wife Latisha (Letitia) and daughter VenHous (Van H.). Listed on the very next line of the census, we find a man named John Day living with his wife Permela and daughter Martha. Could this be the Aunt Amelia Day (sister of Sidney) that raised Grace Anderson's father ? I am convinced that it is, and apparent confirmation of this by the census records lends a great deal of credence to the many other things that Grace Anderson told me. Listed next in the census is Sidney Swan and his wife Sarah, obviously living in close proximity to his father and sister.

Had I kept looking in the census rolls after finding William and Sidney, I would have found Elijah again living a little farther away. According to the index I found for the census, living with Elijah in 1880 are his wife, Mary L. (Fannie), and children William (Thomas ?), James, Henry, Mary, Lutisha (?), and Prudia (?). As you can see, a census index is someone's interpretation of the census takers interpretation of how names were spelled. In some cases, census records were poorly written or unclear and the creator of the index was forced to guess at the proper spelling of names. Those names that they were unsure of were generally followed by a question mark as in the above example. To make matters even worse, sometimes the person giving the information could not read or write so the names tended to be misinterpreted or misspelled completely. In fact, Letitia Swan who was listed in the census as being unable to read or write may be part of the reason that some of the children's names recorded in the census are spelled a variety of different ways.

The information from this index found at the Cullman County Public Library, was very exciting to me. This is the first official record that I have of our great grandparents, Sidney and Sarah A. Swan. Given Sidney's age as 22 years in 1880, allows me to make a connection to the three year old son of William and Letitia named Fielding in the 1860 Federal Census. I believe that this may have been Sidney's given name and Sidney was a middle name or even a nick name. I am confident that although I have never found Sidney per se listed in the family of William and Letitia, that he is their son. Given all of the information I have from the census, the Valley Springs Cemetery records, and other sources, I believe that this is a reasonable assumption to make. For instance, the original marriage certificate for Sidney Swan and Sarah Ann Box, which I found at the Cullman County Courthouse, lists Elijah Swan as co-responsible for the marriage bond. This ties Sidney to Elijah, and we have of course numerous records of Elijah found in the William L. Swan household.

From the National Archives:

Because I had been told that William L. Swan was a Confederate soldier during the Civil War, I immediately wrote to the Confederate Research Center in Texas for any possible information concerning his service in the war. I received a polite letter back from the center stating that no information could be found regarding a Confederate soldier named William L. Swan, and suggesting that I send a request to the National Archives. The National Archives is the primary source of military service records for individuals who served in our nation's wars prior to World War I. In January of 1994, I mailed a request for military service records to the National Archives and received a reply in March stating that a William L. Swan had been found. However, because I had apparently listed the incorrect unit and place of birth, they returned my form without pulling the file and copying it. The letter suggested that I fill out the form again with the correct information and return it. At times, when doing this kind of research, it seems that bureaucracy really is the bane of progress! Disappointed after waiting two months for nothing, we filled out the form a second time and sent it back.

Bingo! In July of 1994, we received a package from the National Archives containing photocopies of the complete military file regarding our Civil War soldier William L. Swan. This file contained a wealth of information such as Enlistment Records, Company Muster Rolls and handwritten correspondence. It seems that during the period from July of 1862 to July of 1865 our great-great Grandfather was a volunteer soldier in the service of the United States of America! Contrary to local legend, William had not been a Confederate soldier during the war at all, but had actually served in a Cavalry regiment assigned to the 16th Army Corps, United States Army. The following is a brief history of William's service record based on the documents received from the National Archives. Please keep in mind that these records are probably filled with inaccuracies, were often filled out well after the fact and consequently, very few meaningful conclusions can be drawn from them.

On July 21st, 1862 at about 46 years of age, William L. Swan enlisted in the service of our country at Huntsville, Alabama. According to his Company Descriptive Book at the time of enlistment, he was 5 feet ten inches tall, had a light complexion, blue eyes and light hair (this is probably the closest we will ever come to being able to form a mental picture of him). Born in Pendleton District, South Carolina his occupation was listed as that of farmer. He was enlisted by Captain H.C. Bankhead for a term of three years and appears on the Company Muster-In Rolls of the Capt. Jone's Co., 1st Regiment Alabama Volunteers on August 13, 1862. This unit, where William first reported was subsequently referred to as Co. D, 1st Regiment Middle Tennessee Cavalry and later became known as Co. I, 1st Regiment Alabama Cavalry (New). This may explain why William's headstone is marked with Co. D, 1st Alabama Cavalry and not Co. I, as it shows in the records.

Listed as present on muster rolls from this time forward to June of 1863, William was "appointed" Sergeant from Private on March 1st, 1863 by a Colonel Stokes who was most likely the commanding officer of the company. Then, according to a Memorandum from Prisoner of War Records, he was captured at Days Gap, Alabama around the first of May, 1863 and sent to Richmond, Virginia as a Prisoner of War. These records are, to say the least, very confusing and somewhat contradictory. The records indicate that William was sent from Knoxville, Tennessee to Richmond, Virginia as part of a prisoner exchange and was confined there on May 9, 1863. On May 14, he was paroled at City Point, Virginia and reported at Camp Parole, Maryland on May 16, 1863 where he was subsequently released. He then appears as present on a Detachment Muster Roll at Nashville, Tennessee in July and August of 1863 and on then on his normal company rolls for the period from June 30th to October 31st, 1863.

On the Co. I, 1st Regiment Alabama Cavalry muster rolls for November and December of 1863, he is listed as present and as having his rank reduced from Sergeant to Private on December 4, 1863 by a Colonel Spencer. In the data from the National Archives, there is a handwritten letter which supports this action. Given the difficulties of reading a letter which was hastily written over one hundred and thirty years ago, the following is my best interpretation of the contents of that correspondence:

Headquarters 1st Alabama Cavalry
Camp Davis Dec 18th, 1863
G.O. (General Order?)
No. 42

Sergt Wm L. Swan, Co.I, 1st Ala Cavalry is hereby reduced to the ranks for disobedience of orders. Cmg officer of Co.I will notice in rolls and reports in a manner to comply with this order.

By order of
Lieutenant Colonel J. Dodds
Commanding Regiment

Unfortunately, we will probably never know the exact reason for this action and it is impossible to infer a great deal from the records. In January and February of 1864, William is listed as present in the company muster rolls. In March and April of that year, he is shown as absent from his company with a notation that he is detached as an orderly to General Veach on April 21st, 1864. William then appears on the muster roll of General and Staff and Enlisted Men on detached service at Headquarters, 4th Division, 16 Army Corps at Decatur, Alabama. Apparently, as a Private in the 1st Alabama Cavalry, William was detached from his unit and sent to Decatur to serve as an orderly to the Staff officers in the division headquarters. There is no record or muster roll for William's service during May and June of 1864.

In July and August of 1864, his presence or absence was "not stated". However, in the September through December muster rolls, and then later in a May, 1865 Returns Roll, he is listed as Absent Without Leave since September 4, 1864. Finally, on July 19, 1865 he appears on the Company Muster-out Roll at Nashville, Tennessee. He was last paid to June 30th, 1864 and was due a $68.92 clothing allowance and a $100.00 bounty, neither of which appears to have been collected. All of these records tend to indicate that William reported as ordered on detachment to Decatur, Alabama for duty in March and April of 1864, served for some period of time and then never returned to his unit. He was mustered out of the service officially in July of 1865, but was not present to collect his final pay. My guess is that he was released from duty in Decatur and was either told to go home (possible, but unlikely since his enlistment didn't end for almost another year) or just decided that he was not cut out for soldiering. At this point he was relatively close to his home which may have influenced his decision not to report back to his company. Again, I am merely speculating since there is no further record of his presence in the service.

Having just received this information, I am still trying to make some sense of it. My next step will be to send a request to the National Archives for William's pension application records. According to the National Archives, these records if available, will include much more family information and a more extensive record of his military career than the military records that I have received. Also, by requesting the pension application records, I will receive any bounty-land applications which exist as well. It is quite possible that he received land in return for his military service and this may explain why he seemed to have so much land to give away in later years. For now, all I can do is hope that he applied for a pension after the war was over or that Letitia applied for a pension after his death. The State of Alabama Department of Archives and History has no record of a pension application, however, when we requested it we thought that William was a Confederate soldier. Since he was in the Union Army, these records are most likely archived in the U.S. government system and not with the state. I am hoping that his military style headstone is an indication that a pension application was filed with the government, probably after his death.

Where do we go from here?

Although I have been fortunate enough to compile a great deal of information about the Swan(n) family in the last year and a half or so, there are many questions which remain to be answered. For instance, there is still the entire line on our Grandmother's side of the family (Downing) to be researched. Actually, I have been able to trace the records back to our great-great grandfather, James B. Downing who was born in 1808 in South Carolina. But, of course, that is another story! For now, I intend to concentrate on filling out the picture I have begun to form on the William L. Swan line with as much data as I can, starting with a request for his pension application. As I now realize, doing genealogy research is really a lifelong pursuit and not something you can do in a few months or even years. There is an abundance of information available if you know where to look, but with each new door that is opened to you, a thousand questions are raised. It seems to be a never ending cycle of thrills as well as disappointments. However, as frustrating as this work can be, I am having a great time doing it and I plan to continue my research and writing about it for a long time to come.

Michael Wayne Swann
July 31, 1994
Palm Bay, Florida

Birth and death dates from William's grave monument at Valley Springs Cemetary in Cullman County, Alabama. Place of birth from military enrollment records, courtesy of the National Archives.

William L. Swan and Family