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I was sixteen in the summer of 1998, and my mother had driven me up the two hours to see Grandmother and Grandfather -- her parents.

They had moved in 1974 to the temperate, pleasantly breezy Eastern Shore after his retirement ended his military career in 1972. So the house they'd bought meant little to her -- probably more to me, since they had a pool (Grandmother played games with us!) and piles of toys and a neat upstairs area suitable for several people to sleep over.

They also had a motorboat, and Grandfather had directed me one summer when I was eleven as I drove it, realizing as he was telling me to go left, then right, then left again, that I was driving a boat -- with him, Grandmother, my mother, my sisters and my brother in it behind me.

But I was not eleven now, and this was not one of those visits. I had not brought my swimsuit, and we were not going to be using the pool.

We were three of us sitting in their screened porch area, which was roofed but open to the air, a breeze always coming in off the water, but rarely so hard that it knocked more than a hair out of place. Grandfather was having a lunch of baked tomatoes with salt and pepper; my mother had told me his teeth were now so bad that he could barely stand to chew anything tougher. We didn't talk about that much.

He was talking to my mother as Grandmother walked in and out, fetching some things for our lunch and making sure others had already been fetched, from the crab traps or the garden or the kitchen or the room where they kept their travel information -- they had a map with pins in all the places they'd visited, and some places had so many pins I wondered at how they'd managed to stick new ones in.

Then Grandmother sat down.

"And those men are finally going to get the recognition they deserve," he said with sudden gravity and emotion, placing his fist firmly on the table as if he had a stake in the thing.

He did.

Where New Philadelphia, Ill., was founded in 1836 in wilderness, Unionville, Md., was founded in 1867 on farmland -- plantations, in fact. The founders were ex-slaves and ex-Union Army soldiers. (Sources differ on if some of the founders were free blacks. They were all in the Army.)

It is the only village of its kind in the country. And as you will see when you click to read that book, and go through page after page, ... I need add nothing. Grandfather and Dr. Bernard Demczuk -- he earned his doctorate for this work -- uncovered it all.

I often think that placing modern labels on people is silly. "So-and-so was gay," we say, based on her poetry or whatever. Well, maybe. Some people argue that Shakespeare showed his man-loving side in his poetry, ignoring that (from everything reputable I have read) he was only ever about money and reputation, based from when his father's request for a coat of arms was rejected.

Grandfather was a researcher for many years, starting with a binder-filling Christmas present one year: research on his sister. We still have the work, which led a year or more later to an equally expansive binder of heavily footnoted papers on Roe Stookey, a relative of one of Grandmother's ancestors.

Grandfather died in early 1999, without much benefit, if any, from the Internet and its giant piles of resources. If you've read (m)any of my diaries, you know I practically live in Internet history sources, pulling as I can from the parts of books, articles and other resources that are free to the public.

Grandfather, who was functionally if not legally disabled -- he had to try more than a little to get up, and his eyes (even with glasses) were about as bad as his teeth for too long -- went to the library and other places of research a pile because Civil War records weren't just sitting there on the Internet he didn't use, waiting for him.

At home, his research desk was a collection of papers he had organized in just that way you do it -- you know where everything is, and nobody else does, so it looks like a mess, but nobody else can touch anything there because then your system is ruined. He had his binders of information, but he also had odds and ends, like where he was writing the story of a friend and former serviceman who, during a war, had crashed a plane and crawled out of the burning wreckage.

So I suspect he would have enjoyed the convenience of Internet resources, given a little time and instruction. (My mother isn't as sure.)

He loved information about people (particularly soldiers), and he loved telling stories about people (particularly soldiers), and I don't think I got all of my need to know everything from him -- he cared about Unionville because these were soldiers, and they were local, and they hadn't been appropriately recognized -- but right now, I have separate browser windows for all my resources on Underground Railroad stories (for when I get back to that diary) and desegregated education (same). The main difference between my desk and his is technology.

The ceremony to recognize Unionville was on Veterans Day 1998. Unionville is still honoring its living and deceased veterans, as you would expect.

From 1937 to 1999, my grandfather never stopped caring about soldiers' stories.

Originally posted to iampunha on Sun Jan 19, 2014 at 07:17 PM PST.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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