Glenn Rouse knows his great-great grandfather, Civil War veteran Maynard Randall, better than some people know their living relatives. But the history lesson didn’t come easy.
“It’s like a crossword puzzle with no page and no clues,” Rouse said of his hobby, genealogy research.
What eluded Rouse most of all, even as nearly 15 years of sleuthing revealed so much else, was the whereabouts of Randall’s grave.
“It’s been kind of a long journey trying to figure out where he went and what happened to him,” said Rouse, 65, a radiologist from Loma Linda, California.
He learned Randall was born in Canada to U.S. parents in 1831. That he became a Union sailor in the Civil War. That he spent much of the war aboard the USS Osage, a river-going ironclad that patrolled the Mississippi. That he was a grunt-level landsman, probably put to work shoveling coal into the ship’s boiler or some such task.
He learned Randall survived the sinking of the Osage at Mobile, Alabama, and the war. That he panned for gold in Montana and then retired to two acres in Gig Harbor provided to veterans by the federal government, which denied him the pension he demanded for an injury.
And he learned Randall took his own life on Sept. 20, 1896. The Tacoma Daily News said he had penned a suicide note on the back of a pamphlet promoting the free-silver movement, which agitated against the gold standard and favored that year’s doomed presidential campaign by William Jennings Bryan.
The note “said he was just in too much pain,” Rouse said.
But what happened to his remains?
A break in the case came last year when the Washington State Archives sent records to Rouse that linked Randall to Artondale Cemetery.
The graveyard near Gig Harbor opened the year before Randall’s death. More than 700 people lie beneath its three acres of uneven ground and mossy headstones.
None of them was listed as a Maynard Randall. But there was a Bernard Randall, whose date of death was off by only a single day.
Maybe it was faulty record keeping, Rouse said, or maybe the cemetery wanted to hush up the fact that it had accepted the remains of someone who had committed suicide.
Regardless, Rouse and the cemetery submitted evidence of the error to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The VA provided a new marker last fall, a real headstone to replace a flat black marker and mark Randall as a Civil War veteran.
It was installed in time for a Memorial Day service to honor Randall and other veterans.
Nine relatives turned up for it, including Pam Wilson, a distant relative by marriage who met Rouse for the first time Monday after years of e-mail correspondence. She lives in nearby Poulsbo, but wouldn’t have known about her distant connection to the Gig Harbor cemetery if Rouse hadn’t solved the mystery.
“That’s what genealogy is,” Wilson said, “is detective work.”