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Ancestry.com has partnered with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to make public documentation that goes beyond name, rank and regiment which reveals some interesting details some of the great figures in United States history,  from Abraham Lincoln’s cause of death to records of a jilted fiancé, Vivia Thomas, who went to great lengths to elicit revenge on her lover—and did.

The following is the latest press release from Ancestry.com:

PROVO, UTAH – November 9, 2012 – Going beyond name, rank and regiment, a new collection of military burial registers on Ancestry.com provides insight into some of America’s greatest historical figures – including Abraham Lincoln, General Custer and others dating to the Civil War. The online, searchable collection launches today courtesy of a partnership between Ancestry.com, the world’s largest online family history resource, and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and theNational Archives and Records Administration (NARA).

“These began as around 60 amazing, handwritten burial registers – more than 9,000 pages of American heroes, where they are buried and other details,” says Dan Jones, Vice President of Content for Ancestry.com. “And today they can be searched by individual names and viewed online on Ancestry.com, allowing family historians everywhere greater insight into the military experience of ancestors as well as notable personalities.”

Highlights of the collection include:

  • President Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln’s honorific entry in an Arlington National Cemetery register is framed with a hand-drawn black border. Under cause of death it reads “Assassinated; pistol shot by John Wilkes Booth the ball entering 2 inches below and behind the left ear and lodged in the brain.”
  • General George Armstrong Custer. Custer is among those officers “taken up on Custer’s battleground” and brought to Fort Abraham Lincoln by steamer in 1877. Custer’s brother Thomas and brother-in-law James Calhoun, who were killed at the Little Big Horn, are in the collection as well.
  • Captain Charles William “Charley” Paddock, USMC. Paddock, winner of the gold medal in the 100 meter at the 1920 Summer Olympics, and whose 1924 Olympic appearance was portrayed in the movie Chariots of Fire, died in a World War II plane crash near Sitka, Alaska, where he is buried.
  • Vivia Thomas. According to legend, Thomas was a jilted fiancé who left home to exact revenge on an army officer who broke off their engagement. Thomas traveled west dressed as a man and joined the army at Fort Gibson, her ex-fiancé’s post. She eventually shot and killed him, before dying herself. When the soldiers of Fort Gibson, who knew her as Private Thomas, learned of the story, they honored her courage by interment in the cemetery Officers’ Circle.

From the 1860s until the mid-20thcentury, in some places, U.S. Army personnel tracked burials at national cemeteries and military posts in registers that included name, rank, company/regiment, date and cause of death, age, grave number, and original place of burial in the case of re-interments.  The U.S. Army was responsible for all national cemeteries from the 1860s until the early 1930s, and they were responsible for depositing most burial registers at NARA.  In 1973, the Army transferred 82 national cemeteries to what is now VA, where the National Cemetery Administration (NCA)oversees them.

Concerned for the fragility of these documents and wanting to expand public access to the contents, NCA scanned about 60 handwritten ledgers to produce more than 9,344 pages of high-quality digital images.  Then in 2011, NCA initiated a partnership with Ancestry.com to index the ledgers so users can search them easily.  At no cost to the government or taxpayers, Ancestry.com spent close to 3,000 hours indexing NCA’s ledgers records to make them searchable by name.

The ledgers are one of two new Ancestry.comcollections, U.S. Burial Registers, Military Posts and National Cemeteries, 1862–1960and U.S. Headstone Applications, 1925–1963, both launching for Veterans Day 2012. More than 500,000 individuals are included in these records.

“We are excited to be able to share this wealth of primary documentation,” said VA’s Under Secretary for Memorial Affairs Steve L. Muro. “With the help of Ancestry.com, we have opened the doors to thousands of service members’ histories through the information contained in these burial ledgers.”

The Ancestry.com partnership supports NCA’s commemoration of the Civil War 150th anniversary (2011–2015).  More than 72 of NCA’s 131 national cemeteries originated with the Civil War.  More than 3.7 million Americans, including Veterans of every war and conflict — from the Revolutionary War to the Global War on Terror — are buried in VA national cemeteries in 39 states.

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