BOBBY J. SMITH
CORINTH, Miss. — For Tom Parson, a park ranger at the Corinth Civil War Interpretive Center, helping people learn about their ancestors just comes with the job.
It's a regular thing for Parson to get a call from people who know their ancestors fought in the Civil War — but not much else. They talk to Parson for help to find out more.
Once Parson begins the research, he never knows where it'll end up.
Sometimes he finds material for his weekly Daily Corinthian column about the Crossroads area in the Civil War. Some of his best friendships have resulted from these research meetings, he said.
The difficulty of the project usually depends on how much information the person has to begin with, Parson said. If they're looking for a John Smith from Texas, for instance, it could be very difficult. With a little more information, however, the mission is usually a success.
"If we have a name and at least the state, it's a good jumping off place," he said. "We can do the research online and in our library. If they have the soldier's name and regiment, then my job is easy."
Another highly useful resource is an online pay-site called fold3.com. This site features scanned copies of the records of practically every soldier who served on both sides in the war. Sometimes a search will yield one page of records; sometimes it will turn up 50 pages.
Besides the common Civil War soldier, the website also has copies of the service records of famous soldiers like Robert E. Lee and Nathan Bedford Forrest.
Another online resource is the Civil War Soldiers and Sailors Database. The CWSS, a free website, helps researchers locate which unit their ancestors served in and provides a brief history of every regiment that served in the war.
"It's something you can look up very quickly, but you need to know the name and the state they're from," Parson explained. "It provides very limited information, but with that information and other sources we have here, we can flesh it out a bit."
One of the best parts of the experience is to show people the actual ground where their ancestors fought. If it's someone whose ancestor fought in the Battle of Corinth, Parson can show them where the ancestor's unit was positioned during the battle.
"We can bring people to within a few yards of where their ancestor served," Parson said.
Also, using soldiers' letters, diaries and other primary sources, it's possible to know what most parts of the battlefield and town looked like during the battle.
For Parson, helping Interpretive Center visitors discover their past — and their connections to history — is a rewarding experience.
"Truly," he said, "it's the best part of the job."