Database Reveals a Soldier’s Unexpected Past

Online searching has undoubtedly revolutionized information gathering.  Census rolls, vital records, family trees, and genealogies are among the familiar, much-used digital resources at our fingertips free of charge in the Society’s reading room.  A lesser utilized treasure trove of information is held in the Society’s collection of printed college and school catalogs. These “catalogs” were issued annually and often listed the names and city of origin of its students and faculty.  Many of these names—nearly three quarters of a million of them—have been indexed in the Student, Teacher and Trustee Database Project, 1800-1900, freely accessible on the AAS website.

AAS member Richard P. Morgan saw the research value in indexing student and faculty names and has made this database his mission.  Always striving to improve the online presentation and functionality of the database, Rich will periodically call upon me to tweak the search or results interface pages.  Recently, in the midst of testing an update, I searched for a name that popped into my head—“Aaron Scott.”  It’s the name of my great-grandfather, a Connecticut Valley tobacco farmer born in the 1860s.  I was surprised when four results from the 1850s for an Aaron Scott of North Hadley, Massachusetts, appeared.  I was well aware of this Aaron Scott—the uncle after whom my own great-grandfather was named.  Stories of this beloved uncle and the circumstance of his death as a Civil War soldier have long loomed large in our family lore.  I had no idea, however, that this son of a farming family had the opportunity to attend Wesleyan Academy in Wilbraham, Massachusetts, from 1850 to 1851, and Kimball Union Academy in Meriden, New Hampshire, from 1854 to 1857, as the database now showed me.

Portrait of Aaron Scott from “History of the Ninety-Sixth Regiment: Illinois Volunteer Infantry,” 1887.

During the Atlanta campaign on August 2, 1864, Aaron Scott, having suffered a serious wound to his face, was lying on his bunk reading his Bible when he was struck by a bullet.  An account of the event, recorded in a history of his regiment, describes Scott’s refusal of whiskey; he preferred to sip cold water.[1] His dramatic passing was recorded as having a profound effect on the other soldiers.  This tragic end is really all that our family had remembered about Uncle Aaron, but his educational background does help explain how, at the time of his enlistment, he was a teacher in charge of the agricultural department of the Reform School at Chicago.   Without the indexing provided by the Student, Teacher and Trustee Database Project, the knowledge of Aaron Scott’s education and experience as a student would have most likely have remained a missing piece of his story.


[1] History of the Ninety-Sixth Regiment: Illinois Volunteer Infantry. Edited by Charles A. Partridge. Chicago: Brown, Pettibone, printers, 1887.

5 thoughts on “Database Reveals a Soldier’s Unexpected Past

  1. James Romer

    Hello Caroline: Thank you for this post about Uncle Aaron, with whom, in a sense, I have two personal connections. First of all, as a teenager in the 1950s I worked harvesting tobacco (and onions and potatoes) on several farms in North Hadley. One was owned by Ernest Hibbard (probably a distant relative of mine), almost the only farmer not of Polish descent in that area. The other farmer was Joe Tudryn, a very successful Polish-American farmer. Recently on driving from my home in New Hampshire to Amherst Mass. I took a slight detour through North Hadley and discovered that Joe Tudryn’s house and barns looked to have been abandoned, although the fields were still under cultivation. Second connection with Uncle Aaron: I am familiar with Kimball Union Academy (in the village of Meriden in Plainfield, several towns north of me in New Hampshire), both as a landmark on my route north to Hanover (just drove past yesterday) and as just about the first secondary school in this part of the state. In my research on the history of this region I very often encounter other graduates of KUA. Thank you for your great blog and thanks to all the workers at the AAS who make it such a useful and welcoming institution.

    1. James Romer

      Hello again Caroline: I hadn’t realized that the growing of tobacco in North Hadley already had a history of 100 years or more back in the 1950s when I (and my brother) worked there summers. Does your family lore reveal anything more about that history?

  2. Caroline Sotffel

    Hello James, Thanks very much for your kind response. It’s so funny how the story resonated with your own experience in two ways! I believe the Scott’s are also tied in with the Hibbards by marriage. Aaron Scott’s farm was on River Road–the large white house on the bend just south of the Congregational Church–and was sold by my family in the 1950s. I am not familiar with Kimball Union Academy but I do plan on doing some more research on Aaron’s course of study there. It was a secondary school at that time? Happy New Year!

  3. James Romer

    Hello Caroline: As far as I know, KUA has always been a secondary school. My only reasons for saying that i am probably related to Ernest Hibbard are 1) the relative rarity of the name and 2) the nearness of North Hadley to my grandfather’s VT. But I’ve just gone to the website and discovered that the George Hibbard who brought the Hibbard name to North Hadley in the late 18th century came from Windham County CT, as did my VT Hibbard ancestors. Enough of this genealogical chitchat. Keep up the good work!

  4. Caroline Sotffel

    Dear James, I’m actually not sure which crops would have been on the Scott farm in the 1850s. The more I thought about it I realized I didn’t really know when the Scott family would have started planting tobacco– the crop my grandmother (b. 1903) always talked about. And so I did a little digging. I was happy to find that there is a Connecticut Valley Tobacco Museum in Windsor, Connecticut ( and even a recent publication on the topic. Sounds like a fun place to visit. Thanks again for sharing your memories which has gotten me to think more carefully about what I thought I knew with renewed interest.


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