The Commercial-News, Danville, IL

March 24, 2013

Civil War sailors buried at Arlington


As the United States commemorates the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, it is appropriate that the two sailors whose remains were found in the USS Monitor have recently been buried at Arlington National Cemetery. The media has called those men “unidentified,” but researcher Megan Smolenyak has been working on their identification for some time.

The Monitor is noteworthy in U.S. history books because it participated in the first battle between two ironclad ships on March 9, 1862. Later that year, however, the Monitor sank in rough seas and 16 sailors went down with her. In 2002 the ship’s turret was raised from the Atlantic Ocean floor and two skeletons were found inside.

Smolenyak has worked with government authorities for some time, using DNA evidence to identify many veterans’ remains and locate family members, and has written several blogs pertaining to the identification of these Monitor sailors. Links to her articles can be found at She also describes her research in her most recent book, “Hey, America, Your Roots Are Showing” (Citadel Press, Kensington Publishing Corp., 2012), in a chapter titled “Skeletons in the Turret.”

She recently determined that at least one of the sailors was either Robert Williams or William Bryan. Her research is detailed at and is most interesting. In fact, the article includes a photograph of the crew of the Monitor, with Williams and Bryan identified, as found in the Library of Congress’ Civil War Photograph Collection.

Arlington Cemetery will eventually have a marker at the gravesite with the names of all 16 men who died on the Monitor.

Conflicting conferences

Two important conferences are scheduled for the second weekend in May; attendance at either one is sure to assist one’s genealogical research. The Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society will host its 34th Family History Conference from May 9-11, “Family History for Smarties (and Others, Too.)” It will feature genealogist John Philip Colleta, and also offer research assistance and provide tours. For complete details on this conference, visit

The National Genealogical Society’s annual conference on May 8-11, “Building New Bridges,” will be in Las Vegas, Nev., with multiple sessions offered every hour, presented by more than 100 speakers, including Henry “Hank” Jones, Elizabeth Shown Mills, Megan Smolenyak, and Curt Witcher. For details on this important event, visit

Indiana workshop

The Indiana Historical Society will host a special class, “Read All About It: Accessing Digitized Indiana Newspaper Archives,” from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, May 18. This database contains more than 2 million digitized newspaper pages from more than 760 Indiana newspapers dated 1924 and earlier, and can be searched by keyword.

The cost is $10 (or $8 for IHS members); participants are eligible for two technology LEUs (teaching units); and the fee includes parking and same-day admission to the Indiana Experience. For more information, call (317) 232-1882 or visit the society’s website at

Queries, as well as a general exchange of genealogical material that readers would like to share, will be printed in the column for free. Contact Joan Griffis by e-mailing