- Associated Press - Monday, October 3, 2016

COLUMBUS, Miss. (AP) - On a heat-smitten day 154 years after he died, Hugh Washington Ivy at last received a headstone. Descendants who never knew him gathered ‘round to pay respects as a marker of white marble was unveiled under the sweeping magnolias of Friendship Cemetery in Columbus. The stone took the place of a previous one that had read “Unknown.” The recognition had been a long time coming.

Ivy, from near Meridian, served in the 36th Mississippi Infantry. He was 30 years old when he was transported to Columbus with a host of others wounded at the fierce Battle of Shiloh in April 1862. Scores of soldiers were treated in the city that would become known as a hospital town. Churches and homes were converted into temporary wards for overflowing troops, Confederate and Union. Ivy would not be among the survivors. He died July 4, 1862.

Almost a century and a half later - in 2006 - Sandy Gaddis, a great-great-granddaughter in Meridian, set in motion a history hunt for Ivy by contacting Elisa Barnes Shizak in Columbus. Shizak’s efforts would result in the memorial service and headstone dedication afforded Ivy Sept. 10 at the cemetery.

“This has been an amazing journey,” said Shizak of the Ivy research and verification process that spanned a 10-year period.

Shizak and Gaddis first knew each other through mutual membership in the United Daughters of the Confederacy. That association of female descendants of Confederate veterans preserves the memories of those husbands, fathers, sons and brothers who died in the War Between the States. The UDC collects and preserves rare books, documents, diaries, letters, personal records and other papers of historical importance related to the years 1861 to 1865.

Finding those men and as much of their history as possible is one of Shizak’s strong suits. An accredited genealogist with degrees in research and history, she is a veterans’ advocate of all wars and specializes in searching for veterans of the American Revolutionary War, the War of 1812 and the American Civil War. She continues to attend seminars and has even taken a course in deciphering Old English handwriting. She shares her enthusiasm by teaching beginning and advanced genealogy courses for Mississippi University for Women’s Life Enrichment Program.

“Southerners love a mystery, there’s no two ways about it,” said Shizak, who relishes a puzzle to be solved. “I’m a researcher. This is what I do. I find people. I’ve been doing it for over 25 years.”

Her passion for the hunt stems from a deep respect for past generations.

“We are who we are because of who they were,” she said. “My grandfather was half Indian and he was a storyteller, and he passed that love of history and ancestry down to me at a very young age.”

The search for Hugh

Sandy Gaddis knew from her great-great-grandfather’s military records that he had died in Columbus and the date. Evidence would point toward Friendship Cemetery as a likely resting place.

“Muster rolls tell where he was, what he did, what he got paid,” said Gaddis, who is president of the Robert E. Lee 2561 UDC Chapter in Meridian. “There are so many ‘unknown’ graves at Friendship Cemetery, and over the years I have not found anywhere else that he is buried.”

Unexpectedly, a second great-great granddaughter of Ivy’s made contact with Shizak about two years or so ago. Sandy Reed of Bayou Pigeon, Louisiana, also hoped to find Hugh Washington Ivy. Reed and Gaddis are from different branches of the family and did not know each other before they became linked in a mutual search for their ancestor.

Following clues

Shizak employs a variety of “tools” to search for specific veterans. Surviving military records, birth and death records, census and land records and family Bibles offer clues. Increased technology has enhanced data access through sites such as fold3.com and ancestry.com. Even so, Shizak stresses that information should be verified by cross-referencing as many sources as possible.

In Ivy’s case, Shizak’s research revealed that he had died in one of Columbus‘ “hospital homes” and indicated that his body had not left the city. Many soldiers died near the same time period. In the aftermath of battle, information for immediately notifying any family to collect the bodies of loved ones was often scant to non-existent, and health concerns would dictate speedy burial in Columbus.

“There is not a cemetery in Lowndes County that I have not walked, making sure he’s not in a grave out there somewhere,” Shizak said about eliminating sites other than Friendship.

Application to replace an “unknown” marker with one for a specified individual is a strict process and includes consent of cemetery authorities. Research was submitted to the proper agencies in Washington, D.C. After further investigation and verification, a stone was approved, produced and shipped to Columbus. Selecting the precise grave to place it on unfolded through an unusual process.

On a visit to Columbus from Louisiana, Reed and her brother, Roger Ivy, walked the “unknown” section with mobile devise sensors to detect potential paranormal activity. The specific application, Ghost Detector Pro, registers magnetic emissions. Their results that day led them to choose the grave site that was honored Sept. 10.

“I walked all over that cemetery saying my granddad’s name, and it did not make a sound until I got to that grave,” said Reed, who wore period mourning clothes at the dedication. She has been researching the past for almost four decades and has guided many tours as part of the staff of Louisiana’s antebellum Houmas House Plantations and Gardens.

Emotional response

Both of Hugh Washington Ivy’s great-great-granddaughters are grateful to Shizak and to the Lt. Gen. Stephen D. Lee UDC Chapter 34 for making possible the memorial that also included volunteers from the Sons of Confederate Veterans Camp 2140 Lt. Gen. Stephen D. Lee Caledonia Rifles, led by Commander John Wiggins. SCV member Allen Baswell led prayer and read a poem he wrote, dedicated to Ivy.

“It’s finally done after all these years,” said Reed after the service, where many Ivy descendants from several states met each other for the first time. “I’m almost speechless about what it means.”

Even several days after the event, Gaddis became emotional while talking about it.

“It’s just a stone … but it’s so meaningful,” she said, her voice shaded by tears.

For Shizak, helping to bring a measure of completion to a family is fulfilling.

“The research is demanding, but when I see the looks on their faces when they’re able to honor their veterans, I swell with pride,” she said. She strongly urges other families to value their past, to record names, dates and personal details that could eventually become the history a descendant will search for in generations to come.

“It’s an amazing feeling to find your ancestor’s name in a book, or written on a piece of paper, or going into a cemetery and going, oh my gosh, that’s him!” she added.

Research roadblocks do not daunt her.

“Everybody comes to a brick wall, and that’s where I come in - I love brick walls,” Shizak smiled. “When I’ve expired and go up those pearly steps, I’m going to have my notebook and pen in hand because I’ve got a million questions to ask.”


Information from: The Commercial Dispatch, https://www.cdispatch.com

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