Win a $25 Gift Card – Genealogy Challenge #2: John Gallagher



John Gallagher Genealogy Challenge

Based on some emails I received, my instructions for taking part in Genealogy Challenge #1 were less than stellar! So here goes try #2.

Below is a case study that I’ve done on a genealogical problem. To participate, all you need to do is use the contact form (or send an email to telling me what your next step/s would be to get a little further along the research road for this individual.

There is no “right” answer.  The purpose of the challenge is to put on your creative thinking cap and share how you would approach the problem.

Best answer wins a $25 Amazon gift card and a shout-out in the newsletter. Contest ends on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, 2017.

A Day at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery

This puzzle began at the Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery in San Diego, California. My sister and I were at the cemetery, taking photos to fulfill a request.

We drove into the older section of the cemetery and stopped to walk back through the stones – as genealogists often do. An old stone caught our eye because it showed that the deceased had served in the Mexican War, Civil War and Indian Wars. A rarity.

The stone was that of Sgt. John Gallagher of Battery B, 4th U.S. Artillery. According to the inscription Sgt. Gallagher died on July 18, 1879, aged 56 years, “a gallant soldier who faithfully served his adopted country”. (You may note that the end of the inscription is below grass line. My sister trimmed it so we could read the whole thing)

John Gallagher Tombstone Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery

His service in three wars and his foreign birth were too tempting to pass up doing a bit of research.

My first stop was GenealogyBank . After entering Gallagher’s name, date of death, and specifying California, I found a San Francisco article giving the date that Gallagher’s estate went through probate and the names of the family members to whom he’d left money.

Most curious, though, was the fact that he left a sum of $200 to the men of Battery B for a “good dinner”. He then directed that any monies left over after the disposition of his estate be used for the benefit of Battery B. Clearly his Army unit meant a great deal to him.

I really wanted to see the probate papers so I e-mailed the coordinator at the San Francisco County USGenWeb, who gave me the e-mail of a local researcher. The researcher reminded me (duh!) that the will and probate file were not available – they were part of the official records destroyed in the Great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906.

Dead end.

Pensions and Army Records

Because there was no mention of a wife in Gallagher’s obituary, I assumed that he was probably married to the Army, but I checked the widows pension records at There were none. This doesn’t mean he never married – it just means I have no proof of it at this time.

Next, I went to and it was there that I found several of Gallagher’s Army records, including enlistments (and re-enlistments) in 1847, 1863, 1868, 1871, and 1876. I’m almost positive there was an earlier enlistment than 1847 as well as one in 1861. But I can’t prove it with the records I have on hand.

The obituary mentioned that Gallagher had left “his lands and properties near Junction City, Kansas”, to a nephew. I wondered at what period of time he had been in Kansas. When I saw his enlistment papers, it noted that from 1868 to 1871, the 4th Artillery was stationed in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. The distance (according to between Junction City and Leavenworth is 126 miles – not a hop, skip and jump in 1868. I’m still wondering what got Gallagher over to Junction City.

The Army records indicated Sgt. Gallagher was born in Derry, Ireland. I also learned he died in San Diego on July 18, 1879, of cancer. The same date shown on his tombstone. Although what he was doing in San Diego I don’t know, as he was stationed at the Presidio in San Francisco.

I picked up the phone and called Fort Rosecrans. Although they typically don’t give out information, because of the age of the mystery they were happy to help me. Sadly, though, the only information they had was that Gallagher was buried on July 18, 1879, the year the cemetery had opened.

Back to the Internet

After getting everything I could from the subscription sites, I began Internet searching. Research included following the 4th Artillery from the Mexican War through the Indian Wars (Modoc War, California).

When I searched the 4th’s role in the Civil War, I discovered the battles in which they took part. Then, I tried to pinpoint where Battery B had been on the battlefield so I could fly there on Google Earth.

Determining battlefield placement was done by searching for online diaries, battle descriptions, and Google Books. I also did a search engine query for the “order of battle” at the major battles. For example, the order of battle at Gettysburg revealed that Battery B was in I Corps, under Colonel Wainwright. Later, a Google search turned up Battery B’s service throughout the entire Civil War.

Mysteries remain.

I have the name of Gallagher’s brother-in-law, his nieces and nephew, but I don’t have his sister’s first name nor do I know where the family lived in 1879.

Take-away: Without using, I doubt I would have found the Gallagher obituary. And without the obituary I would have very little information to go on. Since most subscription sites have free trial periods, this is one I highly recommend.

The John Gallagher Challenge

If John Gallagher was one of your ancestors, where would you search next? Send me an email using the contact form or email me directly Remember, challenge ends on St. Patrick’s Day: March 17, 2017. Best answer/s wins the $25 Amazon gift card. Good luck!


Save Your Family Stories - 10 Easy Steps

*by downloading this free PDF you're confirming that you also wish to receive my free genealogy newsletter


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.