PLATTSBURGH — Jack Bilow was a 9-year-old boy growing up in Chateaugay when his interest in family research was piqued by his grandmother, Lizzie Parmeter.
Bilow admits it's a bit weird, but watching "Son of Frankenstein," where the vault scene showed three generations laid to rest, added to his ancestral curiosity.
On these foundations, he has built years of research and a new publication, "A War of 1812 Death Register: Whispers in the Dark," containing thousands of soldier's names and information on a sometimes forgotten war. A treasure trove of genealogy information, he included birth and death dates, regiment served in, pension information, heir names and towns, when available.
YEARS OF RESEARCH
"Much of my research was done over seven years of going to the National Archives in Washington, D.C., among other places," he said from his Plattsburgh home. "I had to plow through thousands of name cards and pull out the ones that I wanted to include in the book."
His book covers the killed in action, missing in action, prisoner of war, the wounded and deaths in Vermont, New York and along the Canadian border. They came from Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia and Washington, D.C. He has also includes a special chapter on the Battle of Plattsburgh, including both American and British troops.
"I hired an English woman, Diane Graves, who traveled to England to do the British research on the Battle of Plattsburgh," he said. "I wanted to know that the information was truly accurate."
The geographical area covered in the book includes what Bilow calls the "northern front," from Maine to the Niagara Frontier. His research shows that prisoners were taken across the border to places such as Halifax (Nova Scotia), Montreal and Quebec City, where they died. He also found there were more French-speaking Canadians in the Battle of Plattsburgh than originally thought.
"They came down from Canada in bateaus and covered the lake," he said. "At one time, there were between 150 and 160 French-speaking sailors on the lake."
In addition, he discovered that Gen. Alexander Macomb (Battle of Plattsburgh fame) had a brother, Lt. Charles Macomb, who was killed in a duel in Buffalo in 1814; that there are about 400 soldier's bodies buried in Fort Covington; and that Sacketts Harbor was the "death capital" of the War of 1812, reporting 1,500 deaths. He also uncovered an eye-witness account of the naval battle of Lake Champlain, by E.P. Tache, written in August 1859, refuting stories that the Canadians abandoned their gun boats.
"It's so important to bring forth the truth about the Battle of Plattsburgh, whether it be an eye-witness account or through actual muster rolls," he said. "There are a lot of misconceptions out there, and everybody who fought in the War of 1812 didn't participate in the Battle of Plattsburgh, but they still deserve credit for their commitment to serve."
Facts prove that more than 1,400 militia served from Clinton, Essex and Franklin counties. Bilow hopes more local people will get involved in battle research and genealogy. He has found that many family researchers don't know they had ancestors in this war. He noted that, in his book, their names may be found in more than one list. Many of the lists, including the Battle of Plattsburgh, have never been published.
Several maps and drawings are included, one of specific regimental locations along the Saranac River in Plattsburgh, found at the Library of Congress. Other information includes accounts of skeletons being unearthed during road improvements, the names of men who received "prize certificates" after ships were captured and their gear sold off, and accounts of black and Hispanic sailors in both navies.
A former banker and correction officer, Bilow, who has been retired for five years, said he put up his own funds to bring the publication to fruition and doesn't expect to make any money. However, he hopes libraries and museums in the various states named, will be excited to add his book to their collection.
"I get a kick out of bringing this information to the public," he said, "as any historian would. It's a great feeling to think that 50 years from now, somebody will pick up this book and find something they didn't know about their ancestors.
"I just hope people enjoy this book and can use the information that has never been compiled and published before."
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