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Hunley News  - Sept 25 - 04 - Genealogist finds Ridgaway heir

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Postby TMSmalley » Sat Sep 25, 2004 12:05 pm

Genealogist finds Ridgaway heir

The Associated Press

'It's been very emotional. My father died when I was a little girl, and I knew almost nothing about father's family when I was a child. For me, it's finding my family.'

Emma Busbey Ditman | of Silver Spring, Md., the great-grandniece of Ridgaway

CHARLESTON - Scientists using DNA have positively identified one of the crewmen of the Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley, the first submarine in history to sink an enemy warship.

Scientists and researchers had made preliminary dentifications of crewmen who were buried at Magnolia Cemetery earlier this year.

Officials announced Friday that they have positively confirmed the identity of crewman Joseph Ridgaway using DNA from a descendant.

The hand-cranked Hunley made history Feb. 17, 1864, when it rammed a spar with a black powder charge into the Union blockade ship Housatonic.

But the sub never returned from the mission. It was found off the S.C. coast nine years ago, raised in 2000 then brought to a conservation lab at the old Charleston Naval Base.

The next year, when the crew's remains were excavated from the silt-filled sub, scientists sent samples of the remains to the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command in Hawaii. There, DNA samples were selected for analysis and sent to the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory.

Forensic genealogist Linda Abrams later was able to locate a
maternal descendant of Ridgaway, who was from Talbot County on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.

After Ridgaway was lost on the Hunley, a friend and former shipmate, James Joyner, took his belongings back to his family in Maryland.

Joyner later married Ridgaway's sister Elizabeth, and Abrams located her grave in Drexel Hill, Pa.

Elizabeth's great-granddaughter gave permission for a sample to be taken, and it matched the DNA of the Hunley crewman.

About 40 relatives of Hunley crewmen were in Charleston last April when the crew was buried in what was called the last Confederate funeral.

At the time, Emma Busbey Ditman of Silver Spring, Md., said she learned about 12 years ago that she had a relative aboard the Hunley. She is the great-grandniece of Ridgaway.

"It's been very emotional. My father died when I was a little girl, and I knew almost nothing about father's family when I was a child," she said. "For me, it's finding my family."

Tim Smalley
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Postby TMSmalley » Sun Sep 26, 2004 8:16 am

Great mystery of Hunley's crew yields to DNA test

The medallion he wore identified him as a Union soldier. But genealogists tracked him down, obtained DNA from his sister and identified first officer Joseph Ridgaway.

Of The Post and Courier Staff
He carried no identification on the H.L. Hunley, at least not his own.

When they found him, wearing a medallion bearing the name of Yankee soldier Ezra Chamberlin, he became the great mystery of the Confederate submarine's crew.

Now, DNA tests have confirmed what scientists and genealogists have believed for months: Maryland sailor Joseph Ridgaway was the Hunley's first officer when the sub disappeared in 1864.

"It is a wonderful confirmation of our research," senior Hunley archaeologist Maria Jacobsen said. "One down and seven to go."

Just before the Hunley crew's burial in April, genealogist Linda Abrams, physical anthropologist Doug Owsley of the Smithsonian Institution and Hunley scientists announced the man in the back of the sub most likely was Ridgaway.

The DNA confirmation supports the identification of the crew that scientists made before the burial. There is little doubt about captain George E. Dixon's identity, as he was found in the driver's seat carrying a coin and watch with his name inscribed on them.

That leaves only two other American-born men on the sub, James A. Wicks and Frank Collins, and there is little doubt which is which. Wicks was in his 40s, Collins his 20s. The other four men were born in Europe.

Scientists hope to use DNA to identify all eight men. So far, that has proven difficult. Abrams is searching for living descendants of the remaining seven crewmen, or at least the graves of direct maternal descendants, the only family members who would have matching DNA.

To date, none has given her the same "gotcha" feeling she had with Ridgaway when she found his name on a monument in Talbot County, Maryland.

"It had that eerie feeling I get when I've really nailed something," Abrams said. "When we got the DNA from his sister, I knew it was going to work."

Uncovering the identity of an anonymous sailor wearing the I.D. of a Connecticut Yankee proved to be a mammoth bit of detective work. When Ridgaway's remains were found wearing Chamberlin's tag, speculation on his identity ran the gamut. Some believed he was a spy or a Union deserter who had switched sides.

Others believed he was a prisoner of war, forced to man the sub.

Initially, scientists believed the man might be J.F. Carlsen, a member of the Hunley's final crew who was on Morris Island when Chamberlin died there in the summer of 1863.

At first, no one suspected the man was Ridgaway. No one knew who Ridgaway was, or whether he was even on the sub.

In most historical accounts, Ridgaway's name is spelled "Ridgeway," a mistake Abrams found when she magnified the sailor's handwriting on contemporary documents. Using the right spelling, she tracked Joseph Ridgaway to Talbot County, Md., on the eastern shore of Chesapeake Bay.

Ridgaway, the son of a ship captain and wealthy landowner, joined the Confederate Navy early in the war, perhaps after one of his father's ships was taken by the Union. He was onboard the Confederate ship Indian Chief in Charleston Harbor when he joined the crew of the Hunley in the fall of 1863.

In the weeks before the Hunley sank the Housatonic on Feb. 17, 1864, the job of Hunley first officer fell to Ridgaway, 30. From his spot in the back of the sub, he operated the aft ballast pump and hatch, and he also manned the hand cranks that powered the sub's propeller.

With Ridgaway wrapped up, Abrams, a Massachusetts genealogist who works with the U.S. military, has turned her focus to Dixon and Arnold Becker, the youngest member of the crew. Becker, born in Europe, most likely entered the country in New Orleans, and Abrams wants to travel there for more research.

Ideally, she says that by next April, the anniversary of the crew's burial, she will have positively identified another Hunley crewman or two. That depends on some luck, enough time to devote to the search and historical records.

Based on the confirmation of Ridgaway's identity, it appears scientists already have a good idea of who was who on the Hunley when it disappeared on a cold February night in 1864.

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