Catherine Desmarais, Certified Genealogist

Stone House Historical Research

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Gettysburg Address: Read by a Soldier’s Granddaughter

Posted: November 20th, 2013

Lincoln's Gettysburg Address

The American Civil War really wasn’t that long ago, as I’ve reminded my children many times. Grammy’s grandfather fought in it, I tell them. The lives of many people alive today overlapped with the lives of these soldiers. So many of us are at most two degrees separated from the civil war.

Or we were, when we were younger. We are losing our elders, our living history, much too fast. I suspect that the Gettysburg Address seems like ancient history to many people today, despite its enduring relevance. That’s why I was so glad to hear that the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, newspaper judged it appropriate to retract their 150-year-old editorial remarks and publish a cleverly-worded correction last week. And that’s why I was even more thrilled when Civil War storyteller Ken Burns proposed that Americans record themselves reading/reciting the Gettysburg Address out loud to celebrate its 150th anniversary yesterday, November 19, 2013.

Take a look at to hear our living U.S. Presidents and other well-known folks speaking these 269 words. (But do it after you are done reading this post, OK?) I loved the mash-up. You can also upload a video of yourself reading the address. What a cool thing for your descendants to find! (By the way, Ken Burn’s inspiration for this project came from kids in my home state of Vermont who attend a school that still requires memorizing the Gettysburg Address each year. Yes, you detect a bit of home state pride there.)

Judy Russell, our beloved Legal Genealogist, posted her lovely recording on her blog. That got me thinking, as Judy usually does. My mother’s grandfather, Joshua Bair, was there with his regiment that day, stationed at Gettysburg as part of the clean-up detail assigned to the battleground. She’s 96 years old now, and I’d love to preserve the sound of her reading the address. She and her grandfather’s lives missed overlapping by a very short time, but close enough. If you’d like to be two degrees from Lincoln’s address that November day in 1863, have a listen to my mom:

Gettysburg Address, Catherine Wiest, age 96



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7 Comments to “Gettysburg Address: Read by a Soldier’s Granddaughter”

  1. Kevin E. Shue says:

    Wonderful! Excellent reading! Spoken with conviction by your mother.

  2. Wow, Cathi – how great is that! My parents are gone but my Dad’s cousin is 93. His grandfather fought in the 2nd RI Regiment at Gettysburg (mostly in reserve) and died when Ken was 6 years old. He distinctly remembers his grandfather, Zophar Skinner. Time telescopes with these types of occurrences and we realize how close we are to the past.

    • Cathi says:

      I love when time telescopes like that! We are so lucky to have these living connections, but we are losing them quickly. I hope you’ve recorded an interview with your dad’s cousin.

  3. What an awesome connection to history, Cathi! Your mother’s voice has a timeless quality–I could almost see images of Lincoln and Gettysburg in my mind’s eye as she spoke. I’m sure this recording is something you’ll always treasure.

  4. Cathi says:

    Thanks for listening to it, Shelley. I choked up listening to her read it. I know how lucky I am.

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Catherine Desmarais is a member of the Association of Professional Genealogists

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Catherine is a Board-Certified Genealogist. Certified Genealogist and CG are service marks of the Board for Certification of Genealogists, used under license by Board-certified associates after periodic competency evaluations.