By Seth Daniel
There’s no telling what one might find when they begin exploring their family tree.
Sometimes it can be shocking or embarrassing.
Other times it can be moving.
And sometimes it’s simply ordinary.
When Charlestown’s Eddie Loan began his discovery of an ancestor that fought valiantly in the Civil War, what he found was a sincere highlight of his life – and the righting of a wrong for his great, great uncle, Frank William Loan, who had been buried in an unmarked grave in Malden’s Holy Cross Cemetery until Eddie intervened.
Last weekend, in a solemn and happy ceremony, Eddie Loan officially gave his ancestor – a twice injured veteran of the Civil War – his proper resting place.
“When I finally went to the cemetery to find him after some extensive research, I found that he didn’t even have a gravestone,” said Loan. “He was in an unmarked grave. I guess it was common at the time. People just buried them in the plot to give them an honorable and legal burial, but they often couldn’t afford a stone. That had been the case for him, my father told me. He said everyone knew he had a pretty rough send off. Now, here we are 116 years later, with him dying in 1900, and we got to right this wrong…This was just a surprise thing in my life. I walked away with just a very good feeling of satisfaction. Finally, after all these years, the wrong had been righted.”
Loan, who works for the Postal Service, said he had always been into his family’s history since he was little, gravitating to the old folks at family gatherings to hear their stories. In the 1980s, he and his father began doing research, but in recent years he came across Frank William Loan.
The more he researched, the more he felt connected to the man – who had a rough go of it in life and really saw some of the worst inhumanity of the Civil War during his four years of service in the 30th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment.
“When I got his military records, I couldn’t believe where he had been and what he had seen and what he had been through in the war,” said Loan. “After a while, I had a connection with him. I got closer and closer to him the more I knew about him.”
What he learned was that Frank’s mother died when he was a boy, and he enlisted in the Union Army in 1861, marching down Bunker Hill Street and leaving on a steamer for New Orleans that same year. His father died only four days after he left.
Frank fought along the Mississippi and in New Orleans – with engagements that included the siege of Vicksburg – one of the more heartbreaking battles of the Civil War. He was wounded twice during his service, and finally transferred with the 30th to Virginia for the final stretch of the war. There, he fought in Sheridan’s Shenandoah Valley Campaign for five months.
At the end of the war, he was stationed in Washington, D.C., and was there when President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, likely on guard somewhere during the time Lincoln was held in state.
He mustered out of service in 1865, and eventually made his way back to Somerville – where he was born – and became a grocery clerk. In 1900, he had a massive stroke and died.
The funeral was apparently hasty and there wasn’t enough money to give him the full veterans burial.
Loan said that didn’t set well with him, and he was determined to give his ancestor – a decorated veteran – his proper burial.
Through a veterans organization, they were able to secure a stone marker for him, which was placed in late April.
Last Saturday, May 13, Loan and several veterans organizations – including Somerville’s Post 19 and Charlestown’s Post 26 – conducted a ceremony to commemorate the occasion. Loan said some 70 or 80 people showed up, including family members and State Rep. Dan Ryan. Malden’s Post 69 participated, as did the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War.
Loan said he couldn’t thank them enough for their help and their support.
“I was just very proud of him,” said Loan. “I was so humbled because it was like a dream come true…I’ve digitized all the images and preserved my research on him. I wanted to keep it going and keep it alive. You have to be thankful to these people who came before us. If it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t be here.”
Finally, Loan said he encouraged others to look into their own family tree if they haven’t, as it was such an unexpected fulfillment that came his way when he did.
“Memorial Day is coming up and I’m just an average guy, the guy next door who goes to work every day, and I had an ancestor who fought in the Civil War and did all these amazing things that were forgotten until now,” he said. “I encourage people to look back and they will be surprised by what they find…This is American history and these are the stories you don’t hear about.”