An Irish Mystery

Portions of this were excerpted from Nancy’s book Discover Your Family History Online

It started at the Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery in San Diego, California.

My sister and I were at the cemetery, taking photos to fulfill a request. But – as always – we couldn’t resist driving into the older section of the cemetery and walking back through the stones. An old tombstone caught our eye.

The inscription was to Sgt. John Gallagher of Battery B, 4th U.S. Artillery. A veteran of the Mexican War, Civil War and Indian Wars. A rarity.

The tombstone stated that Sgt. Gallagher died on July 18, 1879, aged 56 years, “a gallant soldier who faithfully served his adopted country”.

His service in three wars and his foreign birth were far too tempting for us to pass up researching.

Going to Historic Newspapers

First stop was After entering Gallagher’s name, date of death, and specifying California, we found a San Francisco news 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 two hundred dollars 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.

We e-mailed the coordinator at the San Francisco County USGenWeb page  hoping to find Gallagher’s probate file. The coordinator gave us the name of a local San Francisco researcher. The researcher reminded us 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, something I had failed to take into account.

Dead end. But not the end.

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

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

Here’s what we learned:

The Army records indicated Sgt. Gallagher was born in Derry, Ireland, and died of cancer in San Diego on July 18, 1879, the same date shown on his tombstone. Although what he was doing in San Diego we don’t know, as he was stationed at the Presidio in San Francisco. . . . for more, read Discover Your Family History Online

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