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John Hilyard Family ca. 1909

Friday, July 1, 2016

Just Ask Google; or, How I Discovered Thomas Hilyard Served During the American Revolution

When I got back into genealogy in late 2014, I was astounded at the amount of records that had gone online during my hiatus. Sure, all the subscription sites are great, but not one of them told me that Thomas Hilyard had fought in the Revolution.

You know who knew about his service? Google.

I am convinced that Google knows darn near everything, short of a few maiden names I'm missing, if I just ask it the right questions.

At this point, I would ask you to read (or re-read to refresh your memory) my post from November 2014 so that the rest of this makes sense.

Go now. I'll wait.

Now we can proceed. So I left that hanging, and never did the follow-up post. Long story short, I'm glad I didn't book a plane ticket to the Pennsylvania Archives, at least solely for that reference. Short story long, I put up a request for someone going to the Archives to look up these references to Mary Hilyard's pension for me. A wonderful lady obliged, and within a few weeks she emailed me the images. Drumroll please....
Pension ledger entry for Mary Hilyard
Yes, I was a bit underwhelmed too. There were some other images, but all basically with the same information. Nothing about Thomas or his service. I had to put this project on the back burner for a bit.

Fast forward to Spring Break 2016. I took a trip with a cousin to Pennsylvania (and other places) to look into the Hilyards. We spent one day at the Pennsylvania Archives in Harrisburg. The librarians there are top-notch, very knowledgeable and ready to help.

Our first goal was to find the petition and papers that Mary Hilyard filed with the State House of Representatives proving her right to a pension. That would have been the mother lode. It would have had proof of marriage (including her unknown maiden name), description of Thomas the Elder's service, and who knows what else. I knew that such records existed at the federal level; I'd found something similar on another person. But no matter how much we begged and pleaded, the librarians held firm that records such as these simply were not preserved. We finally relented and moved on.

We knew that Thomas did serve, so how could we find out when and where? The super librarians asked if I had checked their website's index of Revolutionary War service cards. I actually had, but didn't know if I had the right person.  This is what I had copied:
Revolutionary War Military Abstract Card for Thomas Hillert
from the Pennsylvania Archives ARIAS website

Thomas Hillert? I've seen the name spelled every possible way. In this time frame Hilgert was common. Hillert just didn't feel right. But, it was Lancaster County, and I know Thomas Hilyard had spent at least a few years in that area.

The excellent librarians explained how we could look at the original records that had generated these index cards on microfilm. We paged through lots of old handwriting until we found this:
Lancaster County, Pennsylvania Militia Rolls 1777-1780 8th Batallion
Click image to enlarge

And the pertinent section here:
Thomas Hillert listed in Capt. Ziegler's Company, 8th Batallion 1st Class
Click image to enlarge
We went on to find Thomas in every roll we could. He appears consistently from the above (undated but around 1777) roster through 1785, at which time he moved across the state. I was finally convinced we had the right man through the various spellings of Hilyard, combined with the fact that a man associated closely with him, Conrad Hillegas, was in that same battalion. 

In reading about the Pennsylvania militia structure, it was confusing to say the least. If you would like a fairly concise explanation, I recommend the Pennsylvania Archives version.  If you are a military historian or glutton for punishment, dig into this article on the Journal of the American Revolution's website.

The highlights are these:
  • all white men between the ages of 18 and 53 capable of bearing arms were required to serve two months of milita duty on a rotating basis
  • militia might be used to support the Continental troops
  • some militia performed frontier duty, reinforcing the outlying Pennsylvania counties
  • others performed guard duty at supply depots and prisoner of war camps
As far as I can tell, Thomas Hilyard has not been submitted to the Daughters of the American Revolution as a patriot. I think I will make this a goal of mine, to get him qualified and see if I can join up.

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