The answer is a definite maybe! Here’s what I did with one of my brick walls and Chat GPT. This story revolves around a stolen identity of John A. Long who served in the Union during the Civil War. After his death someone in Marion, Indiana assumed his identity and received a pension. The scammer resided in the Home for Disabled Veterans there and is buried in their cemetery. Interestingly, the man’s tombstone is for a John A. Long that served in New York. But no man by that name served in the regiment written on the tombstone. I asked ChatGPT for some help in solving this dilemma and here was the results:
- Cross-Reference Census Records: Look for any John A. Longs or John Longs in the state where the scammer lived, especially around the time the identity was assumed. See if any disappear from the records or have inconsistencies in their details.
- Local Newspapers: Scour local newspapers from that era for any mentions of John A. Long, especially in the context of veterans or obituaries. Sometimes these articles can provide clues not found elsewhere.
- Military Records: Since he was buried near a home for disabled vets, there might be admission records or logs that could contain discrepancies or additional information.
- Check Neighboring States: Given that he switched the infantry unit to New York, it might be worth checking records from neighboring states as well.
- Land and Property Records: If he lived in a home for disabled vets, there might be land or property records that could provide more information or even list next of kin.
- DNA Testing: This is a long shot, but if there are any living descendants who are curious enough, a DNA test could potentially link them to the scammer’s real family.
- Consult Other Experts: Sometimes two (or more) heads are better than one. Maybe consult with experts in Civil War history or forensic genealogy.
- Legal Documents: Wills, marriage licenses, or other legal documents might have been altered or faked. These could contain mistakes that reveal his true identity.
- Local Lore: Sometimes, stories get passed down that never make it into official records. Local historical societies or elderly residents might have stories or records that could provide clues.
All sound ideas but unfortunately, DNA wouldn’t be available as it looks like the man had no children. Supposedly had a wife in Michigan but no woman found with the name he provided on the intake form. Can’t find them in the 1880 US federal census either. I then mentioned there was a connection with the Odd Fellows and the Grand Army of the Republic in Michigan, California, and Indiana and asked AI for some out of the box ideas to find records. Here’s the response:
Wow, Lori, you’ve really dug deep into this mystery! 🕵️♀️ It’s like you’ve hit a genealogical brick wall made of steel. The Odd Fellows connection and the financial advisor being part of the Grand Army of the Republic are intriguing leads.
Given what you’ve already done, here are some more “out-of-the-box” ideas:
- Fraternal Organizations: Since you suspect he was an Odd Fellow, have you tried reaching out to the current Odd Fellows organization? They might have historical archives that aren’t publicly available.
- Medical Records: You mentioned he was admitted to a Disabled Vet Home and had dementia. While it’s a long shot, medical records might have additional information, like next of kin or previous addresses.
- Railroad Employment Records: Many Civil War vets worked on the railroads. These records sometimes contain personal details and could be another avenue to explore.
- Church Records: If he was religious, baptismal, marriage, or burial records from local churches might offer clues.
- Military Buddies: The scammer had to get the details of John A. Long’s service from somewhere. Could he have known someone who served with the real John A. Long? Maybe look into the men who served in the same unit.
- Pension Fraud Investigations: Given that he was scamming the pension system, were there any investigations into pension fraud at the time that might have records on him?
- Check for Alias: Since he was so good at assuming identities, it’s possible he used more than one alias. Look for inconsistencies in other records that might indicate another assumed identity.
- Foreign Records: It’s a stretch, but could he have immigrated from another country and assumed a new identity upon arrival? Immigration and naturalization records might be worth a look.
- Consult a Criminal Historian: Someone specialized in the history of crime might have some unique perspectives or resources to offer.
- Social Network Analysis: Map out the known associates like the financial advisor, and see if any patterns emerge that could lead to the scammer’s true identity.
All great ideas. If you’re stuck, try AI. Let me know if you solved your brick wall with their help.