Moose Lake Star Gazette - Serving Carlton and Pine Counties Since 1895

By Lois E. Johnson
Moose Lake Star-Gazette 

Local woman recounts rich family history


October 5, 2017

Lois E. Johnson

The name of Marcia Sarvela's great-grandfather was recorded in this book when he was a soldier in the Civil War in 1861.

Marcia Sarvela of Kettle River owns a treasure trove of historical records, including ledgers listing her great-grandfather as one of the volunteer soldiers who fought in the Civil War.

The Civil War started in April 1861 and volunteers were called up to serve in the conflict between the Northern and Southern states after seven, later 11, slave states declared their secession from the United States to form the Confederate States of America.

Charles Myron Hilliker, Sarvela's great-grandfather, was 22 when he enlisted on May 15, 1861, for a two-year term in Company 1, 16th New York Volunteer Infantry.

"I've had the books for over 30 years," she said in a recent interview."My aunt gave them to me after my uncle died. I didn't know they existed before she gave them to me."

Those ledgers had quite a journey.

Hilliker attained the rank of ensign in November 1961, and was promoted to captain on December 6, 1862, it was stated in his obituary.

"He had been a carpenter-contractor but laid down his tools when the Civil War broke out," the obituary stated. "He served for two years with the army of the Potomac and took part in many of the severe engagements."

"He was mustered out on May 22, 1863," said Sarvela.

Hilliker survived the war and returned to New York and resumed his trade of carpentry. He married Martha Shaw, a school teacher, in 1863, and the couple moved to Kankakee, Illinois, in 1865.

The couple raised six children.

Meanwhile, the ledgers that Hilliker had kept since his service in the war were brought with the couple to Illinois and lay forgotten in the attic of the house that they owned.

"I was born in that house in Kankakee, Illinois, 78 years ago," said Sarvela. "We moved away from there when I was 3 months old."

The historical ledgers were not forgotten when the house later burned.

"Many years later, the books were thrown out of the attic window when the house caught fire," said Sarvela. "They were recovered by A. J. (Arthur James) Hilliker and his wife, Marge, who were living in the house at the time of the fire. He was the grandson of Charles M. Hilliker.

"After the death of A. J. Hilliker, the books were given to me because they were my family's history."

The ledgers are handwritten with pen and ink. Rosters of the soldiers in the unit were recorded, along with the physical descriptions of each soldier, including height, hair and eye color and the color of their complexions. Other facts were also recorded.

"Some of the soldiers died of a fever and others were killed in Virginia," said Sarvela. "One entry records the name of a soldier that was killed in action. I like it where it said that some were discharged by habeas corpus (unlawful imprisonment)."

The Civil War ledgers weren't the only books that were given to Sarvela. There was also a diary written by Charles M. Hilliker's parents in 1839.

"There were recordings of daily events, like 'spun three skeins of yarn,' and 'the doctor came to deliver the baby,'" said Savela. "Other records were from my grandfather's and dad's floor covering business in 1872. They laid carpets in commercial buildings and hotels.

"One of the stories that my dad told was when they had to unroll a huge carpet and roll it the narrow way. They had the football team carry it on their shoulders up three flights of stairs."

Charles M. Hilliker's son, Charles Henry, was born in 1874 in Illinois. He followed in his father's footsteps and also became a carpenter, but later joined his brother, George, in forming "Hilliker Brothers, manufacturers of carpets and renovators of rugs, carpets, etc." it was started in an article in the History of Kankekee County.

Marcia and Melvin Sarvela lived in Superior, Wisconsin, before moving to Kettle River in 1988, she said. The historical records that she had been given in 1984 came with the couple.

courtesy Marcia Sarvela

Charles Myron Hilliker.

Melvin died in 2014, and Marcia is thinking about the future.

"We had a son, but he died of pancreatic cancer in 2009," she said. "I have six grandchildren and six great-grandchildren, but they aren't interested in that stuff. If something happens to me, those books might go in the trash. I want them to place those records where they will be the most meaningful."

Sarvela contacted a museum in Saratoga Springs, New York.

"I have been in touch with someone at the New York State Military Museum and Veterans' Research Center," she added. "I will be sending the books to them soon.

"I haven't decided yet what to do with the other records. I'll probably donate them to a museum, but I haven't decided where yet."


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