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Burlington County  |  Camden County  |  Gloucester County

Old photo brings it all back

Gilbert Shaw of Blue Anchor, Upward Bound Director for Camden County College, gives lectures about researching his family tree, after discovering a Civil War photo of his great-grandfather, Union Pvt. Timothy Shaw, in a library book.

Thursday, February 26, 2004

Courier-Post Staff

There's a saying that a picture is worth a thousand words.

For Gilbert Shaw, one picture turned out to be worth more than that.

Twenty years ago while preparing for a lecture, Shaw, 56, of Winslow, saw a picture in a book at the Camden County College Library. The black and white portrait of a black Civil War soldier sparked a distant memory from his childhood of a photograph he remembered in his mother's home in Camden.

After retrieving the photograph, Shaw found himself on a high-speed genealogical journey that he said was like "an episode of the Twilight Zone."

Within an hour of opening that book, Shaw was standing in front of the grave of Timothy Shaw, his great-grandfather and a Union Civil War soldier. Standing in that hidden cemetery less than a mile from the college, Shaw was overcome by what he'd so randomly discovered.

"An eerie feeling came over me. I thought, my God, I'm in the 1800s right now."

Timothy Shaw, who died in 1891, served in the Army's 43rd New Jersey Regiment, an all-black volunteer regiment formed in early 1865. Shaw fought at the battle of Hatcher's Run, Va. on March 27, 1865. Two weeks later he was at Appomattox when Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered. The regiment was disbanded Nov. 30, 1865.

Although his great-grandfather only served a short time, Gilbert Shaw is extremely proud of his heritage. He often does lectures at high schools and colleges, including Camden County College, about his great-grandfather.

Since that fateful day in 1984, Shaw has discovered much more. According to the Civil War Museum in Philadelphia, Timothy's Shaw's portrait is the only identifiable picture of any of the 16,000 soldiers that trained at Camp William Penn in Philadelphia. Shaw has also discovered that his great-great-grandfather was a man named Caleb Shaw who was born in Maryland in 1790. Shaw is trying to learn more about him.

"There's more to find," Shaw said. "I want to find out where, what part of Maryland, he was from. . . . And who were his parents."

One thing Shaw doesn't have to look hard for is relatives. Since his discovery 20 years ago, he's met cousins and aunts around South Jersey he never knew he had. For awhile, he said, people would call him to say they were related.

"Everybody wanted to be my cousin. Folks were coming out of the woodwork from everywhere."

Shaw knows that had he not seen that picture in a book, he likely never would have discovered any of this.

"It all started with that picture. It's as if Timothy rose from the grave to make sure this story was told."

Reach Mike Daniels at (856) 486-2457 or

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