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NORMAL, Ill. (AP) — You would have to be a very talented mathematician to figure out the odds of a Civil War officer’s training manual being found among a group of more than 7,000 donated books, set aside and traced to a family in Normal.

Mary Ryder isn’t a mathematician. She is a retired Illinois State University literature professor who volunteers with Books to Benefit with the dedication of a detective when it comes to finding the right “home” for vintage books.

The primary mission of Books to Benefit is to raise money for literacy programs, such as STAR Adult Literacy, through the sale of used books. The organization’s next sale starts Nov. 2 at the Crossroads Center, Normal.

But the secondary mission is to “place them in collections where they belong,” explained Ryder.

When books from the 1800s to 1950 are found among those donations, they are set aside for Ryder. She researches their value on vintage books sites, and they go into a special collections room where they are sold for one-third of their market price.

But a book’s true worth often goes beyond its monetary value. So Ryder also researches whether there is an academic, presidential or other special library that would be the best home.

One such book came from a collection of 7,500 books from the estate of Robert Solomon of Normal.

Titled “The Manual of the Bayonet,” this was an 1862 edition signed with a flourish by “Captain Reynolds” of the 83rd Regiment in Illinois, mustered into the Army at Galesburg. It was written by George McClellan, who would become a leading Union general during the Civil War.

Her sleuthing led her to friends who were from the Galesburg area, Steve and Kathy Gossard. Perhaps they could help her find the family, Ryder thought when she met them at church.

As it turned out, they didn’t just know the captain’s family — they were the captain’s family.

Capt. George Washington Reynolds was the great-great-great-uncle of Kathy Gossard.

Gossard’s daughter, Stephanie Long of Normal, who does genealogy, found him in the family tree. She has a genealogy app on her phone.

“They were sitting two pews in front of me,” said Ryder. “Fifteen minutes into the service, one of them turned around and mouthed, ‘We found his picture.'”

“I was very shocked,” said Long, a teacher at Sugar Creek Elementary School.

Long has been to the book sale before but she said, “I never would have looked at the old books.”

If it hadn’t been for Ryder’s investigation — and the unbelievable odds of someone she has known for years being a relative of the original owner — the book might have stayed on a shelf or gone to strangers.

“We’re just delighted to put it back in the hands of the family,” said Ryder.

At a formal presentation of the book at the Books to Benefit facility on Wylie Drive, Ryder told the Gossards, “We know it will be well cared for and well loved.”

Kathy Gossard is looking forward to showing it to a cousin, Tim Pletkovich of Peoria, who has written a book about the sons of Civil War veterans who served in World War II.

She said many members of her mother’s family came from Tennessee but her grandmother always said, “We have this Tennessee connection, but we’re Yankees.”

Now she has proof in the signed copy of a bayonet training manual signed by her ancestor who served with the Yankees in the Civil War.


Source: The (Bloomington) Pantagraph


Information from: The Pantagraph,