When retired Air Force Colonel Jack Bender III took an alternate route home one day nearly 30 years ago, he had no idea how much it would impact his life.

As he drove, he noticed a sign for an auction and decided to stop and see what was available. He was drawn to several boxes of letters and a suitcase full of photographs.

After bidding on and winning the items, Bender examined them more closely and was surprised to find around 50 of the letters were written during the Civil War.

Even more shocking was the connection he was able to make with his own family heritage.

"It ends up that one of the letter writers, a James Young, was from the same county and lived on the same land that my great-great-grandparents lived on," Bender said.

Many of the letters were to or from James Young. The oldest letter was written in 1857.

"The majority of these letters, about 95 percent of them, were written to Alice Corman," Bender said.

James Young married Alice Corman after the Civil War.

One letter mentioned a familiar name from Bender's family tree — William Gallimore.

"That really got me interested in doing even more research," Bender said. "I've been in genealogy a long time, back since high school. I ended up tracing the Gallimore family back to Morgan County, Indiana."

After learning that the Youngs moved to Humboldt, Bender took a friend to try and locate the family cemetery. While they did not find the headstones they were looking for, they did run across three others in a wooded area. The Evan Young cemetery (named after James Young's brother) held the tombstones of Daniel Deal, Martin Van Buren Deal and George Myers — relatives of Young who were also related to the friend Bender brought on his quest.

The connections Bender made through his research into the history and genealogy from the letters and photographs picked up at that auction amazed him, and he wanted to share his findings with others.

"All my letters are now on the Internet," Bender noted.

Digitized, summarized and searchable by key words, the letters provide a look at life in a time of upheaval in the United States.

In his presentation, "Civil War Stories," Bender shows pictures and tells stories of James Young and his family. He also relates legends of the Corman ancestors, including tales of kidnapping, war, passwords and presidential families.

Bender will present "Civil War Stories" at 7 p.m. on Jan. 16, 2018, at the Newton Public Library, 720 N. Oak St.